Today's readings afford us both encouragement and warning: but the warning is only given to help us hold fast to the hope we are encouraged to treasure:
Do not be afraid, for your Father is pleased to give you the kingdom.
We know that the Father has indeed chosen to give us the kingdom because He has called us to become disciples of Jesus:
No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him. (Jn. 6:44);
and we actually become disciples of Jesus through faith and baptism:
Since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, they are now justified by His grace as a gift through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus; (Romans 3:23)
Jesus answered, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God." (John 3:5)
What about the warning I spoke of? It was contained in those words of Our Lord:
Be ready; for the Son of Man is coming at an hour that you do not expect.
Be dressed in readiness, and keep your lamps lit, like men who are waiting for their master when he returns from the wedding feast, so that they may immediately open the door to him when he comes and knocks.
He warns us further that, for anyone who becomes negligent, then:
The master will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know, and will assign him a place with the unbelievers.
So we can gather that Our Lord is telling us to be watchful and ready in our faith, because those who fail to do this will be "assigned a place with the unbelievers", "sent to the same fate as the unfaithful".
What then is this gift of faith that we have been given? In the second reading we heard:
Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.
How can we have a faith-conviction about things not seen? Because God has solemnly promised these blessings will be ours. Therefore we can see that faith is very, very, important, because it is, in fact, an acknowledgment of God's truthfulness and utter reliability. To refuse to have faith in His promise is the same as saying He is a liar, or at the very least, that His promises are untrustworthy.
Faith is not only a witness to God, it is an opportunity for us: an opportunity to achieve something wonderful; indeed, as many unbelievers themselves will and do say frequently, an opportunity to experience and live something "out of this world". Jesus Himself told us something of the wonder of faith:
If you had faith like a mustard seed, you would say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and be planted in the sea’, and it would obey you. (Luke 17:6)
All things are possible to him who believes. (Mark 9:23)
The Scriptures give us examples of the countless men and women who have trusted God and lived by faith. In the first reading we heard of the hitherto enslaved Israelites, how:
With sure knowledge of the oaths in which they put their faith, Your People (took) courage (and) awaited the salvation of the just and the destruction of their foes.
Their faith was not misplaced, God did indeed bring them to arrive at, and take possession of, the Promised Land.
In the second reading we heard of Abraham "our father in faith" as we hear at Mass:
By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance; he went out, not knowing where he was to go.
By faith Abraham, when he was tested, prepared to offer up Isaac his only begotten son. Because of such faith, Abraham was given the fulfilment promised by God -- descendants as numerous as the grains of sand on the sea-shore -- through Isaac, whom he had been willing to offer to God.
There was a practical illustration of this power of faith in the Gospel. After Jesus had miraculously fed the five thousand He remained behind in prayer; meanwhile, the disciples, crossing the Sea of Galilee alone in their boat, found themselves in distress when a hard storm blew up. Jesus then came walking on the rough waters to the help of His struggling disciples:
Peter said to Him, "Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water." And He said, "Come!" And Peter got out of the boat, and walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But seeing the wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, "Lord, save me!" Immediately Jesus stretched out His hand and took hold of him, and said to him, "You of little faith, why did you doubt?" (Matthew 14:28-31)
At another time:
As they were sailing along He fell asleep; and a fierce gale of wind descended on the lake, and they began to be swamped and to be in danger. They came to Jesus and woke Him up, saying, "Master, Master, we are perishing!" And He got up and rebuked the wind and the surging waves, and they stopped, and it became calm. And He said to them, "Where is your faith?" (Luke 8:23-25)
On those two occasions, the disciples of Jesus -- becoming frightened by what was happening around them -- began to doubt the Lord; and too many Christians, even Catholics, show the same weakness today. They quickly lose faith because they want to see, experience, blessings now, while they are young enough to enjoy them, they will say; whereas faith requires, indeed demands, hope. Many Christians, basically, want and will what this world has to offer, as a result of which the promises of God mean less and less to them the more they indulge themselves in worldly satisfactions. This selfishness even leads some, in their search for present comfort and well-being, to renege on the most solemn commitments and break the closest bonds of love and trust; indeed they even come close to destroying their own humanity by stumbling around in miasmas of drug-addiction. Such people -- imagining that this world is all we can aspire to, that this world alone can fulfil all our longings and desires -- will never accept the offer of faith.
