Sunday, October 2, 2016

Increase Our Faith - Homily for October 2

Faith is a very important thing in the scriptures. At various points, we hear people praised for their faith, as being the means of their salvation, hearing the word of God and finding trust in Christ. But a lot of times when we say the word "faith," what we think, what we understand and what the world understands as faith, are two very different things. When the world hear "faith," they think often of mere superstition They see us as Christians and if we say the right number of prayers , the right number of times, if we pray the right verse or in the right situation ... if we do things just perfectly, God will reward us, God will bless us. They see it sometimes as a complete submission of self to God and the Church in a mindless manner - to put aside all reasoning, rationality, thought, and whatever God says, we follow whatever. Whatever the Church says, we follow whatever. Whatever the priest says, we follow whatever. If Fr. Brent gets up and says the sky is green, by faith the sky is green. They seem also that prayer or faith is simply an easy way out. They see it as taking the easy way, so they don't have to - so we don't have to - deal with the hard things; Those great mysteries, the sufferings and pains of people throughout the world, unjustly so often. They see faith as us washing our hands saying ... you know, we trust, God is God ... and we chalk it off as nothing big. And they see that as faith, but none of those things are really faith. They are false ideas of faith.

Faith is really what St. Paul describes to St. Timothy in his letter today - a profound trust, a rich trust. A confidence in the Lord that He is with us - that's faith. Knowing that when we pray, yes we pray different prayers, novenas, rosaries and chaplets, but it's not a magically superstitious thing. It's a place where it draws us to an encounter and conforms us to a more confident and trusting relationship with the Lord. 

Sometimes yes, our faith goes beyond reasoning, but it's not because reasoning has been set aside, but because we know that God is able to work miracles. He's able to do things in this world that don't make sense. It's being able to follow in a manner that can look like the easy way out, but really it's the difficult way of staying with people in their suffering, not trying to walk away. This is faith, and it's the faith that the Lord invites us to reflect upon especially in the scriptures this weekend.

The disciples come and look at Jesus - they had been walking with the Lord for a while and they recognize they need more faith - who is telling all these people "your faith has saved you... your faith has healed you." They ask the Lord to increase their faith, "Here I am, Lord. Make it happen Big Guy. Work Your magic, increase my faith." And the Lord responds in an interesting manner, as He always does. He doesn't say "Wish granted, you got faith." Rather He says, "If you had faith the size of of a mustard seed, you'd be able to say to the mulberry tree 'Get up and be planted in the cedar wood." Jesus, in His other parables, uses things in an extraordinary manner. But when it comes to us, He uses the smallest things - a mustard seed. He knows wee struggle with faith. he knows that in the depths of our heart, it's hard to have faith. it may seem like the easy way out, but it's incredibly difficult to have faith, to have that rich trust in our God, to have that confidence that whenever things get difficult that God still is with us when everything around us seems to say otherwise. That kind of faith is difficult. And the Lord says that even if you have the smallest of bits, that's enough. That's a starting point. If we have even the smallest amount of faith, it's something that can grow. It's also interesting that the Lord uses the mustard seed, as so many of His parables involve plants, because plants are a beautiful analogy of the soul. There are seeds, there is growth, there is sometimes a lack of growth, there's the death of the plant, there's pruning, there's seasons, there's fruits - much the same with the soul. The Lord God comes and plants the seed of faith, that little bitty seed of faith in the gift of our Baptism and He invites us to allow it to be nourished. But the only way faith is nourished is for it to be used. We can't just open our arms in front of the church, "Lord increase my faith," and expect it to instantaneously happen. It doesn't work - I've tried. It takes us to go forth and be people of faith. In the little things, to trust in the Lord. That willingness to walk day after day after day, trusting over and over again. Having confidence that the Lord is with us.

As we heard in the Gospel a couple of weeks ago, whenever we are able to make something out of a little bit of wealth, we are trusted with more. If we are faithful with little wealth, God will give us great wealth. And if we put to use the little bit of faith we do have, God will increase it and make it a great faith - a faith that has transforming powers, a faith that whenever the big things come, and we walk in the little ways of faith, trust in the little things, that whenever the hard things come, it seems second nature for us. It's normal for us to trust, despite all things otherwise telling us God is not with us. When we have faith, things change. It's that confidence in the Lord; He calls us to trust and confide in Him. . 

We have these two stories set side by side in the Gospel - the Lord always moves and throws curve balls to keep us on our toes and help us grow in our understanding of things. And so, the disciples are hoping to get a little boost of faith, and in response they get, "If you had even a little bit of faith, you could say to that tree to get up and go into the sea, and it would" - a challenge to recognize they faith that they have. But secondly he gives that parable of the unprofitable stewards/servants. "Who among you would go out and have your servant who has been working in the field, to when he comes home you say, "You sit down. I'm going to serve you dinner." Who among you would do that? Nobody because that's not your job. In fact, it's his job. It's fitting, right, it's the normal thing to do, that when he comes in from a day in the fields, you would say "Now you can finished the second half of your job. You can serve me at table and after that you could have your meal." That's normal. It's a story about justice in a certain sense; what do we deserve.

A lot of times whenever we approach faith, it seems as if that simply having faith in God, simply having that rich trust in the Lord, that sometimes we feel it should be a special gift we get in response. That if I have faith, trust in the Lord and follow His ways, that I should be rewarded and God should give me special blessings for it. That after laboring in the vineyard and trusting in Him, I should go home at the end of the day and God should come serve me. That's kind of what the disciples are looking for. They are looking to have themselves cared for, as Peter elsewhere would say, "Lord, we've give up all these things, what do I get in return." And so to the same things with faith. But that's not exactly how it works, Christ reminds us. He says very gently, connecting the two stories side-by-side, that we ought to have faith, He can work with faith. But also, if we do have faith, good. We are supposed to; we're supposed to have that confidence in the Lord. If we labor in the vineyard all day long and trying to give ourselves and increase that faith by trusting in God through the big and the small. Good. We're supposed to. It's not supposed to be a special privilege for only a few. It's something that all of us are called to.

It's something that God rightly deserves - our trust. He deserves to be completely trusted because He is a loving Father. He's a Father that wants the best for us. He's a Father that comes to us and is willing to give us everything, more than what we dare to ask, as the opening prayer eluded to. We can't even to dare ask for the great gifts that God is willing to bestow upon us every day. That's the love of the Father. And that's why it is right, just, that we should trust in Him. Faith is not a special gift. It's the normal course of the Christian life. And so we ask the Lord to be with us today, and by the grace of this Mass that He would come and strengthen us. We pray that prayer of the apostles we hear today for ourselves, "Lord, increase our faith."