Sunday, October 2, 2016

'Increase Our Faith'? Ok. But Do Your Part...

SUMMARY: The prophet Habakkuk cries out to the Lord, and he is answered by God who says that because of 'the just man’s faith', he shall be saved from the bad things going on around him. I think this insight into the first reading helps us understand what might be going on in the Gospel: that our hopes for an increase in faith are met by God's request for our loyalty.

To listen to a audio recording of one of my Mass homilies this weekend, click here.

The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith,” and Jesus answers the apostles with what seems to be unhelpful. “If you have faith the size of a mustard seed…”

“Right, Lord. Of course," they might think to themselves. "But we don’t have that faith. Will you increase it... like we asked?”

Jesus does not seem to answer their request; instead, he tells a story about a master who wants his servant to do his due service.

"What does that have to do with increasing our faith?"

There is a Catholic couple who are now empty-nesters. They are on parish committees and give generously to their parish. One of them approached me one day. This person was upset because their children have all left the Catholic Church. It hurts them, and though I’m not certain of the details, I can make some inferences on how this might be difficult for them.

I can imagine it is difficult for the couple because they likely don’t have their children and grandchildren with them at Christmas, Easter, and Thanksgiving Masses. Their peers do, but they don’t. It may likewise be tough because prayers before meals when they are together might now be a little awkward as two styles of prayer meet in new ways. They may ask themselves, “Did I not do something right?” or, “Is the Catholic faith not alive enough in me such that my own kids want to believe like I do?”

I cannot imagine how tough it is for that couple and for many parents and grandparents. The "blame" for kids leaving the Church is surely held by many parties; parents need to teach the faith (and maybe these parents did all they could); priests and Catholic teachers who need to teach and guide well; and children need to do their part, too.

But blame isn't terribly helpful. But the role of each in his or her own conversion, and the faithfulness of one's children, is.

The apostles ask Jesus to increase their faith. How many of us want our faith to increase? How many of you want the faith life of your family or family members to increase? How many want deeper Christian love and joy among the people you go to school with or work with? How many of us want our politicians and those seeking office to be more God-fearing?

If you—if we ourselves know that our faith is not where it should be, then I ask what have you done to increase it? What do you do on a regular basis to plant the seed of faith deeper in your life? In your family’s life? In school or in your workplace? If you feel spiritually dead, what have you done to rekindle the spark of God’s presence in your life? If your family has no use for Church, what have you done to make Church worthwhile for them?

So do something about it.
“Then the LORD answered me and said:
Write down the vision clearly upon the tablets,
so that one can read it readily.
For the vision still has its time,
presses on to fulfillment, and will not disappoint;
if it delays, wait for it,
it will surely come, it will not be late.
The rash one has no integrity;
but the just one, because of his faith, shall live.”
The one with “faith” prevails in the prophecy, and this is the key for us today in looking at the response of Jesus that we see following the apostles' request for increasing faith.

We read the parable of a servant who is not rewarded for doing his duty. This isn’t about the master being a bad man. Maybe it’s a reminder that if we want something from Christ, we must do our part as his disciples.

Maybe this is the way to “increase our faith”—by being faithful. Too often too many of us look at faith like it is magic. “If I ask Jesus to heal my sister’s cancer, she will be healed.” “If I pray about my friends at school who make fun of me for living my faith, they will stop.” "If I believe that my kids will come back to the Catholic Church, they will."

That's not faith. That is more like magic.

Yes, miracles happen, but that’s not usually how “faith” works. Instead of expecting a miracle, our faithfulness in prayer will calm our hearts and minds as we recognize we are not alone in our suffering. Our prayers will be heard, and our loved ones will be comforted, too, even if they are not “healed” physically, even if they don’t return to the Church immediately, even if our friends still poke fun at school.

A family I spent time with over one summer in seminary gathered for prayer in their living room every night of the week for prayer at a set time. Any member of the family could add prayers or devotions or Scriptures readings they found and liked to an ever-growing family prayer binder. Each night, one member of the family would choose a prayer or spiritual reading to do from this binder for the whole family. It didn’t take long; anywhere from a minute to ten minutes, but you better believe that increased the faith life of that family.

If you want an increase in the faith of your family, maybe dinner conversations are less about sports or politics or even school and more about the homily you heard or the songs you liked this past weekend at church. Maybe you come to Mass 10 minutes early and have everyone in the family read the Gospel in your pews to think about how the Lord wants to speak to you at this Mass, right now, before Mass even starts—and then you ask about what each person heard on your drive home.
If your children are more permanently away, maybe your simple, loyal faithfulness to the Sacraments and prayer and your gentle love will make them wonder where you find such peace. And maybe that will compel them to ask.

Or if you long for more faith at school, maybe setting the example at Mass and in the hallways and on social media would help plant the seed of faith. And maybe you won’t fear their opinion as much, either.

Jesus says that faith the size of a mustard seed can uproot and replant an entire tree. What if you simply planted the desire for such a faith in your heart today by increasing your loyalty to him in your life one way this week? One way. Pick one. You may not be able to change the faith of your grown children or your friends, but you can sure remain faithful yourself--and who knows what that kind and powerful witness might do?

The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith,” and the servant was faithful to his Master. Let the prayer of the apostles be ours today, and let the example of the servant stir into flame our own discipleship.

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