Saint Mary of the Angels homilies and reflections

Homily, October 6, 2013, Stories about Faith, Fr. Grégoire Catta SJ

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Sunday, Oct. 6, 2013 / SMA
Hab 1:2-3; 2:2-4; Ps 95; 2Tim 1:6-8, 13-14; Luke 17:5-10

The topic of today’s readings is "faith." The apostles say to the Lord, "Increase our faith." But what is faith? Take a moment to think about it. Not trying to remember what is the correct answer according to the catechism or the dictionary but more personally. If in an opinion poll you were asked "do you have faith?’ and "what is your faith?" what would you reply? If a colleague or a friend asks you "what does that mean for you, to have faith" what would you reply?

I have two recent stories about faith. When I was in Brazil with my group of French teenagers participating in the World Youth Day, we had a time of sharing at the beginning of the pilgrimage in which each one told a bit to others what they were looking for during these days. What was said repeatedly was "I’d like be strengthened in my faith." and "I’m not so sure about the things concerning God, religion etc., I’d like have more certainty." It’s true that for them being a Christian is quite a challenge because around them, at school, with their friends, in the society at large there are not many people who profess having faith. They find it difficult to have certainties in matter relating to God, Jesus-Christ and so on. What you can be sure of, is first, what is scientifically proved (like the earth is a sphere, the Sun rises in the East and sets in the West, or simply this alb is white and the floor is red), what you can also be sure of, is, second, what you feel. I have the certainty of being loved because I can feel it through my friends, my family etc. And when I don’t feel it, my guess is that it no longer exists. Of course it is not always easy to have certainties of this type, about God, Jesus-Christ and religion: scientific certainties, or feeling certainties. And that’s why my teenagers kept on saying that they had a lot of doubt and not a lot of faith. Maybe that’s what you think as well! But I told them: "maybe faith in God is more than this… Maybe, intellectual doubt about matters of religion (like not being sure who God is) is not contrary to faith but part of faith… Maybe the fact of not "feeling" God at one moment, is not a sign of a lack of faith… Maybe, the mere fact of searching for God, searching for Jesus, is already a sign of faith!" What do you think?

The second story. Two weeks ago, we were in a retreat at Ipswich with a large group of parishioners from Saint Mary of the Angels. At one point we took time to meditate on the story of Jesus calming the storm. And after the meditation we had some time to share a bit of our reflections in small group. One question was: "after the calming of the storm, Jesus tells the disciples in the boat who were previously so scared, "where is your faith?" and have there been times you felt God asking you, Where is your faith?" One woman in my group had this direct response: "No! I never felt this questioning about where is my faith. I completely trust in God. God will give me what I need. I’ve seen my doctors and they told me that they cannot cure me but, for me, I trust in God. If it’s God’s will for me and my family I will be cured even if the doctors say they don’t know how." And she was just saying this calmly and with conviction. I was amazed and I thought: "Wouah! I wish I had a faith like this!" It was simple, absolute trust in God. Note, not in the fact that God will cure her, but in the fact that God will always do what is necessary and good for her. Great expression of faith! Faith is trust, confidence, total assurance in God! And not in God as an abstract concept, in God as a person to be in relation with, in Jesus as the best friend! It was clear and neat! Maybe you recognize yourself in this aspect of faith. Total trust in God! It’s a different approach to faith than my first story, but no doubt it is as important and valuable as the other approach! No need to dismiss one for the other. This is what is great with things like faith (and God, and Jesus Christ, and love etc…) you can take diverse approaches to understand them and they are never exclusive, just complementary!

To continue to better grasp what faith is about and why it is so important for us – and not only for us but for all human beings! – let us turn to the passages of the Word of God we heard today.

In the reading of prophet Habakkuk, we hear a cry! "How long O Lord? I cry for help, but you do not listen! I cry to you, "violence" but you do not intervene. Why do you let me see ruin; why must I look at misery? Destruction and violence are before me; there is strife and clamorous discord." Have you ever talked to God like this? Maybe you’ve been tempted to do so, but you didn’t dare, because you think "this is not the way to talk to God! We should not put God to the test like this!" Well, if the prophet in the Bible speaks like this – and he is not the only one, there are many other passages in the prophets and in the psalms like this one – we should not be afraid of doing the same. If you’ve never prayed to God with this kind of anger against God, I encourage you to do so, next time you face terrible situations of violence, despairing situations that make you think "but where is God in all of this." Strife in the family, violence in the street, discord in the community, war in the world… Yes, expressing our despair to God with words of challenge is a very biblical way of praying. But then, we’re invited to follow the path taken by the prophet and to listen to God answering: "If it delays, wait for it, it will surely come, it will not be late!" and "the just one, because of his faith, shall live." God is life! Faith is about recognizing that God is life and that God can bring life in the most terrible and despairing situations, when violence seems to win. Faith is about putting all our trust in God. God will surely come!

In the letter from Paul to Timothy, there is an association that is very meaningful, I think: "Take as your norm the sound words that you heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. Guard this rich trust with the help of the Holy Spirit." Faith and love go hand in hand in Christ Jesus. No faith without love. Good point! If, for sure, there is an intellectual part in faith, it makes no sense to say I have the faith,or I believe, if we do not love!

Lastly, in the Gospel we have this story with the servant coming back and serving the master. Of course we live in quite a different world than in the times of the evangelist. The use of this image of a master and his servant to express the relation of God with us could be seen as inappropriate especially when we think of those who suffered so much from the abuse of "masters" who had all powers over their servants or slaves. Today we are conscious that everyone has rights, even employees vis-à-vis their boss! However, what the evangelist is telling us here is certainly not a justification of hierarchical unjust relations in a human society. He is simply using the way society was organized in his time to tell us something very important that is related to the question of faith. In relation to God, "we are unprofitable servants; we have done what we were obliged to do" is simply a reminder that God does not own something to us because of what we’ve done. It is not because we’ve done good that God loves us. God does not wait for us do good in order to love us! When we do good, we simply do what we are supposed to do, but God is much greater than simply a trader waiting to receive something in order to give something back or constrained to give something because he has received something. God is pure Love, pure gratuitous love. And this is what our faith is also about: putting our trust in God who is pure gratuitous love, to whom nothing is impossible!

So many aspects, so many approaches to the question of "what is faith?" No summary is possible, no full correct answer to be given. But for each one of us today, there is an invitation: to deepen our ongoing questioning, "what is my faith" and doing so the best way is to make ours the prayer of the disciples: "Increase our faith!"

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