The Faith Jesus Wants to Help us Have, Third Saturday (I), January 31, 2015

Fr. Roger J. Landry
St. Bernadette Parish, Fall River, MA
Saturday of the Third Week in Ordinary Time, Year I
Memorial of St. John Bosco
January 31, 2015
Heb 11:1-2.8-19, Lk 1:69-75, Mk 4:35-41

 

To listen to an audio recording of this homily, please click below: 

 

The following points were attempted in the homily: 

  • Today Jesus continues to teach us and help us to grow in faith. Over the last few days he’s been talking about what faith is and does — that faith is like rich soil that hears the seed of God’s word, accepts it wholeheartedly and bears abundant fruit; that faith is meant to illumine others like a light set on a lamp stand; that faith is meant to grow through exercise it in acts of faith; that faith is like a mustard seed that God wants to help grow to become the biggest of shrubs — but today Jesus puts the disciples in a bootcamp experience to test their faith and help it to grow. The training happens on the Sea of Galilee.
  • Jesus tells them, as night was coming, to get into the boat with him and cross to the other side. Jesus was so exhausted that he fell asleep in the stern of the boat and remained asleep — so tired he must have been — even when the boat was beginning to rock, even when the waves that were “breaking over the boat” were doubtless splashing him in the face. Those storms were common to the Sea of Galilee because of the latitudinal mountain ranges stretching from the Mediterranean Sea to the Sea of Galilee that were serve as a wind tunnel and cause serious storms to begin almost out of nowhere, so powerful the wind could whip up. In the middle of the storm, the disciples didn’t respond with faith. They didn’t cry out to the Lord in prayer. They didn’t have confidence in the love of the Lord remaining with them. They feared for their life. They woke Jesus and said, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” Do you not care? Imagine, their fears got them to think Jesus was totally insensitive to their plight and to completing his own mission for the salvation of the world! Jesus got up and rebuked the wind and the sea, calming it. Then he rebuked the disciples. He asked, “Why are you terrified? Do you not yet have faith?” Jesus allowed the entire storm to occur as a test of faith, to help them in the midst of it to pass the test so that their faith might grow.
  • Jesus allows us to pass through similar tests, through analogous storms. The storms of pain and suffering, the storms of the suffering and death of loved ones, the storms of anxiety, of failure, of various problems, the storms of temptations sometimes quite fierce so that in the midst of all of these tests, we might grow in faith. Every test of faith we can pass, and when we do, our faith grows. But it’s important that when we’re being tested, we respond not just with a vague perseverance, but by growing in trust of God and in trust of all that he has promised, because he is faithful to his promises.
  • That’s what today’s first reading is about. The eleventh and twelfth chapters of the Letter to the Hebrews are among the most inspirational sections of the entire Bible. Yesterday we finished the tenth chapter focusing on the holy hypomone — perseverance — God wants us to have in contrast to those who “draw back.” We pondered how the early Christians allowed themselves to be dispossessed of so many of their earthly possessions — even their life! — because they knew that they had a greater possession (hyparxin) in God in faith. Today the Letter to the Hebrews builds on it. It defines faith as, “Faith is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen.” Faith is the hypostasis, the substance, the down payment of what we hope for, the evidence of what we do not yet see but know is coming. It’s the embryo of the fulfillment that one day will grow. By faith we firmly believe that we already possess in part what we hope to possess in full later.
  • Pope Benedict talked about this in his beautiful encyclical letter on Christian hope, Spe Salvi, writing: “In the eleventh chapter of the Letter to the Hebrews, we find a kind of definition of faith that closely links this virtue with hope…: “Faith is the hypostasis of things hoped for; the proof of things not seen.” For the Fathers and for the theologians of the Middle Ages, it was clear that the Greek word hypostasis was to be rendered in Latin with the term substantia …— faith is the ‘substance’ of things hoped for; the proof of things not seen. Saint Thomas Aquinas, using the terminology of the philosophical tradition to which he belonged, explains it as follows: faith is a habitus, that is, a stable disposition of the spirit, through which eternal life takes root in us and reason is led to consent to what it does not see. The concept of ‘substance’ is therefore modified in the sense that through faith, in a tentative way, or as we might say ‘in embryo’—and thus according to the ‘substance’—there are already present in us the things that are hoped for: the whole, true life. And precisely because the thing itself is already present, this presence of what is to come also creates certainty: this ‘thing’ that must come is not yet visible in the external world (it does not ‘appear’), but because of the fact that, as an initial and dynamic reality, we carry it within us, a certain perception of it has even now come into existence. … Faith is not merely a personal reaching out towards things to come that are still totally absent: it gives us something. It gives us even now something of the reality we are waiting for, and this present reality constitutes for us a ‘proof ‘of the things that are still unseen. Faith draws the future into the present, so that it is no longer simply a ‘not yet.’ The fact that this future exists changes the present; the present is touched by the future reality, and thus the things of the future spill over into those of the present and those of the present into those of the future.” Faith, as he says, is not just subjective conviction, but it gives us something even now of what God wants to give us forever. We can just ponder the fact that God gives himself to us on the altar right now, the Trinity dwells in us right now, and we can already grasp that we’re experiencing a small glimpse of what God wants to give us forever. For the apostles in the boat, hadn’t they already seen Jesus’ concern? Hadn’t they seen his power over the devil? Hadn’t they seen his ability to work miracles of healing? But they still hadn’t grasped that realization, that evidence, of faith to strengthen them in the midst of temptation.
