11 August 2019
Hebrews 11:1-2, 8-19
Some years ago I received a letter from someone I never met. He was asking for prayers. The contents of the letter went something like this. ‘Father, I have always tried to be a good Christian, going to Mass and the sacraments regularly and praying daily also. Some months ago my wife died suddenly and shortly afterwards my son was killed in a tragic car accident. Now I hear that I may have developed cancer. What have I done to deserve all this? Please pray very hard for me that my faith may not fail at this time. I still try to hold on to my faith and trust in God despite all the signs to the contrary’. I did indeed pray for him. Since he gave no address in his letter and never wrote again I don’t know what happened afterwards. All I know that he was a very honest person struggling to make sense of his faith in the face of so much suffering and doubts. Ultimately he was asking: where is God in all of this?
This man I believe is talking about the very core or heart of our belief in God. He was struggling with the idea of his faith in God. For sure faith is not always an easy experience that can be based on an obvious security that we can see and touch. Our three readings today invite us to examine the meaning we give to faith and to the foundation supporting it. Is it not true that as in the case of the man who wrote the letter there are times when darkness and insecurity seem to be overwhelming for us believers? On such occasions, circumstances are especially difficult and demanding of our faith. Fidelity to the word of God and following Jesus turn out to be very hard and arduous.
As the letter to the Hebrews reminds us: “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things unseen.” (Heb.11.1). Faith is neither the possession of the goal nor certainty based on things that are evident. As in Abraham’s case it is obedience to God’s call, trust to set out and continue on the journey without knowing where he was going, relying solely on the fidelity of God making the promise.
Ultimately faith is about trust. Can I trust the promises of God? Faith maybe is not too demanding when things are going well. We may feel that God is blessing us for our efforts. But then in times of crisis doubts, even great doubts may arise. Anyone whoever lived has had to face these doubts, even Jesus and Mary as well as all the great saints. In the Garden of Gethsemene Jesus had doubts about his ability as a human being like us to be faithful to the end when the time for his terrible suffering came to pass. And especially on the cross he cried out: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me.” He was asked to place his total trust in God not knowing what would happen. The answer came only after his death when God raised him from the dead.
Recently on television a woman was shown holding the dead body of her son who had been the victim of a car bomb attack by terrorists. It was obvious that her son was just a passer-by, an innocent victim when the bomb went off. And all one could hear her saying was “Why. Why, why? He was a good man who tried to live a good life. Why this?” Of course there was no simple answer. Was it not the same for Mary the mother of Jesus as she stood at the foot of the cross seeing her Son being crucified and suffering a terribly painful slow death. Could she not have said the exact same words as the other woman did? Yet her faith helped her to outstare suffering and death and to trust that God would sustain her then even though she had no answer as to the why of it all.
If we are honest we have to admit that there are no easy answers. What is asked of us at such difficult and demanding times is to pray very hard that we will stay faithful and continue to trust that God will be faithful in giving us courage and perseverance to continue to believe and trust that he cares for us.
Faith in God’s promises, in his kingdom, implies a commitment to take responsibility for history so that we can make our little contribution to making the world a better place. Knowing the will of God gives us greater responsibility to the Lord. “From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required (v.48 of today’s gospel). The danger is to forget that we are on a journey and await the master’s return. Whilst we are on the journey, fidelity and trust are asked of us. In our present difficult times when so much is working against our faith we must not lose sight of the promises. Because they come from our loving God they carry the assurance of their realisation and fulfillment and so strengthen our hope.
We base our confidence on Jesus’ words at the beginning of today’s gospel: “There is no need to be afraid little flock, for it has pleased your Father to give you the kingdom”
“Lord Jesus help to believe totally that you are our treasure, an inexhaustible treasure in heaven that no thief can reach nor moth destroy. Give us a great increase of faith and trust in you that especially in dark and difficult times we will be faithful to you and to your promises. Amen.”
Fr. Jim Kirstein, SMA