Monday, November 11, 2013

The Challenge of Faith

The liturgy which we celebrate today reminds us already that three weeks from today we begin the season of Advent. In Advent we will prepare for the coming of Christ in our hearts, in the feast of the Nativity, and at the time when Jesus comes to take us into eternal life.

In the Collect we prayed to God “whose blessed Son came into the world that he might...make us children of God and heirs of eternal life...” And we asked God: “Grant that, having this hope...when he comes again with power and great glory, we may be made like him in his eternal and glorious kingdom.

The prophets, Haggai and Zechariah, lived and preached in the 6th century BCE. The people of Israel returned from exile in Babylon to their homeland in 538 BCE. It was necessary for the two prophets, especially Haggai, first, to encourage and to motivate the people and their governor to rebuild their Temple, and, secondly, to urge the priests to purify their practices of worship. In the first reading today from Haggai (1:15b-2:9), this is God’s message: “Yet now take courage...take courage, all you people of the, for I am with you...My spirit abides among you; do not a little while...I will fill this house with splendor...and in this place I will give prosperity...” 

In the Epistle (2 Thessalonians 2:1-5; 13-17), St. Paul reminds us that we are sisters and brothers “beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the first fruits for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and through belief in the truth...” It is important, says Paul, to “stand firm and hold fast to the traditions” which we have been taught.” We can do this because God our Father and the Lord Jesus have given us “eternal comfort and good hope”, and strength “in every good work and word.

Faith and life belong together. But genuine faith is much more than simply believing in a teaching, a creed. Faith is a way of life, a complete attitude towards life. Someone might be very religious, but that person may not have much faith. Such a person is like a man who always claims to be confident and in control, but, whenever he travels by airplane, he always sits near the emergency exit, while also wearing a belt and a pair of suspenders! Sometimes, people who appear to be very religious have very little true faith.

The passage from St. Luke’s Gospel (20:27-38) gives us a practical example from the life of Jesus. The Sadducees, a very religious group, approach Jesus with a phony theological question. Sadducees were descendants and followers of Sadok, a president of the Jewish Sanhedrin in the 3rd century B.C., whose name means “righteous”. The Sadducees did not believe in the resurrection of the dead. They asked Jesus their ridiculous and insidious question, not because they expected or wanted an answer, but because they wanted Jesus to display his ignorance regarding a problem for which they had no answer. Jesus confounded them with his divine wisdom.

Even now, some people who do not believe pose questions to faithful Christians, not because they want to learn from them, or know what they believe. They ask questions to see if they can confuse or ridicule people who believe.

The gospel, rather than speaking about the resurrection of the dead, speaks of the survival of the living. Abraham, Isaac and Jacob continue to live in and with God. In this world we live in God and with God, in the midst of the distractions of life. After death God will be our only point of reference. We shall live with Him forever, without any kind of distraction.
The "God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob" is the God of the Exodus that spoke to Moses, the God of life, who heard the cry of oppressed people and freed them from the slavery of Egypt. It is God who gives us life and who calls us to give life to others, starting with the poor and oppressed. In dying we join a divine community, final and eternal, to which we are all called and of which we are already part in the Communion of Saints. As we are reminded in the burial liturgy, in dying we change our dwelling place. We pass over to live in the presence of the Risen Christ. When we die, we leave our body here, our "boat", as the song “The Fisherman” says. With it we have navigated through life, sometimes in the middle of depressions and storms, and in dying we go to another sea, the sea of eternity with Jesus.

Death is only a temporary separation. After death, when we are "embedded" or united with God, things are going to be very different from how they are in this life. It is difficult to imagine how things will be, as Sacred Scripture says: "No eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor does anyone imagine what God has prepared for his own." There will be complete love toward all people, without any natural limitations. Relations between people will be similar to those of the angels, free and perfect love. Our body, will be like the glorious body of Jesus after his resurrection.

One of my favorite parts of the Mass is the acclamation of the celebrant said just before the Communion: "The gifts of God for the People of God. Take them in remembrance that Christ died for you, and feed on him in your hearts by faith and with thanksgiving". All life, including spiritual life, the life of faith, requires taking a risk. Faith means letting go of the known and reaching out to the unknown.

That is why the early Church celebrated Baptism by submerging the candidate in water, so that the person was “out of his or her depth”. In Baptism you and I are reborn through the risk of faith. Faith enables us to have a wider vision. Faith helps you to see that, while 1/3 of the world’s people overeats, 2/3 of the world’s people go to sleep aching from hunger. While religious people offer one another the Peace of Christ, each day brings us news of conflict, war, brutality, and oppression in the Third World, in Afghanistan, in the airport of Los Angeles, and in the streets of Santa Rosa. Faith helps us to notice that, despite the happy, smiling faces of friends in the coffee hour after the service, other people may stand, bearing a silent burden or worry or an illness, or feeling unwelcome. 

The Sadducees of today’s Gospel came to Jesus with an idle debate about religion, but they went away, challenged to choose between life and death. We have come to the church this morning, perhaps for just a quiet, peaceful hour of prayer and singing. Perhaps we will leave, challenged by Jesus, going out from here to minister to others by our words and actions of faith, hope and love. And, by the way, we should leave our spiritual security belts and suspenders behind!   


John-Julian, OJN said...


The sentence: "The gifts of God for the People of God. Take them in remembrance that Christ died for you, and feed on him in your hearts by faith with thanksgiving." was added to the Eucharist in 1662 in order to placate those who did not believe in the objective Presence of Christ in the Sacrament.

"Take them in remembrance...:, i.e., "this is a MEMORIAL service not a Mass—it's ONLY a 'remembrance'!"

"...feed on him in your hearts by faith..." i.e., "There is no objective Real Presence unless you have faith that there is—so the 'presence' depends entirely on your personals and individual faith."

"...with thanksgiving", i.e., this is not a 'sacrifice';it is only a 'thanksgiving' for Jesus's sacrifice.

Anyway, most people sort of like "soun" of the words—however erroneous and misleading are thr words' intentions.

Unknown said...
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