Faith in a Final Quarter

This week, my classmates and I entered into the final quarter of the Laboure Society fundraising term.  With only seven weeks to go, collectively we’ve raised over $131,000 for vocations!  Thanks to your prayers and support, I am approximately $32,745 closer to my goal, which means I have to raise a little over $12,000 before December 31st.

I must confess, it’s tempting to lose faith, to slack off.  After 23 weeks of fundraising, travel, letters, telephone calls, meetings, in addition to my regular full-time work and maintaining obligations and relationships with family, friends, and parish, as rewarding as this has been (and continues to be), it is also exhausting.  Next week is Thanksgiving and then follows the plunge into Advent and Christmas; yes, it is tempting to slow down and start to slide on some things, to simply hold the status quo.  And it would be tempting to look at the amount I have left to raise and question, how will God provide?  But something, or rather Someone, impels me to keep faith and continue. 

I am reminded of the story of a man who brought his son to Jesus for healing.  The story, which can be found in Mark 9, begins with Jesus approaching His disciples, who were surrounded by a crowd in the middle of an argument.  Jesus asked the crowd, “What are you arguing about with them?”  A man stepped forward and said he had brought his son to be healed; the boy was possessed of a mute spirit that hurled the boy into fire and water to kill him.  Unfortunately, the disciples were unable to deliver the boy from the demon.  Jesus responded by pointing out their lack of faith and asked the boy be brought to Him. 

Upon seeing him, the evil spirit threw the boy into convulsions on the ground while he foamed at the mouth.  The father begged Jesus, “If you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.”

Again, Jesus points out his lack of faith, “’If you can!’ Everything is possible to one who has faith.”  Then the boy’s father cried out, “I do believe, help my unbelief!”

I often find myself echoing the father’s words in my own life, with my own weaknesses and areas that need healing.  Do I truly believe in the transforming power of God’s love?  Do I truly believe Jesus can heal and has conquered death for me?  Do I truly believe He can provide?  It is tempting to become discouraged by circumstance, to become too busy and distracted with other things, to become lukewarm in faith and action, and to lose sight of Jesus and the life of peace and freedom He offers each one of us.  And like Peter, who with eyes on Jesus started out walking across the water, we become overwhelmed and distracted by the waves and begin to sink.  Yet, Jesus assured us, “I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you could say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move.  Nothing will be impossible for you.”  Matthew 17:20.

We are told in Hebrews 11 that “[f]aith is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen.”  Mary is the perfect example of this; her life was one of immense faith.  She had faith when she accepted the news from the angel that she was to bear the Messiah.  She had faith when she was obliged to travel with Joseph to Bethlehem and ended up giving birth to Jesus in a stable.  She had faith when she presented Jesus in the temple, where she was told a sword would also pierce her heart.  She had faith when the Holy Family was forced to flee to Egypt and when she and Joseph found Jesus in the temple after searching for Him for three days.  She had faith when she asked Jesus to assist at the wedding in Cana and while watching her Son in His public ministry.  And she had faith as she stood at the foot of the cross, watching her Son’s torment and death.  How many times did she look at what was happening with eyes of faith, trusting God’s will was being done and ultimately would bring good?

St. Augustine wrote that believers “strengthen themselves by believing.”  As Pope Benedict XVI points out in his apostolic letter for the induction of the Year of Faith, Porta Fidei, St. Augustine’s life is one of a “continual search for the beauty of faith until such time as his heart would find rest in God.”  St. Augustine struggled in His search for truth and faith.  For a time, he embraced heresy and yielded to sins of pride and lust.  He admits coming to a point in his life where he knew the truth, but was not yet willing to give up certain sins and embrace a life of faith in God.  Yet Jesus continued to call him.  His mother, St. Monica, carried him in her heart and in her prayerful tears.  And in the end, St. Augustine found the place of true peace in God. 

How does faith grow and why is it important?  “Faith grows when it is lived as an experience of love received and when it is communicated as an experience of grace and joy.  It makes us fruitful because it expands our hearts in hope and enables us to bear life-giving witness: indeed, it opens the hearts and minds of those who listen and respond to the Lord’s invitation to adhere to His word and become His disciples.”  ***  “Only through believing, then, does faith grow and become stronger; there is no other possibility for possessing certitude with regard to one’s life apart from self-abandonment, in a continuous crescendo, into the hands of a love that seems to grow constantly because it has its origin in God.”  Pope Benedict XVI, Porta Fidei, 7.

Faith is both individual and communal.  It is individual in that we are each called by Jesus into a personal relationship with Him.  We are taught to learn, embrace, and proclaim the Creed, which begins, “I believe…”  It is communal in that we are called to live out our faith as a member of Christ’s body, the Church.  We cannot love without another.  God, who is love, is a trinity of persons.  We too are called to share what we have with each other and allow others to share with us what we lack.  And as a Church, we proclaim the Creed as one. 

The stories of the saints are stories of faith – of sinners whose hearts were opened to God.  They embraced and believed His Word.  They sought to know the truths of faith as maintained and taught by the Church established by Christ.  They joyfully and without reserve shared with others the gifts and talents God had given them, to be instruments in this world for His glory.  And they persevered with zeal unto the end.   

This is our invitation and challenge.  This is what He is calling us to be in our time and place: free peoples, living in unity of heart and mind with Him and on fire with His Spirit, persevering with joy to the end of our earthly life.  No matter our specific vocations, no matter our gifts and talents, we are called to be a people of truth, of faith, of hope, and of love.  If we would but truly believe.

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