In our second reading today we heard that:
Faith is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen.
Other translations of acknowledged and appreciated versions of the New Testament use predominantly another two words ‘the assurance …. and conviction’; there are also some that speak of ‘the substance … and evidence’, or ‘the confidence … and assurance’. For our purposes then we should understand the word ‘realization’ in the sense it has when we say ‘I didn’t realize it would be so difficult to manage’, where it means ‘a more comprehensive understanding and experiential appreciation’, in accordance with Newman’s ‘Grammar of Assent’ as I remember it. Again, ’evidence’ is to be understood not as objective proof but as something eminently reasonable and sufficient for our commitment:
Faith is a relatively comprehensive understanding and appreciation of what is hoped for and a personal conviction and assurance of things not yet seen.
We heard, in our first reading, of Abraham’s faith which is put forward to us as our model in the words ‘Abraham, our father in faith’; and in that first reading we were told of the nature of Abraham’s faith:
He was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and maker is God.
By faith … he reasoned that God was able to raise even from the dead.
Abraham was there responding faithfully to an intellectually embraced promise and ‘reasoned’ appreciation of the God he knew and worshiped, just as he had first set out for his promised inheritance in obedience to an intellectually received and understood command of God. Even the ‘power to generate’ was given him in response to his faith in the promise made to him by God. As our reading from the letter to the Hebrews says:
Because of it (that faith) the ancients were well attested.
Jesus however brought a totally new aspect to faith which we find most clearly manifested in His relationship with His disciples: He spoke of those ‘of little faith’ when an individual such as Peter or a group of His disciples were lacking in what we might well think of as personal courage in the time of threat and danger, not merely lack of mental strength as in ‘lacking the courage of their convictions’.
Peter said to him in reply, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” Peter got out of the boat and began to walk on the water toward Jesus. But when he saw how (strong) the wind was he became frightened; and, beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” Immediately Jesus stretched out his hand and caught him, and said to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” After they got into the boat, the wind died down. Those who were in the boat did Him homage, saying, “Truly, you are the Son of God.” (Matthew 14:28–33)
Jesus got into a boat and His disciples followed Him. Suddenly a violent storm came up on the sea, so that the boat was being swamped by waves; but He was asleep. They came and woke Him, saying, ‘Lord, save us! We are perishing!’ He said to them, ‘Why are you terrified, O you of little faith?’ Then He got up, rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was great calm. (Matthew 8:23–26)
In those two examples faith is not centered on any promise or command received by and retained in the mind of the disciples; it is centered on the Person of Jesus and involves the whole personal response of the disciples. Jesus had not promised anything to Peter or the disciples, He had not given them any particular command, He was just there Personally, expecting their personal (that is, total) faith. Now that is something more than what the letter to the Hebrews tells us about the faith of the ancients, ‘Faith is the realization (assurance, substance, confidence) of what is hoped for or the evidence (conviction) of things not seen.’
That ‘Jesus faith’ is the totally Christian faith and it is of supreme importance for us today because Jesus is always just there Personally for us in His Eucharistic Presence and our Eucharistic Celebration and Sacrifice.
Now let us learn perhaps how we may respond to Him better than did Peter and the disciples initially.
The practice of faith-life, the serious attempt to live as a vocational Catholic in whatever sphere of life God may have placed us, can be the supreme joy of our lives because it calls forth the supreme love of which a human being is capable, in Jesus, for Jesus, by the power of His most Holy Spirit of Love. Our faith is not meant to force upon us a stoic refusal to yield whatever trials may come our way, nor does it involve our cultivating a stiff upper lip and ramrod back in order that we might be able to hold on to God no matter what the mockery or criticism we experience from those around us, or whatever the pain of our own inner trials; all that is made absolutely clear by the fact that God Himself has told us:
I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God, rather than burnt offerings. (Hosea 6:6)
Moreover, Jesus Himself has told us that the Father is pleased and has promised, chosen gladly, to give us the kingdom; and surely He then most certainly intends that we likewise embrace that promise with a truly joyful heart. Therefore, our response of faith must not only be firm and committed, it must be 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:
(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. Hebrews (12:2)
We too, then, in Him should seek to find and appreciate like joy in what the Father has promised us and in what He is already giving us -- in Jesus -- by His Spirit; we should not merely endure the sufferings that come our way in this world, but living through them try, not only to despise them as nothing in comparison with what awaits us in heaven, but even learn to embrace them and rejoice in them because of the wondrous new fellowship with Jesus they can 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)
There are always some young people -- even today, as there always have been and will be -- who are not only able but are also longing and yearning to give themselves whole-heartedly to what is supremely worth-while and beautiful. 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, 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 and learn 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 now and 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; because the future happiness and glory bestowed on us through our faithful commitment will be a share in Jesus' own beatitude with the Father and the Holy Spirit in the heavenly kingdom where we will find our ultimate selves fulfilled by divine beauty, holiness, life, and love:
according to God’s own purpose and grace which was granted us in Christ Jesus from all eternity. (2 Timothy 1:9)
Human beings, however, do not remain young – in spirit most especially – for long. Physical youth declines inexorably but relatively slowly, whereas as spiritual youth can be devastated much more quickly under the ravages of sin, deliberately chosen or even unwittingly entered upon and tasted later. It is so easy, almost inevitable indeed, for one growing older in years to become more self-centered at the same time. Good manners can make the outward manifestation of such self-centeredness relatively rare, but they are, even when deeply inbred, unable to resist, let alone eradicate, the growing inner depredation of heart and mind. We need therefore to learn how, as a seriously devoted vocational Catholic, we might remain young in experiencing, responding to, and living through, our allotted years!
I propose for you two most Catholic practices.
First of all by personalizing our faith … that is, making it a personal encounter with and response to the Person of Jesus, supremely present to us in our reception of Holy Communion and living with us, by His Spirit, ever guiding, sustaining, and comforting us in all our aspirations and our trials. Virtues are most admirable helps, but means only, towards what alone is inspirational: the Person of Jesus and the Gift of His Spirit! And the only responses or gifts we can suitably offer Jesus Personally present for us in our Eucharist are those of our own return -- by the Holy Spirit -- of personal love for Him and commitment to Him and His Spirit.
In order to do just that as best we can, we should secondly, recall, admire, and gratefully apply in our every work or endeavour for Jesus or prayer to the Holy Spirit, those words of St. John of the Cross, ‘where there is no love, put love, and you will find love!’ Words intended precisely to reveal St. John’s own way of embracing with His Beloved Lord the Cross of dereliction and death before finding it to be a most wondrous source of life and love eternal:
Where there is no love, put love (of Jesus, by His Spirit) and you will find love: a share in Jesus’ love for the Cross, for His Father, and for us; a love intended and destined for glory as now it is supremely radiant in Jesus, the ‘Sun’ of the redeemed family of the children of God.
And for the ultimate example of the fulfilment of that teaching recall repeatedly to your mind Our Blessed Lord carrying the Cross to Calvary, where every blow received and curse heard, every fall and injury incurred, were embraced by Him Whose love alone kept Him going on and on without delay to meet and embrace His Father so lovingly calling Him on, on, and on.
People of God, we who are blessed with the Catholic Faith should never forget our Blessed Lord’s parting words at the end of our Gospel reading:
Much will be required of the person entrusted with much, and still more will be demanded of the person entrusted with more.