Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Homily, 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time, 11 August 2013

This is, as best I recall, what I preached on Sunday on these readings.

There are a great many ideas of faith in the world, that are inaccurate, or misleading, or just wrong.  Let me note briefly just two of them.  The first is the idea of faith as sentimentality.  This shows up, for example, in false moral ideas that reduce right and wrong to feelings, and that therefore end up trying to justify grave moral evils based on how it makes them feel, or makes someone else feel.  The second is the idea of faith in what has been called "the god of the gaps;" that is, that what science can know about how the universe is, really is certain knowledge; and that faith, then, is a way of knowing, without great certainty, what lies outside the boundaries of scientific knowledge.  But since scientific knowledge is always growing, eventually what is known by faith is replaced by something else, known by science.  So, this kind of faith always leads to scepticism.

Neither of these ideas is real faith.  The problem with both of these ideas is that they do not give us a relationship with God, but only with ourselves, with human sentiment, knowledge, or opinion.  In contrast, all of our readings today show what a real idea of faith looks like.  And in this sense, the most important line in this set of readings is right at the beginning of the Gospel: "Do not be afraid," Jesus tells his disciples, "for it pleases my Father to give you the kingdom" of Heaven.  It pleases God our Father to give us salvation.  God wants us to be with Him in Heaven!  This is what real faith looks like: the idea that it pleases God to save us.

In the second reading, we have the example of Abraham, the "father of faith."  He is called the father of our faith because he offered to God total trust, that what God was promising would indeed be done.  Because of his great trust in the goodness of what God wanted for him, he was willing to leave his home and take his family into a foreign and unknown land, without protection - something that, at that time, was about as risky a thing as could be imagined.  Because of his great trust in God, he was able to flourish there, and even, as we know from Scripture, to offer extravagant hospitality to strangers.  And we know all the things that he was able to accept from God, including the sacrifice of his only son, Isaac, by which God tested his faith, not so that Isaac would die, but so that He should make the great promise to provide the lamb for the sacrifice.

And the first reading evokes the faith of Moses leading Israel out from their slavery - their physical
slavery to Egypt and their moral slavery to sin.  This faith is expressed in "oaths," in the great Covenant which God makes with Israel.  God binds Himself to do certain things, in order to save His people, and in return, God's people also bind themselves to do certain other things, ritually and morally.  This is what the ritual of the Passover constantly expressed.  But this binding, this commitment, is not about force or threats or coercion by God.  It's about love: God wants us to be saved, and in order to be saved, He must do things so that we can also do things.  God gives Israel the Law, although the Law is not itself salvation; and God gives them the land, although this is but the promise of our true home in Heaven; and God gives them the Temple, again, so that He could also give us the true Lamb of the sacrifice.

Abraham and Moses had great faith, faith that expressed itself in total trust in His goodness, and in great obedience to the terms of the Covenant, and in the waiting for the coming of the Lamb.  We, too, are invited to have faith that looks like this: trust, and obedience, and adoration of the Lamb, our Lord Jesus Christ.  We know that He is the true Lamb of God, and that He alone sets us free from sin and brings us to Heaven, where the Father wants us to be.

In the Gospel, Jesus points to Himself as the perfect example of trusting, obedient faith.  "Amen, I say to you, he will gird himself, have them recline at table, and proceed to wait on them."  When does Jesus do this for His disciples?  He does it at the Last Supper, at the Passover when He truly becomes the sacrificial Lamb for us.  The Last Supper is also the first Holy Mass.  And still today, in every Holy Mass, Jesus Himself puts on the servant's apron, and gets down on His knees for us, in order to give us Himself, the Lamb, in the Holy Eucharist.

Our faith needs to have the same shape as this.  Because of our faith, we must have such trust in God, such trust that what He wants for us is really what is good for us, because whatever He wants for us in this life is meant to get us to be with Him in Heaven.  And because of our faith, we must live according to the oaths of the Covenant, sealed in the blood of the Lamb.  We must live by the moral law and the Gospel, and come to the sacraments of the Church, and pray and give alms, reaching out to the poor and needy as their servants.  I say "must," again, not in the way of threat or force, but of love: God loves us so much that He wants us to be with Him in Heaven, and He gives us the sacrifice of His only Son, Jesus our Lamb, so that we can get there; and if we love Him even a little in return, we will want for ourselves what He wants for us.  This love, this desire, is what real faith always looks like.

And if we have even a taste of this real faith, we want it, not only for ourselves, but also for others.  God wants them to get to Heaven too!  Therefore we constantly offer them the example of our faith - of our trust in God, like Abraham's trust, that gives us life and joy; our faithful obedience, like that of Moses, that brings us back to the Church again and again, and lifts us up with hope; our compassion and hospitality to the needs of others, like Christ washing the feet of His disciples, that puts our love into action every day.  In the face of a world that has no faith, we offer this faith, this real faith in Jesus Christ, in these ways.

As we continue with this Holy Mass, and especially as we continue in this Year of Faith, let us strive the imitate more fully these great examples of faith: the trust of Abraham, the obedience of Moses, the loving service of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Ask the Holy Spirit to make your faith stronger, to put the fire of His love into your heart, and into your life.  Pray for faith, and then share your faith.  It pleases God our Father to give us faith.  May we follow Him all the way home to Heaven.