An even closer likeness with the Twelve is shown in the attitudes of certain apparently religious people today who fear just as the disciples' feared, not indeed under the threat of the Galilee’s swelling waters, but at the thought of possible waves of criticism, opposition, and mockery from the world around. Many desert the Faith in the face of such prospects; whilst others try to change their faith in such a way that it will fit in with whatever is acceptable to and approved by the world around.
If, however, there is that in you which makes you yearn for something ‘better’ and more ‘fulfilling’ than the satisfactions of this world; a longing that lifts you up from, and thereby makes you somewhat independent of, this world, then there is for you the option of faith; because, as St. Paul tells us (Timothy 2:4):
God desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.
True humanity -- that humanity which knows itself to be more than the surrounding things of this world be they ever so beautiful and majestic -- is ever able to lift up its perhaps drooping head afresh, and even today one can find some young people experiencing and expressing the desire to give themselves wholly to some supremely worthwhile cause, purpose, or person. Such young (at least in spirit) people are the hope for our Christian civilization because they are capable of appreciating God's gift of faith.
For them and for all of us there is the example of Jesus Our Lord. Who has won for all humankind the possibility of life, eternal and full beyond all measure. He, indeed, is the author of our faith, and:
it was fitting for Him, for whom are all things, and through whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to perfect the author of their salvation through sufferings. (Hebrews 2:10)
He went to the sufferings of death for our sake, trusting entirely in His Father; and we who have faith in Him must, like Him, trust God the Father totally, we must, like Jesus, have unshakeable faith in His promise of the Kingdom:
Do not be afraid, for your Father is pleased to give you the kingdom.
However, our faith is not meant to be a stoic refusal to yield to whatever trials may come our way, it should not involve cultivating a stiff upper lip and a ramrod back whereby we might able to hold on to God no matter what the threats, mockery or criticism of those around us, for God Himself has told us:
I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God, rather than burnt offerings. (Hosea 6:6)
The Father is pleased, has chosen gladly, to give us the kingdom and we must likewise take up that promise with rejoicing: our response of faith must not only be firm but filled with gratitude, on fire with love, and sure in knowledge of the truth. In this Our Blessed Lord is indeed the example, for we are told in the Letter to the Hebrews (12:2):
(Let us) fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
We too, like Him, should find such joy in what the Father has promised us, in what He is already giving us in Jesus, that we not only endure the sufferings that come our way in this world, we not only positively despise them as nothing in comparison with what awaits us in heaven, but we even learn to embrace them and rejoice in them because of the wondrous new fellowship with Jesus they bring us. This was the attitude of St. Paul who tells:
I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ. (Philippians 3:8)
The practice of faith, the living of faith, can be the supreme joy of our lives because it is the supreme love of which a human being is capable, in Jesus. There are, as I mentioned, some young people today, and there always will be some, who are not only able, for all humans beings are able, but also are longing and yearning to give themselves whole-heartedly to what is immeasurably greater than themselves. Human beings, however, do not remain young for long, and as youth declines so, all too easily, can our longing for beauty, truth, and love gradually diminish. It is so easy, almost inevitable, indeed, for an elderly person to become more selfish with the years and to begin to hanker after that which, in their youth, they had generously set aside. Therefore we have to listen Our Lord's warning today. We have to work on our faith, so to speak. We first embraced it with love, and we have to try to love it more and more as the years come and go:
Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
We need to recognize that our faith is indeed a treasure: it will bring us greater joy, peace, love, fellowship and fulfilment, than the human mind can conceive of or imagine. Our future happiness and glory will be a share in Jesus' own beatitude with the Father and the Holy Spirit in the heavenly kingdom where, fulfilled by divine beauty, holiness, life and love, we will find our ultimate selves:
According to God’s own purpose and grace which was granted us in Christ Jesus from all eternity.