Persevering in Faith While Grasping the Better Possession, Third Friday (I), January 30, 2015

Fr. Roger J. Landry
St. Bernadette Parish, Fall River, MA
Friday of the Third Week in Ordinary Time, Year I
January 30, 2015
Heb 10:32-39, Ps 37, Mk 4:26-34

 

To listen to an audio recording of today’s homily, please click below: 

 

The following points were attempted in the homily: 

  •  Today Jesus continues to speak to us about the growth in faith he desires. On Wednesday, he gave us the Parable of the Sower and the Seed and focused on faith-filled receptivity, which he said features hearing the Word, actively accepting it, and bearing fruit 30, 60 and 100-fold. Yesterday he said true faith can’t be hidden, but shines like the light of a lamp placed on a lamp stand, and that the more we exercise the spiritual muscle of the theological virtue of faith, the more it will grow. Today he gives us two images to teach us two more angles about the increase in faith that is meant to happen when we enter and live in his kingdom.
  • Jesus says, first, that faith grows like a mustard seed. “When it is sown in the ground,” Jesus says, “it is the smallest of all the seeds on the earth. But once it is sown, it springs up and becomes the largest of plants and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the sky can dwell in its shade.” Even a little bit of faith is enough, Jesus would say elsewhere, to move mountains. Even when it seems small, we should know that it contains within the power to grow to be enormous.
  • And Jesus by another image describes one of the most important parts of that growth. It’s God’s work. Jesus compares the growth in faith to what happens with a farmer scattering seed in the Holy Land, turning it over once, and then allowing the growth. “It is as if a man were to scatter seed on the land and would sleep and rise night and day and the seed would sprout and grow, he knows not how. Of its own accord the land yields fruit, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. And when the grain is ripe, he wields the sickle at once, for the harvest has come.” The farmer certainly does a little of the work, but most of the work happens by what is contained in the seed, what is contained in the soil, and the water that comes. So it is with growth in faith. God has given us that seed, he’ll provide the water, and he’ll give so many of the nutrients necessary for us to be rich, fruitful soil. And so we should have great confidence in God’s work.
  • The way God normally acts to help that seed of faith grow large is through putting us in tests in which we need to exercise the spiritual muscles of faith. Every time we pass the test of faith under duress, our faith grows. We see this in today’s first reading from the Letter to the Hebrews. It describes how the faith of the first Christians grew. “Remember the days past when, after you had been enlightened (baptized), you endured a great contest of suffering. At times you were publicly exposed to abuse and affliction; at other times you associated yourselves with those so treated. You even joined in the sufferings of those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property, knowing that you had a better and lasting possession.” The last sentence points to how they were able to remain faithful in the midst of so many trials, including the confiscation of their goods and even the confiscation of their earthly life. They knew that they had a “better and lasting possession.”
  • Pope Benedict, in his superb 2007 encyclical on Christian hope, focused on the contrast between earthly possessions and this superior one, in his characteristically deep, beautiful and clear way. He wrote, “Here the author speaks to believers who have undergone the experience of persecution and he says to them: ‘You had compassion on the prisoners, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property (hyparchonton), since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession (hyparxin) and an abiding one.’ Hyparchonta refers to property, to what in earthly life constitutes the means of support, indeed the basis, the “substance” for life, what we depend upon. This ‘substance,’ life’s normal source of security, has been taken away from Christians in the course of persecution. They have stood firm, though, because they considered this material substance to be of little account. They could abandon it because they had found a better ‘basis’ for their existence—a basis that abides, that no one can take away. We must not overlook the link between these two types of ‘substance,’ between means of support or material basis and the word of faith as the ‘basis,’ the ‘substance’ that endures. Faith gives life a new basis, a new foundation on which we can stand, one which relativizes the habitual foundation, the reliability of material income. A new freedom is created with regard to this habitual foundation of life, which only appears to be capable of providing support, although this is obviously not to deny its normal meaning. This new freedom, the awareness of the new ‘substance’ which we have been given, is revealed not only in martyrdom, in which people resist the overbearing power of ideology and its political organs and, by their death, renew the world. Above all, it is seen in the great acts of renunciation, from the monks of ancient times to Saint Francis of Assisi and those of our contemporaries who enter modern religious Institutes and movements and leave everything for love of Christ, so as to bring to men and women the faith and love of Christ, and to help those who are suffering in body and spirit. In their case, the new ‘substance’ has proven to be a genuine ‘substance’; from the hope of these people who have been touched by Christ, hope has arisen for others who were living in darkness and without hope. In their case, it has been demonstrated that this new life truly possesses and is ‘substance’ that calls forth life for others. For us who contemplate these figures, their way of acting and living is de facto a ‘proof’ that the things to come, the promise of Christ, are not only a reality that we await, but a real presence: he is truly the ‘philosopher’ and the ‘shepherd’ who shows us what life is and where it is to be found.”
  • It’s on the basis of this difference type of possession that the Letter to the Hebrews continues, “Therefore, do not throw away your confidence; it will have great recompense.” It stresses that we need to have the endurance of faith based on the hope for these possessions in order to receive them, phrasing the battle of human life as a battle of perseverance versus drawing back. The sacred author says, “You need endurance to do the will of God and receive what he has promised. ‘For, after just a brief moment, he who is to come shall come; he shall not delay. But my just one shall live by faith, and if he draws back I take no pleasure in him’ (see Hab 2:3). We are not among those who draw back and perish, but among those who have faith and will possess life.”
  • Pope Benedict comments on this passage as well in Spe Salvi, which illumines for us the way to live as Christians. “In order to understand more deeply this reflection on the two types of substance—hypostasis (basing our lives on God) and hyparchonta (basing our lives on material things) —and on the two approaches to life expressed by these terms, we must continue with a brief consideration of two words pertinent to the discussion which can be found in the tenth chapter of the Letter to the Hebrews. I refer to the words hypomone (10:36) and hypostole (10:39). Hypomone is normally translated as ‘patience’ (endurance) — perseverance, constancy. Knowing how to wait, while patiently enduring trials, is necessary for the believer to be able to ‘receive what is promised’ (10:36). In the religious context of ancient Judaism, this word was used expressly for the expectation of God that was characteristic of Israel, for their persevering faithfulness to God on the basis of the certainty of the Covenant in a world which contradicts God. Thus the word indicates a lived hope, a life based on the certainty of hope. In the New Testament this expectation of God, this standing with God, takes on a new significance: in Christ, God has revealed himself. He has already communicated to us the ‘substance’ of things to come, and thus the expectation of God acquires a new certainty. It is the expectation of things to come from the perspective of a present that is already given. It is a looking-forward in Christ’s presence, with Christ who is present, to the perfecting of his Body, to his definitive coming. The word hypostole, on the other hand, means shrinking back (drawing back) through lack of courage to speak openly and frankly a truth that may be dangerous. Hiding through a spirit of fear leads to ‘destruction’ (Heb 10:39). ‘God did not give us a spirit of timidity but a spirit of power and love and self-control’—that, by contrast, is the beautiful way in which the Second Letter to Timothy (1:7) describes the fundamental attitude of the Christian.”
  • So the Letter to the Hebrews is seeking to help us to have a faith that flourishes in a holy hypomone (perseverance) because we have founded our lives on the hyparxin (or hypostasis, substance) of faith. This is the type of growth in faith God wants to give us, the type of growth that makes us martyrs (witnesses) in life and, if necessary, martyrs also in death. Even if our faith is too small for this now, we know that God wants to help it to increase. Today he gives us the greatest means ever to help it increase, allowing us to enter into Communion with Jesus, who is our hyparxin, and who wants to help us from the inside to have this holy hypomone. This small “mustard seed” of the host we’re about to receive is is so great that it has the power to grow to be all-encompassing in our life so that many others may come to rest in our faith, so that one day others may sing of us, what we sing of those in the Letter to the Hebrews, “Faith of our Fathers, holy faith! We will be true to thee till death!”

