Faith, knowledge, and faithfulness

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19th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C: Aug. 11, 2013
Wis 18:6-9; Ps 33; Heb 11:1-2, 8-19; Luke 12:32-48

In our second reading today, we heard a portion of the famous chapter from the Letter to the Hebrews on faith. And how appropriate, during this Year of Faith, which began last October and will last until Christ the King Sunday in late November of this year.

And we know that faith was very important to our Lord Jesus during his years of earthly ministry. He praised great faith when he found it; he was disappointed when he found a lack of it; he chided his disciples at times for having “little faith”; he encouraged people to have faith and spoke about the great things that faith allowed to happen.

Do you have faith? Do you want it? Do you want more of it? Let’s see if we can hone our understanding of this central Christian theological virtue so that we can grow in it, as our Lord Jesus desires.

First, how does faith relate to ordinary knowledge? We know that, in ordinary knowledge, we are using our intellect (our mind). And, when we are evaluating any possible statement of truth, we might come up with a result somewhere on a spectrum of possibilities: such as, impossible, false, uncertain, maybe, probable, true. Do you notice that “faith” isn’t on that spectrum? That is because something different is going on with faith; we aren’t just using our intellects but also our will; we have to decide, to choose.

But what are we choosing? Well, when it comes to knowledge, we are dealing with our own ability to know: what is in front of us, tangible, present now, and what we ourselves know. But the limits of knowledge are the limits of what we know, the limits of our abilities. If we want to go beyond those limits, then we need faith: we need to trust someone else, to trust what they say that is beyond what we know. In an ordinary human sense, this happens every day, in areas in which we personally don’t have expertise: when a doctor prescribes us medicine, we trust the doctor’s knowledge, the pharmacist, the drug manufacturer, and so on; when we drive a car over a bridge, we trust the car maker, our mechanic, and those who built and maintain the bridge. In the human sense, we exercise faith every day.

And it is similar in the divine sense. When we trust God and what he has revealed to us of what surpasses the capacity of our reason, he enables us to go beyond this, to really know the truth about him and ourselves, and his will for our lives.

But what have we just said? Faith, then, involves trust in a person. It is not just some sort of vague optimism that everything will turn out the way that we want it to; it is certainly not the idea that we can make things happen just by willing them. No, faith involves trust in a person. And therefore we have to ask: which person? Why? Are they trustworthy? Are they faithful? Thus, St. Paul wrote to St. Timothy: “I know him in whom I have believed and am confident that he is able to guard what has been entrusted to me until that day.” (2 Tim 1:12) Or, as we heard in our second reading: Abraham thought that the one who had made the promise was trustworthy. Pope John Paul I, during his brief time as pope, said: “God is all powerful; God has a great love for me; God is faithful to His promises. It is He, the God of mercies, who fills me with confidence.”

Do we agree with Abraham, with St. Paul, with Pope John Paul I, and the many saints? Is God faithful; is he worthy of our trust? And if he is: then do we fail to trust him as much, to have as much confidence in his word, as we should? God being faithful toward us, should then lead us to be faithful toward him. Does it? With all that we expect from him, in loving faithfulness—can he expect the same from us?

This was the great cry of the Lord throughout the Old Testament: that he was perfectly faithful, but his People too often did not respond with the same faithfulness that he desired. This is what our Lord Jesus asks for in his words in the Gospel reading: that we his servants continue to be faithfully obedient to his words and alert for his arrival, even when he seems to delay in returning. And he can make us so. Even when we have been unfaithful, he is ready to forgive and to help to make us faithful, when we cooperate with his grace.

Then we can begin to live in ways like those we heard in the second reading: ways that don’t make any sense, unless faith has enabled us to surpass our own limits, to see beyond the present, to see beyond what is right in front of us; to leave what is familiar, to strive for what is better, what is perfect, what is promised, though yet unknown.

Then indeed he can give us amazing things—spiritual gifts and abilities, miracles—when by faith and faithfulness we open ourselves to receive them. As by faith Abraham received power to generate, even though he was past the normal age—who knows what wonders the Lord has in store for us when we will just be ready to receive them.

And so I suggest three quick things that each of us can do, today, this week, to grow in faith and faithfulness during this Year of Faith:

  • First, make Acts of Faith. What is an act of faith? A sentence that you say, in your heart or aloud, that affirms and articulates your faith in him. You can find these online or in prayer books. But it can be as simple as saying: “O my God, I believe in you, in what you have received about yourself and your will. I believe in your goodness and your love and your faithfulness.”—which you can say in moments when things go wrong, or when they go right, when you suffer, when you’re thankful, and so on. An act of faith.
  • Second, review God’s faithfulness. Take some time to reflect back on your lives and perhaps the lives of your family. Maybe make a list on a piece of paper or in a journal. List examples of how God has been faithful to you in the ways that he has shown his love and care for you. As you come to know better the one in whom you have believed, this will strengthen your faith.
  • Third, review your own faithfulness. When have you fallen short of the kind of faithfulness he deserves, to himself and in all your actions? And what you find—bring it to confession, so that he can forgive you and strengthen you to become a saint, radiant in faithfulness.

Our Lord Jesus said: “Should he come in the second or third watch and find them prepared, blessed are those servants.” Blessed are we indeed, when we know our Lord’s faithfulness to us and respond with true faithfulness of our own. Lord we believe; help our unbelief!

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