  • After giving us this definition of faith, the Letter to the Hebrews immediately goes on to illustrate in in the lives of so many people who lived by faith. It starts with Abel, who in faith gave God not just meat but himself; with Enoch who walked with the Lord in faith and was brought into his presence forever; with Noah, who built an ark far from water because he believed what the Lord had revealed to him that eventually where he was would totally be submerged. Imagine the type of faith it would require to build, for example, the Queen Elizabeth III in Iowa, far from any ocean, because you felt that one day the waters would come to make it sail from there? That’s the type of faith Noah had. Then we get to today’s passage about Abraham. “By faith,” the Letter to the Hebrews stresses in refrain — by this realization of things hoped for, this evidence of things not seen — Abraham left his native place to go to a place God would eventually show him; he dwelled in tents for a while rather than in the homes he had; he believed that he would become the father not just of a son in his old age through his seemingly sterile wife Sarah, but the father of many nations; by faith, when God tested him to sacrifice Isaac, the son of the promise, he was ready, reasoning that “God was able to raise even from the dead.” That is a remarkable expression of faith, 1800 years before Jesus’ resurrection, that even if Isaac was sacrificed, God would raise him from the dead! What faith that is! The Letter says that living by faith means that we acknowledge ourselves “to be strangers and aliens on earth” who are “seeking” and who “desire a better homeland, a heavenly one,” because they’re living off of the downpayment of the fullness of that kingdom. If the feast of the Presentation were not on Monday, we’d have the continuation of this chapter, which shows that this type of faith is not supposed to be rare, but it does make heroes. The author of the Letter, after talking about the faith of Sarah, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph the Patriarch, Moses, and Rahab, says, “What more shall I say? I have not time to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets,  who by faith conquered kingdoms, did what was righteous, obtained the promises; they closed the mouths of lions,  put out raging fires, escaped the devouring sword; out of weakness they were made powerful, became strong in battle, and turned back foreign invaders.  Women received back their dead through resurrection. Some were tortured and would not accept deliverance, in order to obtain a better resurrection.  Others endured mockery, scourging, even chains and imprisonment.  They were stoned, sawed in two, put to death at sword’s point; they went about in skins of sheep or goats, needy, afflicted, tormented.  The world was not worthy of them. … Yet all these, though approved because of their faith, did not receive what had been promised. God had foreseen something better for us, so that without us they should not be made perfect.” They were all still awaiting the promise, looking forward to receiving it at the same time, God-willing, we will, if we but imitate their faith, the faith that the apostles in the boat eventually developed.
  • Today we celebrate a great saint who lived by faith. He had faith when his father died when he was young and he and his mother grew up in abject poverty in early 19th century northern Italy. He had faith when he trusted in God’s giving him a priestly vocation even though he couldn’t afford schooling, and God came through, in the generosity of priests and parishioners who paid for his education. He had faith to launch a special ministry to street kids, teaching them magic tricks if they allowed him to teach them about the faith or went with him to pray in Church. He had faith to continue to care for them, taking out loans to build houses for them to convene, and eventually trade schools and more. He had faith to lose the support of backers who asked him to give up certain parts of his ministry. He had faith to risk his life, on occasion, to continue to do what he was doing, when people for political reasons were opposing his work with poor children. He had faith to found a religious order that has become one of the world’s largest, the Salesians. He had faith, when the Popes called on him to help raise money for Churches in Rome, to obey and help out. His life was one of heroic, joy-filled, apostolic faith. He knew that he had already experienced a taste of what the Lord wanted to give him in the eternal banquet and spent his life trying to bring young people and so many others to follow the great cloud of witnesses of the saints to join him at that eternal banquet.
  • Today of his feast day, we ask him to intercede for us, so that we might imitate his faith in this world, that we might base our entire life on the substance, the evidence, that God has given us of his presence and the downpayment of the future fulfillment of his promises, so that we might, like him, like St. Bernadette, like Noah, Abraham, Moses, so many parents, grandparents, godparents, religious, priests, and catechists who taught us the faith, might one day come to rejoice with the whole cloud of witnesses in that kingdom with Jesus on the eternal shore! Today in the boat of the Church, despite whatever storms we may be experiencing, Jesus wants us to know how much he cares, to help us go from little faith to greater. And as a promise of that help, he now gives us himself!

