by f. Luis CASASUS, General Superior of the Idente missionaries
New York, October 06, 2019. Twenty-seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time.
Book of Habakkuk: 1,2-3.2,2-4; Second Letter to Timothy: 1,6-8.13-14; Saint Luke: 17,5-10.
How can faith be measured? This is not a not a question of grayscale. According to Jesus, faith is measured as black or white, in his own words, little faith (His apostles during the storm on the lake) and great faith (the centurion, the bleeding woman).
How could He say that?
Firstly, because faith can increase dramatically… and it can also easily be lost. There is nothing between these extremes.
Secondly, because actions make our faith visible: when we consistently change, accepting to leave our fame and our comfort for the good of others, people begin to see what Jesus is really like as we become more and more like Him. Our lives are on display, so we need to be sure that people can see Jesus Christ, not just us. People won’t receive the highest good if they just see me. But if they can see Jesus then I know I am doing what God has called me to do.
Faith is a gift of God that requires our action. Paul in his letter to the Romans says, Faith without works is dead. In reality, this is a permanent form of dialogue between God and the human being: We are faithful to the smallest desire of our heavenly Father and immediately we feel how our faith will grow and we will see that the Good News proclaimed by Jesus is true.
We are not interested in making trees fly or moving mountains. Often in his teaching, Jesus used for this purpose strong Oriental imagery. On this occasion, He was referring to a tree he with very strong and profound roots which is very difficult to uproot from the ground.
By his striking statements He fixed in the minds of his disciples the thought that faith and persistence can accomplish that which seems not only impossible, but unimaginable. The message can be summarized with the words pronounced by Jesus in another context: Everything is possible for one who has faith (Mk 9:23). That is what we call miracles.
God does not provide miracles simply to impress people with his power, rather He works in a benevolent and wonderful fashion when our lives seem to have gone out of our control. True miracles are more about our lives than the spectacular. Shall I allow him to work in my life?
As the following little story reflects, wonders and spectacular actions are not enough to give us true happiness:
A long time ago, a mouse was in constant distress because of its fear of the cat. A magician took pity on it and turned it into a cat, but then it became afraid of a dog. So the magician turned the cat into a dog. Now, the dog began to fear the lion. Therefore, the magician turned the dog into a lion whereupon it was full of fear for a hunter. At this point the magician threw up his arms, and turned the lion into a mouse again saying, Nothing I do for you is going to be of any help because you have the heart of a mouse.
An alcoholic who gives up the bottle, a marriage in jeopardy restored, a life once lived only to itself and now given to others out of love, a little baby adopted by loving parents, a religious person like you and me who becomes more gentle and helpful…all of these are miracles.
Like Habakkuk in today’s First Reading, have you ever prayed earnestly about a particular matter, asking God to solve it in some particular way? But then God answers the prayer in an entirely different, unexpected way. It happens all the time. Sometimes He gives us what we want, how we want it! But usually He answers by providing something much better and the latter is more commonly the case. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts (Is 55: 8-9).
When Christ says that faith can overcome all difficulties, He does not mean that we can change the mind of God. Rather, faith changes our mind. Faith changes our perspective of life. To have faith in God is not so much a question of asking God to do our will, rather, it is to do His will. This is what the unprofitable servant sought to do. True faith is a faithful service in obedience to His will.
In fact, some of the greatest and ultimately positive answers to prayer seem, at first, to be negative things: problems, times of trouble or pain. We are put through difficult circumstances we had not foreseen. Jesus’ own excruciating pain on the cross was used by God for the ultimate victory. Your anger lasts a little while, but your kindness lasts for a lifetime. At night we may cry, but when morning comes we will celebrate (Psalm 30: 5).
God revealed Himself to the Israelites, and promised a Messiah, who would deliver His people. They expected a political savior, who would restore the physical nation of Israel, overcome its oppressors, and draw people from every nation to God. When Jesus was betrayed and turned over for execution to the Romans, the hopes of the Jews were dashed.
