Sunday, October 2, 2016

27th Sunday in Ordinary Time: Have Faith!

Today's readings tell us about having faith.

In the first reading, we read of the prophet Habakkuk who is witnessing a tragedy in 7th century Judah before Christ. He is witnessing violence and ruin. As a result, he complains to God as to why he has to see this and why God does not intervene.  God simply says in response to write things down so that all can read it.  He describes the event as a vision that has "its time" and "presses on to fulfillment."  What this means is that God has a plan (Jeremiah 29:11, Ecclesiastes 3:1-8). God can bring good out of evil (Genesis 50:20, Romans 8:28). In today's world, we wonder many times why God allows evil. On the news, we see children being killed in Syria and other places due to war. In New York City, a 6 year old black boy was beaten to death by his mom with a broom as her boyfriend held the kid's head in the shower.  We see tragedies in our own neighborhoods or cities. We see people become victims of crime; perhaps even ourselves. These bad things bring us to complain to God: "Why!?"  We get upset and shout either internally or maybe even externally, "Where are you!?" This is the typical human response because humans are finite creatures.  They can only see things based on their senses and perception of space and time. This brings about all kinds of anxieties.

Imagine if we knew the day we were going to die. Do you think we will live our lives carelessly or make rigid plans? The answer is no. We will try to live each day to the best of our ability because we already know that the hourglass is pouring away. Our perspective would change if we had the ability to know our expiration day beforehand, so to speak.  However, this is not how life works. We are conceived, born and grow. We do not know what will happen a minute from now, more less when we will die. Only God knows these things (Psalm 139:2). Because we do not know, we worry. When we worry, we lose hope. When we lose hope, we lose faith; and when we lose these, we lose charity or love. Life then becomes a survival of the fittest contest where we believe in nothing and love no one but ourselves. This is why God tells Habakkuk, "The rash one has no integrity; but the just one, because of his faith, shall live." We must have faith. We must trust God even in horrible times when it feels like God packed up His bags and went on vacation, so to speak (Psalm 37:5).

At all times, especially bad ones, we must look to Jesus for faith (Hebrews 12:2). We must not harden our hearts like the Jews did, as we are told in the Responsorial Psalm, which is used as the Gospel Canticle for Lauds or morning prayer in the Liturgy of the Hours. Instead, we must sing to God joyfully and praise Him. At Mass and in our private prayer time, we bow and kneel before Him in prayer and worship. This is a gesture of humility before God. We surrender to God and let Him flood us with grace. Before God, we are "half" the person we think we are. The act of kneeling or bowing represents this physically. We cannot stand eye to eye, shoulder to shoulder with God. God and man are not equals. He is our God and we are His people, the flock He cares for, as the Psalm states. However, we must not do like the Hebrews at Meribaha where they challenged God (Exodus 17:7, Numbers 20:13).  While there, they denied God and questioned His care and omnipotence. We must not become ungrateful after witnessing in our lives the wonders God worked just like the Hebrews who saw great wonders and then doubted (Luke 7:9).

Our hearts cannot be hardened in times of desperation and trial. We must be the just one who perseveres (Romans 1:17, Galatians 3:11). God will not give us anything we cannot handle (1 Corinthians 10:13). The Spirit we have received from Him is not a cowardly one, as the second reading tells us.  This Spirit brings us to be patient and self-controlled. We bear things from the world and even from among each other in the Church. Because of this Spirit, we must be courageous and have faith (Matthew 8:26). We must not be ashamed of the Gospel nor scared to be witnesses of Jesus Christ. People may mock us, and they surely will, but we must bear it for the sake of the Lord (Matthew 10:18). God will not be mocked and those who denied Him or were ashamed of Him will have to face Him at death or the end of times (Matthew 10:33, Galatians 6:7).  God will never abandon us and promised to be with us until the end of time (Isaiah 41:10, Matthew 28:20).  When you are mocked or persecuted for your Catholic faith, smile. Smile because you know you are doing the right thing. This world hates God, so it will never be on your side or the side of our Catholic Church (John 15:18-19). That being said, do not expect to be comfortable as a Catholic in this world.

