NINETEENTH SUNDAY OF ORDINARY TIME (C)
Today's readings are all about one thing: faith.
In the second reading, from Hebrews, we are reminded of the story of our Father in faith, Abraham. Abraham was called to travel to a land he was told would be his inheritance, even though he did not know where it was. While travelling, he and his family lived in tents, even though they were promised a city made by God. Abraham, even in his old age, with a sterile wife, conceived a son through faith. And Abraham was later asked to sacrifice his son, the same son whom God promised would provide many descendants.
All this Abraham was able to do because of his great faith. So what is faith? We talk a lot about "the faith," meaning the sum of our Christian beliefs and practices. But faith is also a virtue one can possess. Abraham had this faith in abundance.
The glossary in the back of the Catechism is a wonderful tool. It tells us faith is "Both a gift of God and a human act by which the believer gives personal adherence to God who invites his response, and freely assents to the whole truth that God has revealed."
Clearly, then, faith is a give and take. It requires the actions of both God and man. God proposes, and man accepts. This is why faith (along with hope and charity) is called a "theological virtue." It has its origin in God; it also has God as its end.
Blessed John Paul II issued an encyclical in 1998 entitled Fides et Ratio, or in English, "Faith and Reason." This wonderful work explores the relationship between these two ways of knowing. Most of the knowledge we learn comes to us through reason. God has created us with senses - sight, hearing, touch, taste, smell - through which we gain information about the world around us. God has also gifted us with a rational intellect allowing us to draw conclusions about the world based on the information provided by our senses.
To give a basic example, we can learn through use of our sight that yellow and blue mixed together make green. We can also deduce through reason things like 2 + 2 = 4, or that gravity keeps the planets in their orbits, and that broccoli is better for our health than gummy worms. We don't need any divine revelation from God to teach us these things. Knowing that 2 + 2 = 4 does not require the virtue of faith.
Faith is something different from reason, though it is not incompatible with it. Faith allows us to accept certain truths proposed to us by God that our reason alone would not allow us to grasp. The foundational teachings of our faith are like that. Jesus is both fully human and fully divine. God exists as one God in three Persons. These things we could never know using only our reason. Though they do not run contrary to reason, we could never deduce them on our own. We must accept them through faith.
But more than having faith in the doctrines taught by the Church for our benefit, we must also have personal faith in God. Abraham shows us the virtue of this faith in action. God promised Abraham some pretty radical sounding things. Even though he was in his 90's, and his wife Sarah in her 80's and sterile, God promised them a son. He promised them a land to be the inheritance of their many descendants. He promised that Abraham would be the faith a great nation. These things sound impossible. Yet Abraham had faith and did not shy away from what God was calling him to do. Why and how did Abraham have such great faith?
Our reading today from Hebrews gives us the answer. "For he thought that the one who had made the promise was trustworthy."
The one who made the promise was trustworthy. My faith in the Eucharist has nothing to do with what my senses can tell me. It is not because of anything special about the bread and wine. I believe in the Real Presence because of the One who said, "This is my body," and "this is my blood."
Likewise I don't believe in the infallibility of the Church because of anything special about the men who make up the College of Bishops. As intelligent and pious as they may be, there is nothing in their humanity that would guarantee to my reason that they will always lead the Church in the truth. I believe it because of the One who said, "Upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it."
St. Augustine once said, "I would not believe in the Gospels if the authority of the Catholic Church did not move me to do so." With him, I admit that there is nothing in the Scriptures that would cause my reason to take them for anything other than a great work of historic literature. But the Church who speaks with the authority of Christ tells me that this is the inspired Word of God. And so I believe.
The one who made the promise is trustworthy.
If this is true about great matters of our faith, it is also true in our personal lives. Abraham was not given some great doctrine proposed for believe, such as the Real Presence in the Eucharist or the infallibility of the Church. He was given a task - an impossible sounding task. And he was able to accept it with faith because he trusted the One who asked him to do it.
Aren't we too often unwilling to ask God what His will is for us, because we are afraid that we may not be up to what He wants us to do? Are we afraid that God might want us to do something we will fail at? Whether that be teaching faith formation in your parish, starting a new charitable aid group, getting involved in hospital ministry - or maybe giving our lives completely to Him in a religious vocation - whatever it might be, if that calling is truly coming from God, then we need to have faith that He will provide a way to make it happen.
Like Abraham, the path before us might not be free of difficulties. We may have many hardships and obstacles to overcome. But we persevere in faith, because we trust in the One who makes the promise.
May the Lord bless you and keep you!