God assures Habakkuk that He is still at work among the nations and the people of Judah. But it is not going to look the way Habakkuk expects it to look. God is moving in ways the human mind cannot comprehend, and He is faithfully working out His will.
God’s plan for the world goes beyond human politics and aims to set each and every one of us free from sin and death.
In our lives, we are all either about to go through a storm, are in one… or have just gotten out of one. Sometimes these storms we go through is an answer to our prayers. Our prayers are answered in a way that we could never have imagined. The fruit of the purification we undergo is a new passion for the things of God and a freedom from fear. We may not understand the purpose for our trials in the moment, but we must trust in Our Heavenly Father. The enemy tried to destroy us by instilling fear in our heart. In many ways, faith and fear are opposites.
More often than not, we are blind to the blessings that God daily showers upon us. We awake to see the sun shining, and do not give thanks to God.
A man who was lost in the woods. Later, in describing the experience, he told how frightened he was and how he had even finally knelt and prayed. Someone asked him: Did God answer your prayer? The man replied: Oh, no. Before God had a chance, a guide came along and showed me the way out.
We complain about our jobs, forgetting that many would be grateful just to have a job or even to have the bodily strength to go to work. We complain about our lack of money, forgetting that we spend more on food, clothing and entertainment each month than many around the world earn as their total income. We complain about one another and many religious criticize superiors and bishops, forgetting that we are called to give them witness to the Gospel.
Moreover, as we know from personal experience, we receive God’s forgiveness in spite of our small-minded actions and our great mediocrity, because we are aware that He does not quench our little faith, rather He always gives us a new opportunity to continue building his Kingdom through our humble service to the least favored.
Whether I am believer in Jesus Christ or a person who does not even believe in God, the fact is, God has blessed me far more than I realize and far more than I deserve. It is important to respond properly to God’s abundant blessings.by glorifying Him from thankful hearts.
Abraham is considered not only as the father of believers but also as a model of the man who prays. His life teaches us that it is necessary to believe in order to pray and we need to pray to fuel our faith and be prepared to accept the will of God.
The truth is that many events of our life are enigmatic, incomprehensible and illogical and seem to give reason to one who doubts whether God is present in and accompanies our history. This is dramatically pictured in today’s First Reading and it is also the reason why Saint Paul seeks to encourage Timothy, the shy and reserved young bishop: So do not be ashamed of your testimony to our Lord, nor of me, a prisoner for his sake; but bear your share of hardship for the gospel with the strength that comes from God.
Taking advantage of all the difficulties we face from within and without, the Holy Spirit performs in us his purification. Our father Founder makes us understand that God’s plan for us by means of purification is not simply to eliminate sin, but to make practically possible the evangelical perfection:
Love the purification of yourselves with that urgency, with that clarity and that precision that Christ gives us in the Gospel, that invites you to boldness, leaving behind everything that has to be left behind, in order to be make possible the divine ecstasy. Leave everything! I´m speaking to you in the spirit. Empty yourselves completely within of all that He is not. Just do it, according to the deliberation of your conscience. With your conscience, give maximum attention to that which is represented before you, by the teaching of the very life of the Institute and by the inspirations of the Holy Spirit, those intimate persuasions. Whenever you see that something is not perfectly pure, perfectly noble, perfectly beautiful, reject it immediately with the moral deliberation of your conscience (Our father Founder, January 31, 1971).
The experience of impotence and vacillation shaking our faith and hope happens every day. This explains the request of the apostles: Increase our faith. They realized that spiritual maturity is not a fruit of their effort and of their commitment, but a gift of God which we have to accept and to which we must respond. They felt impelled to ask Jesus to make them more decisive, convinced, generous in the choice of following him.
To be able to do His work and to serve God is in itself the greatest joy. A faithful servant is one who carries out what God wants of Him. He has no other wish. The joy of living righteously, of being faithful and consistent in our words and actions even when misunderstood or rejected is the greatest reward.
Mother Teresa said that God calls us to be faithful, not to be successful. It is fidelity to our calling that will give us deep joy and peace, not success. What the world deems as successful can very well be failure to God and to ourselves. What is the use of being successful when we lose our peace?