Finally, in the Gospel, we read of how the disciples ask Jesus for more faith. They do this because Jesus expected so much from them as you can see if you read the verses before verse 5. To their request, Jesus says that if they have the faith the size of a mustard seed, they would be able to tell mulberry trees to uproot themselves and plant themselves in the sea.  The trees would obey! Jesus was using hyperbole to make a point on how powerful faith is. The uprooting of trees means that any difficult challenge in our lives that may be rooted deep like a tree is not a permanent obstacle. It can be uprooted!  Mulberry trees can grow up to nearly 50 feet. I mention this to give some physical perspective of how big of an organism this is and which is not easy to move. St. John Chrysostom states "The mulberry may be also compared to the devil, for as by the leaves of the mulberry tree certain worms are fed, so the devil, by the imaginations which proceed from him, is feeding for us a never dying worm; but this mulberry tree faith is able to pluck out of our souls, and plunge it into the deep (Quoted in Thomas Aquinas, Catena Aurea: Commentary on the Four Gospels, Collected out of the Works of the Fathers: St. Luke, ed. John Henry Newman, vol. 3 (Oxford: John Henry Parker, 1843), 581.)."  Jesus then tells the parable regarding servants and their proper place in he house of the master. He reminds them that no master tells his servants to come eat with him after they have tended the sheep and plowed the field. Jesus is reminding the disciples and us today that the work of the vineyard of the Lord is not a simple chore that we do. We must earn our keep, so to speak. We must work hard in our spiritual lives before we can be invited by the Master to sit and eat with Him.  Our spiritual life is not something we start and end when we receive a Sacrament or go to Mass.  It is a ongoing process and maturation, learning and purification.

Our Protestant brethren who believe in the heretical view that one must simply accept Jesus and one is saved must really meditate on today's Gospel. Such a pretense to salvation is vanity (1 Corinthians 10:12). St. Ambrose says, "Know that you are a servant overwhelmed by very much obedience. You must not set yourself first, because you are called a son of God. Grace must be acknowledged, but nature not overlooked. Do not boast of yourself if you have served well, as you should have done. The sun obeys, the moon complies, and the angels serve.… Let us not require praise from ourselves nor prevent the judgment of God and anticipate the sentence of the Judge but reserve it for its own time and Judge ("Exposition on the Gospel of Luke 8.31-32", quoted in Arthur A. Just, ed., Luke, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2005), 245.)." We must work out our salvation (Philippians 2:12). Faith without works is dead and does not save (James 2:14-26).  St. Cyril of Alexandria tells us, "But which of you having a servant ploughing or feeding cattle ... In the verses which precede a long and important discourse has been addressed to us by the Lord, to shew unto us the paths which lead unto honour, and to manifest the glories of the blameless life, that making progress therein, and advancing zealously unto whatsoever is admirable we may attain unto “the prize of our high calling” [Philippians 3:14]. But since it is the nature of the mind of man ever to be carried away unto vaingloriousness, and to be afflicted most readily with a tendency thereto; and since a pretext for this fault is often given by the being distinguished before God for some of the noblest virtues; and since it is a sin grievous and hateful unto God:—for the serpent, the author of evil, leads men sometimes into such a state of mind, as for them to imagine perhaps that God even owes them the highest honours, when their life is glorious and distinguished:—to draw us away from such passions, He sets before us the purport of the lessons which have just been read, teaching us thereby, under the form of an example, that the might of sovereign authority demands everywhere of its slaves subjection as a debt. For the lord, He says, will not acknowledge any gratitude to the slave, even if all that is due be done by him, according to what becomes the condition of a slave (A Commentary upon the Gospel to Saint Luke, Sermons CXIII-CXVI)."

We must respond to grace with faith and put that faith into action. Even faith the size of a mustard seed is efficacious. St. Augustine says "A mustard seed looks small. Nothing is less noteworthy to the sight, but nothing is stronger to the taste. What does that signify but the very great fervor and inner strength of faith in the church ("Sermon 246.3", quoted in Arthur A. Just, ed., Luke, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2005), 267.)?"  We must have faith always. This faith will carry us a long way and will uproot those mulberry trees in our path to God. We grow in faith by prayer and listening to God in His Word (Romans 10:17). This word softens our hearts and brings us to put faith into practice by hoping and loving God and our neighbor (1 Corinthians 13:12-13).  Do not become like the Hebrews in the desert who hardened their hearts. Do not panic like Habakuk in times of trial nor be afraid (Revelation 2:10, Revelation 3:10). Instead, have faith in God.  Persevere and fight the good fight (Romans 12:12, Colossians 1:11-12, Galatians 6:9, James 1:12, 1 Timothy 6:12).  May Jesus Christ be praised!      


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