10 August 2013

19th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Tomorrow, at Queen of Peace Church, North Arlington, NJ.  See you at 9 am.

The Letter the to Hebrews recalls this morning that “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…”

This is a model of sorts for our own journeys of faith: we are traveling companions sent out by God to the world.  We are called, as Pope mentioned recently, not to take our faith and keep it within ourselves as if it were a museum piece, but rather to see what it can do!  This means that faith is never simply a personal journey but a call into relationship with other people: believers or otherwise.

Faith does not have much value when kept to ourselves, or only shared with those to our left and right in church.  No: the truly extraordinary thing about  Christianity comes from the fact that we are call to share what we have been given in Christ with others.

What’s more, we also are taught by Scripture this morning that despite “dying in faith,” Abraham and many of those who came after him did not receive a reward in this life, but instead, “saw it and greeted it from afar.”  This is certainly a challenging thing t ohear because it means that: our faith is not something to hang onto, but rather something which propels us into action, as well as even when we act as God would have us act, this does not promise us success.  In fact, if we take the Cross as the model for our lives, we might even think that acting as God would have us act guarantees us failure in the eyes of the world.

And when we think of the failure of the cross or the failures in our own lives, we keep coming back however to the theme that runs through the first two readings we heard today: faith.  This is because that we can do nothing without it – and even if we can succeed for a time, when the cards of the world turn against us: when we’re diagnosed with a surprise illness, when we’re suddenly betrayed by a friend, when we are passed over for a promotion – falling back on our own strength will not be enough. 

At some of the darkest moments of my family’s life: trouble with siblings, my mother’s battle with cancer – the list could go on – my dad would look at me, or if I were far away, say with conviction over the phone, “Kid, you got to have faith.” 

Yet, as is with most things, the words, “have faith” will only go so far: because my father showed me what faith is in action, the words of advice took true root.  And so it is with us, when we see people of faith we are encouraged by their faithful actions; and our call is similar: to act in such a way that the faith of our actions matches up that of our mouths.
For each of us here, there are different manners of going about this.  Last month, it seems as if Pope Francis gave us a marvelous way of thinking about what it is we are to be about as followers of Jesus:
This is why we must learn to listen to our conscience more. But be careful! This does not mean following my own ego, doing what interests me, what suits me, what I like.... It is not this! The conscience is the interior place for listening to the truth, to goodness, for listening to God; it is the inner place of my relationship with him, the One who speaks to my heart and helps me to discern, to understand the way I must take and, once the decision is made, to go forward, to stay faithful.
And how, how specifically do we go forward, do we stay faithful? 

We are called first and foremost into an intimate relationship with Jesus that is marked by vigilance: that is, we must stay awake in our prayer, listening closely to Jesus talking directly to our heart – and this only comes by taking the time to listen to him.  In our world that may be filled with noise and concerns this is no easy task and we will not be perfect in our attempts.  But the Lord is never quiet; as the great Augustine once said, the Word of God may not always be heard, but it is never silent.  We will hear this word through spending some time with the Bible on a regular basis, to praying for others as well as just taking the time to consider all that God has done for us and what He is asking us to do.

And this Word, when we listen to it, will teach us where to go and what to do.  And make no mistake about it: all of us have a task from God, all of us have been called to do something extraordinary, if not famous.  If there is one thing to remember this week, it is this: God has a purpose for each of us, exactly because we are each unrepeatable gifts of God to the world.  And because of this:

All of us bear the responsibility of attempting to reconcile our family and friends with each other and with God. 

All of us bear the responsibility to remind other that the word Gospel means “Good News” – and that those hearing it should learn the goodness of God.

All of us bear the responsibility to take the gift of faith that we’ve been given and share it with others.

If the last line of this morning’s Gospel is right that much will be expected of those entrusted with much and even more with those who have been given more, then we not only face a great challenge this week, but also may take solace in those who have been given much and done well with it: Abraham, the Father of Nations and Jesus, the Christ Risen from the Dead.  Good company for us to emulate this week indeed.

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