Saturday, June 20, 2015

12th Sunday per annum (OF) - Faith

“Do you not yet have faith?”  This question of Christ could be directed not only at the Twelve with Him in the boat, but also to our generation, to modern man.  It seems that modern man, since the so-called Enlightenment, has progressed beyond faith towards reason as the principal method for engaging the world.  Modern man will cry out in relief that he is freed from the oppression of faith and religion and is now capable of moving forwards towards a bright new future, towards achieving the ultimate goal of bringing about paradise on earth.
Yet the century we have so recently closed demonstrates to us the limits of this feigned reason: the exaltation of nations over God, the devastating effects of modern war, the rise of ideologies in place of faith and against reason.  How persistent, though, modern man can be in his mad-dash quest to find something other than faith to cling to, to build upon.  For modern man ultimately fears being a subject, being ruled by someone other than himself, and he fears that faith will make him the meanest, the lowest of subjects in the cosmic order.
Yet the truth is the opposite: faith, instead of lowering us, is what elevates us towards God, towards Him who is the ultimate Good.  Modern man is looking backwards at the whole order when he thinks faith will keep him in the dirt.  It is reason alone and unaided which leaves man squalid in his spiritual poverty.  But by faith, God raises the soul above the merely human and brings it closer to Himself.  By faith, we become the human beings we were meant to be when God first created us in Eden.  By faith, we realize the full potential of our humanity as being the image and likeness of the divinity, and not merely as a rational animal.
Look at the Gospel account for today.  The disciples have been following Christ for some time now.  They have heard His authoritative teachings, they have witnessed His power over those who are sick and in need of healing, they have even perhaps seen some of the great miracles that Christ worked, such as raising people from the dead.  And yet, in spite of all this, they are still petrified of a thunderstorm when Christ is in their very midst.  Thus that indicting question from Our Lord: Do you not yet have faith?
It seems to us from what we have just heard that indeed they really do not have faith in Christ, for they question each other about the calming of the sea by a man, saying, “Who then is this, whom even wind and sea obey?”  Who else can the elements obey but their Creator, the One who gave them form and shape and order and purpose at the very beginning of time.  Who else can they obey but God?!
How much are we like the disciples in that boat on the Sea of Galilee?  We have heard Christ teach to us time and time again, proclaiming the coming of the Kingdom of God and the time of repentance.  We have heard proclaimed again and again the wonders of His earthly life, such as today’s account.  Yet, do we really believe that this Jesus of Nazareth is truly the Emmanuel, the God among us?  And do we give Him the assent that is due to that faith, that belief in the divinity of Christ?
To be a Catholic does not mean to be just a member of the crowd, as one who joins a club or group.  To be a Catholic in this day and age in particular means to stand against the wisdom of this age, which belittles faith and exalts man to the point of making him into his own god.  To be a Catholic in every day and age means to believe what the Church has proclaimed since the day of Pentecost: that the Second Person of the Trinity descended from the eternal realities and became incarnate of the Virgin, lived, preached, suffered, died, and rose again from the dead, ascending at last to the right hand of God the Father until the last day.
It is only in faith that we can be an actual Catholic, for these mysteries are beyond our usual comprehension.  These are matters which we cannot surmise by our own reflection and rationalizing, no matter how smart we may be.  This indicates to us the limits of reason when it comes to dealing with reality.  Even now, in this age of science and technology, we cannot on our own grasp the truths of the universe.  But God has willed to reveal them to us, if only we will believe.
“When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” Christ asks in St. Luke’s Gospel.  Indeed, can He find faith now, while He is still waiting for the Last Day?  Let us beseech God that we may be true disciples of Christ, believing every word that He has uttered and continues to utter through His one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.  Let us begin to believe more fervently than ever all that is presented to us, most especially the creeds we profess each Sunday, letting those words not be empty bellowings, but echoes of the faithful heart.

Let us, finally, desire not only to believe, but to transform that belief into action.  Faith is not something that can be turned on and off; on when we are at Mass or when we pray, off when we are doing something else.  Every one of our actions should be driven by our faith; each one becoming an exterior realization of the interior reality of faith.  As Saint James reminds us in his epistle: “Faith without works is dead.” Either our faith begins to animate our lives or it becomes the means whereby we condemn ourselves before Christ as false witnesses and unfaithful subjects.  But, through the grace of God, we are capable of rising above this mortal coil and beginning to touch the eternal realities through Him who bridged that gap in His sacred humanity.  Let us believe this so that we may receive the reward of faith, the prize for enduring the stormy seas of modernity, the one thing which Christ promised those who are faithful: the realization of our faith in the glories of eternal life.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

11th Sunday per annum (OF)