The readings for today’s Mass were: 

Reading 1 Heb 10:32-39

Remember the days past when, after you had been enlightened,
you endured a great contest of suffering.
At times you were publicly exposed to abuse and affliction;
at other times you associated yourselves with those so treated.
You even joined in the sufferings of those in prison
and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property,
knowing that you had a better and lasting possession.
Therefore, do not throw away your confidence;
it will have great recompense.
You need endurance to do the will of God and receive what he has promised.For, after just a brief moment,
he who is to come shall come;
he shall not delay.
But my just one shall live by faith,
and if he draws back I take no pleasure in him.
We are not among those who draw back and perish,
but among those who have faith and will possess life.

Responsorial Psalm Ps 37:3-4, 5-6, 23-24, 39-40

R. (39a) The salvation of the just comes from the Lord.
Trust in the LORD and do good,
that you may dwell in the land and be fed in security.
Take delight in the LORD,
and he will grant you your heart’s requests.
R. The salvation of the just comes from the Lord.
Commit to the LORD your way;
trust in him, and he will act.
He will make justice dawn for you like the light;
bright as the noonday shall be your vindication.
R. The salvation of the just comes from the Lord.
By the LORD are the steps of a man made firm,
and he approves his way.
Though he fall, he does not lie prostrate,
for the hand of the LORD sustains him.
R. The salvation of the just comes from the Lord.
The salvation of the just is from the LORD;
he is their refuge in time of distress.
And the LORD helps them and delivers them;
he delivers them from the wicked and saves them,
because they take refuge in him.
R. The salvation of the just comes from the Lord.

Alleluia See Mt 11:25

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Blessed are you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth;
you have revealed to little ones the mysteries of the Kingdom.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel Mk 4:26-34

Jesus said to the crowds:
“This is how it is with the Kingdom of God;
it is as if a man were to scatter seed on the land
and would sleep and rise night and day
and the seed would sprout and grow,
he knows not how.
Of its own accord the land yields fruit,
first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear.
And when the grain is ripe, he wields the sickle at once,
for the harvest has come.”He said,
“To what shall we compare the Kingdom of God,
or what parable can we use for it?
It is like a mustard seed that, when it is sown in the ground,
is the smallest of all the seeds on the earth.
But once it is sown, it springs up and becomes the largest of plants
and puts forth large branches,
so that the birds of the sky can dwell in its shade.”
With many such parables
he spoke the word to them as they were able to understand it.
Without parables he did not speak to them,
but to his own disciples he explained everything in private.