The readings for today’s Mass were: 

Reading 1 Heb 11:1-2, 8-19

Brothers and sisters:
Faith is the realization of what is hoped for
and evidence of things not seen.
Because of it the ancients were well attested.By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place
that he was to receive as an inheritance;
he went out, not knowing where he was to go.
By faith he sojourned in the promised land as in a foreign country,
dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs of the same promise;
for he was looking forward to the city with foundations,
whose architect and maker is God.
By faith he received power to generate,
even though he was past the normal age
—and Sarah herself was sterile—
for he thought that the one who had made the promise was trustworthy.
So it was that there came forth from one man,
himself as good as dead,
descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky
and as countless as the sands on the seashore.All these died in faith.
They did not receive what had been promised
but saw it and greeted it from afar
and acknowledged themselves to be strangers and aliens on earth,
for those who speak thus show that they are seeking a homeland.
If they had been thinking of the land from which they had come,
they would have had opportunity to return.
But now they desire a better homeland, a heavenly one.
Therefore, God is not ashamed to be called their God,
for he has prepared a city for them.By faith Abraham, when put to the test, offered up Isaac,
and he who had received the promises was ready to offer his only son,
of whom it was said,
Through Isaac descendants shall bear your name.
He reasoned that God was able to raise even from the dead,
and he received Isaac back as a symbol.

Responsorial Psalm Lk 1:69-70, 71-72, 73-75

R. (see 68) Blessed be the Lord the God of Israel; he has come to his people.
He has raised up for us a mighty savior,
born of the house of his servant David.
R. Blessed be the Lord the God of Israel; he has come to his people.
Through his holy prophets he promised of old.
that he would save us from our sins
from the hands of all who hate us.
He promised to show mercy to our fathers
and to remember his holy covenant.
R. Blessed be the Lord the God of Israel; he has come to his people.
This was the oath he swore to our father Abraham:
to set us free from the bonds of our enemies,
free to worship him without fear,
holy and righteous in his sight
all the days of our life.
R. Blessed be the Lord the God of Israel; he has come to his people.

Alleluia Jn 3:16

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son,
so that everyone who believes in him might have eternal life.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel Mk 4:35-41

On that day, as evening drew on, Jesus said to his disciples:
“Let us cross to the other side.”
Leaving the crowd, they took Jesus with them in the boat just as he was.
And other boats were with him.
A violent squall came up and waves were breaking over the boat,
so that it was already filling up.
Jesus was in the stern, asleep on a cushion.
They woke him and said to him,
“Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”
He woke up,
rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Quiet! Be still!”
The wind ceased and there was great calm.
Then he asked them, “Why are you terrified?
Do you not yet have faith?”
They were filled with great awe and said to one another,
“Who then is this whom even wind and sea obey?”