Throughout the Gospels, we observe Christ using various methods for proclaiming the Good News to the people of His time.  He can certainly be direct in His words, yet many times He speaks in a hidden way.  This latter method has come to be called the parables, as is evidenced in our reading from the Gospel of Mark for this Sunday.  In fact, St. Mark hints at Christ’s use of parables at the end of our reading by saying that “with many such parables he spoke the word to them as they were able to understand it” (Mk 4:33).  Yet these sayings we have just heard seem rather trite to us. All this talk of seeds and growth seems rather antiquated in our day.  Yet, however out of date the Gospel may seem, it is still filled with timeless wisdom and insight for those who are able to understand it.
Take the first parable of the seed to start.  Christ shows us the means whereby our belief in God, our faith in Christ, is meant to proceed.  First, we see the seed of faith planted in the earth of our hearts by the Holy Spirit whom we received at baptism and confirmation.  We must be ever mindful that faith is a gift from God; it is not something which we have earned on our own, but is that most essential of graces which God pours upon His people so that our sanctification may begin.  We then see this seed begin to grow in short succession, from the very first seedlings to the full plant.  St. Gregory the Great sees in this parable the progression of man in holiness and perfection.  He teaches that “When therefore we conceive good desires, we put seed into the ground; when we begin to work rightly, we are the blade. When we increase to the perfection of good works, we arrive at the ear; when we are firmly fixed in the perfection of the same working, we already put forth the full grain [corn in old translation] in the ear.” [see the Catena Aurea]
Yet all of this cannot be done without the benefit of good earth.  Certainly, faith begins as a gift of God upon the soul, but the soul must cooperate in union with God.  If there is no cooperation, no desire on the part of the soul, the seed of faith will remain fallow upon the hardened earth.  If the seed is to progress from the blade to the ear to the grain, there must be a capacity within the earth to nourish the seed and provide strength for the roots necessary for growth.  So is it in the soul of every Christian; we must be open to receiving the gift of faith and letting it produce fruit in our lives.
If we are not open, then all is for nothing.  But if we are open, if we receive faith willingly and let it blossom, it will spread immensely, as the second parable demonstrates.  For the faith to which we cling is so small; it rests only in the person and actions of Christ our Lord, most specifically in His Passion, Death, and Resurrection.  Yet, if we truly believe in this tiny kernel of faith, this small seed of the Gospel, if we truly take to heart the full implications of this word proclaimed to us by the Church, we would be transformed into great saints.  For in the lives of the saints, we see the full impact of the Gospel carried out in every manner of life.  From the early martyrs to the great confessors and virgins throughout the ages to the humble little souls of ordinary Christians, the mustard seed of the Gospel produces immense fruit, as Ezechiel prophesied in our first reading.
Saint Paul highlights this result in our second reading by focusing on the perspective of being absent from Christ, who has ascended to His holy throne.  Indeed, we sometimes stumble about in our lives in a desire to see more clearly.  Yet the Apostle reminds us that we should have our sights set not on remaining close to the earth, close to our current body, but to set our sights on the heights of heaven, on desiring to be united more with Christ.  He brings to mind for the Corinthians the reality of death and judgment, that we will all receive the fruits of our labors, either the good for eternal joy, or the evil in eternal punishment.
How do we avoid the evil that will lead to eternal punishment?  By listening to what Christ and His Church teach us on what is a sin.  How do we do the good which leads to eternal joy?  By listening to what Christ and His Church teaches is not only not a sin, but is in fact good and holy.  It is through the Church that we are able to understand better and more completely what it is that Christ taught and continues to teach us about the path of holiness.  This is above all the method whereby we become the good earth capable of supporting the seed of faith in its means of growth.  We must listen, just as the Jews of Christ’s era listened to His words and were converted.  In fact, this capacity to listen is what helped the Twelve Apostles become the foundation of the Church, the bedrock upon which the Church spread throughout the world and continues to spread even in our own day.  To truly listen means to believe the word spoken and to then let it flow into every aspect of your life.
Let us begin to believe once more in the salvation of God won for us through the Passion of Christ.  Let us believe in the glorious resurrection and the hope of eternal life which Christ offers us.  Let us then put this belief into practice, by desiring to know God more completely, loving Him and adoring Him as a result, and beginning to serve Him who first served us in His earthly life.  Do not let the seed of faith fall fallow in the earth of your hearts, but let it begin to take root and grow.  Believe not in what the sinful world tells you about the ease of life and the desire for comfort, but seek the greater comfort of the life to come.  Understand the parables of Christ and begin to let them blossom in your own lives, so that you may receive not the punishment of a fruitless and faithless life, but the reward of eternal joy in the unfiltered and incomprehensible radiance of God.