today's readings are Wisdom 18: 6-9; Psalm 33; Hebrews 11: 1-2, 8-19; and Lk. 12: 32-48
Faith. The foundation of the spiritual life. Faith is a gift from God, meant to be cherished, nourished, and shared. It is spoken about, sung about, yet is often unappreciated and misunderstood. Today, I would like to share some thoughts about faith.
Faith has countless definitions. For example, as we heard in our 2nd reading, “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen”. According to St. Augustine, “Faith is to believe what we do not see”. The theologian W. T. Purkiser said, “Faith is not jumping to conclusions. Rather faith is concluding to jump”. For me, faith is real, yet not tangible. Faith is personal, but also something we share. Faith inspires us to do and say things that we would never think we are capable of. Faith compels us to believe. Faith is what brings us together in worship.
Faith is also knowing. That’s not the same as proving, certainly not in the way that you would solve a math problem. You don’t prove faith – you believe it, you feel it, and deep down in your heart, you know it. By faith we know God. Almost 40 years ago, before I began my studies for the priesthood in St. Augustine’s Seminary, I took a course on medieval philosophy, during which we considered St. Thomas Aquinas’ five proofs for the existence of God. Being a Professional Engineer at that time, I was impressed with the logic of Aquinas’ 5 proofs. And while I still appreciate them to this day, they are not important to my faith and my belief in God. Because through faith, I have come to know God. I feel God. I feel His presence in the world of nature. I experience His presence in the Sacraments of the Church, such as this very mass we are in the middle of. By faith I know God, as do you. But this leads to a problem. I have some very important people in my life who have little or no faith. And when I try to talk to them about faith, at times I feel like I might as well speak a different language with them. Because they don’t understand, they don’t know. And I how wish they knew. All I can do is pray for them and try to set an example of faith for them.
Our 2nd reading from the Letter to the Hebrews presents Abraham and Sarah to us as models of faith. One can read about the stories of their lives and their faith in Chapters 11 through 25 in the Book of Genesis. One day, Abraham, an illiterate shepherd, living in a far away country, having made a pretty good life for himself, suddenly hears a voice, and he decides that it must be the one true God. Where did he get that strange notion? Scripture called it faith. He trusted that it was God.
Then that Voice tells him to leave the only life he had ever known, to pack up whatever he could and go with his wife Sarah to a new land. But he’s 75 years old! And he went, even though he did not know where he was going, which, as it turned out, was about 900 km away. Some people would have said that Abraham, in his old age, was crazy to do so. But he trusted in the promise of God – and Scripture called it faith.
For her part, Sarah, in her old age, had given up on ever having a child. And when the news came to her that she would - her first reaction? She laughed. Impossible at her age! But once she got used to the idea, she trusted, and then conceived. And Scripture called it faith.
And once the child of their dreams, Isaac, was growing into a young man, God asked Abraham to sacrifice him – the very one, as God had told Abraham, who would produce descendants as numerous as the stars. Trusting in God, Abraham tried to do so, but then the angel of God intervened. Madness? No, Scripture called it faith.
Doing all that God had asked of them, they then died. They never saw all the promises made to them completely fulfilled. But they were okay with that - because they had faith. They knew what awaited them on the other side – heaven. Because of their faith, they took risks; they trusted God. They knew it was the right thing to do. Therefore, to this day we sing their praises.
I’d like to share another story of faith. 20 years ago, I went to the famous shrine of Lourdes, in the south of France. In one area of the shrine, you find the waters of the spring that St. Bernadette uncovered in 1858 through the instructions of the Blessed Virgin Mary. For many years the waters of that spring have been used for healing baths for people who suffer from all kinds of illnesses. Countless miracles have happened at Lourdes. While I was there, I spent 3 hours one day, watching the hundreds of people who lined up to go into the baths. To be honest, if any miracles happened, I didn’t notice. But I witnessed incredible faith shown both by those who were ill and those who accompanied them. I will never forget what I saw, what I felt. For it was real – and it was faith.
Whenever I remember what I witnessed at Lourdes, I can’t help but recall a featured piece about the countless number of people who travel to Lourdes each year on the tv news show 60 Minutes. In that piece many pilgrims joyously shared their stories of faith and hope with the interviewer, Harry Reasoner. Mr. Reasoner was deeply moved by his experience of those he interviewed. Summarizing what he had witnessed at Lourdes, he concluded the segment with a simple yet profoundly true statement:
“For those who have no faith, no explanation is possible. For those who do have faith, no explanation is necessary”.
Thank you, God, for the gift of faith.