19th. Sunday of Year (C)
(Wisdom 18:6-9; Hebrews 11:1-2, 8-12; Luke12:32-48)
Today's readings afford us both encouragement and warning: the warning, however, is only given to help us hold fast to the hope we are encouraged to treasure:
Do not be afraid, for it is your Father’s good pleasure 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 (John 6:44);
and we actually became disciples of Jesus through Faith and Baptism:
All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, (and we are) justified as a gift by (God's) grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus;
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." (Romans 3:23; John 3:5)
What about the warning I spoke of? It was contained in those words of Our Lord:
Be prepared; for, on an unexpected day and at an unknown hour, the Son of Man will come and punish the (unprepared and disobedient) servant severely and assign him a place with the unfaithful.
What then is this gift of Faith that we have been given? In the second reading we heard:
Faith is the realization of what is hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.
How can we have a faith-based conviction about things not seen? Because God has solemnly promised us that these blessings can be ours in Jesus by the Spirit. Therefore, we see that faith is very, very, important, it is a personal, existential acknowledgment of God's absolute truthfulness and utter reliability; whereas to refuse to have faith in His promise would be the same as saying that if He exists He could be a liar, or at the very least, that His promises cannot be trusted to the extent of life-long faith and obedience. For us, however, who believe whole-heartedly in Jesus, faith in Him and His Good News proclaimed by His Church opens up for us a totally new awareness and appreciation of our human life, its meaning, and significance. By faith we can more delightfully admire and humbly appreciate the glory of creation all around us; and what is immeasurably more than that great blessing, we can actually experience something of what God has promised for heaven: that is, we can be given a Spirit-bestowed foretaste of what a heavenly relationship is like. We, no longer mere earthlings but now children of God redeemed by and renewed in Jesus, can experience and gratefully embrace – even here and now -- something of the BEAUTY and WONDER of our ‘sonship’ in Jesus with the Father by the Gift of God’s most Holy Spirit
Therefore, faith is not only a supreme witness to God, it is also a sublime calling for us to discover something wonderful; indeed -- as unbelievers mockingly at times but truthfully say -- an opportunity to experience and live something truly "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)
And the Scriptures give us examples of the very many men and women who trusted God and lived by faith. In the first reading we heard that:
The night of the Passover was known beforehand to our fathers that, with sure knowledge of the oaths in which they had put their trust, they might have courage. Your People 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. And in the second reading we heard of Noah and then of Abraham "our father in faith" as we hear at Mass:
By faith Abraham, when he was called, obeyed by going out to a place which he was to receive for an inheritance; he went out, not knowing where he was going.
By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac his only begotten son.
Because of his faith, Abraham was given the promised fulfilment from God: descendants as numerous as the grains of sand on the sea-shore, through Isaac, whom he had been prepared to offer in sacrifice trusting in God.
There are striking examples of the need and power of faith in the Gospel accounts of the disciples' life with and response to Jesus in the course of His Public Mission. After Jesus had miraculously fed the five thousand, He had remained behind on shore, alone in prayer. The disciples, crossing the Sea of Galilee in their boat, suddenly found themselves in distress when a severe storm arose unexpectedly, and it was then that Jesus came walking over the rough waters to the succour of His struggling disciples (Matthew 14:28-31):
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?"
On another occasion:
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 God, and very many Christians, and too many Catholics, show the same weakness today. They quickly lose faith because they want to see, experience, faith-blessings now, whereas faith requires, indeed demands, HOPE and TRUST in the supreme goodness and power of God the Father Who is in charge of our lives. Many so-called Christians basically want what this world has to offer, and therefore the promises of God for life-after-death gradually mean less and less to them as they yield to and indulge the weakness of their faith or the clamour of their worldly desires and/or sinful lusts. This selfishness even leads some, in their search for present satisfaction, to renege on the most solemn promises, break the closest bonds of love and commitment, and even to destroy their own humanity as they stumble around in the clouds of drug-addiction. Such people who imagine that this world is all that we can possibly want or aspire to, that this world can fulfil all our longings and desires, will never accept the offer of faith or aspire to what is intangible and unseen.
An even closer likeness to the Twelve is shown in the attitudes of other religious people today who fear just what the disciples' feared: the imminent threat, not indeed, of the swelling waters of Galilee, but of the uproar and tumult of the world's criticism, opposition, and mockery. Many let go of their hold on faith in the face of such threats, whilst others feverishly seek to change their faith in such a way that it fits in comfortably with what the world around thinks and feels.
If, however, there is something in YOU that makes you long for something "better" than this world; a longing that lifts you up from, 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 things of this world, is ever able to lift up its head again, and even today one can hear some young people expressing the desire to give themselves wholly to some worthwhile purpose, cause, or person. Such young persons are the hope for our Christian civilization because they are capable of appreciating God's gift of faith.
The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness. (Galatians 5:22)
For them and for all of us there is the example of Our Blessed Lord, Who has won for all humankind the possibility of life, eternal and full beyond all human 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 has chosen gladly 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 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 has chosen gladly to give us the kingdom and we must likewise joyfully take up that promise: our response of faith must be not only firm but joyful, lit up with love because founded on true knowledge. In this Our Lord is Himself 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 has already given us in Jesus, that we not only endure the sufferings we must shoulder in this world, but positively despise them as nothing in comparison with what awaits us in heaven. 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 daily practice of responding by faith to all that may occur in our worldly experience, can become 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 humankind is able -- but also willing and indeed longing, to give themselves whole-heartedly to what is greater than themselves. Human beings, however, do not remain young for long, and as youth declines so, all too easily, can our longing to give and receive real love and know the authentic truth gradually diminish. It is so easy for an elderly person to become more selfish with the years and to begin to hanker after that which, in their youth, they had egregiously set aside. Therefore, we have to listen Our Lord's warning today, backed up by words of St. Paul again:
Make no mistake: God is not mocked, for a person will reap only what he sows, because the one who sows for his flesh will reap corruption from the flesh, but the one who sows for the spirit will reap eternal life from the Spirit. (Galatians 6:7–8)
We first embraced the faith with young love, now we need to gradually love it more wholeheartedly, appreciate it more gratefully, and admire it with deeper understanding, as our years come and go and the fulfilment to which we aspire draws ever closer:
Where your treasure is, there also will your heart be.
We have to recognize that our faith is indeed a treasure beyond all: it can bring us greater peace, love, fellowship, joy and fulfilment than the human mind can imagine or conceive, a share, that is, in Jesus' Own beatitude with the Father and the Holy Spirit in the Kingdom of Heaven. Love, peace, joy, will fulfil our whole being: we will become our true selves, as God destined us to be from all eternity, and we will know that our life and trials on earth have indeed been a wondrous blessing.
You are My beloved child; in you I am well pleased.