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Sunday Readings for Oct. 3, 2010 (27C)
By Fr. John Foley, S. J.
Faith. What is it?
“Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” So says the Letter to the Hebrews (Hebrews 11:1). So there is the answer. But what does the answer mean?
Answer this. Do you have any question that various cities around the world exist, even though you have never actually walked in them? Moscow, Katmandu, Tokyo. And, can’t you make plans with a friend for dinner without having to worry if that person is just a figment of your imagination? If so, you have conviction of things (or persons) not seen. You have faith.
This ground level meaning is very simple, and perhaps didn’t need mention. I believe my spleen exists, but so what? And a lot of people say “God exists,” but others might reply, “so what?” Maybe there has to be more than the simple faith that there actually is a God.
That “more” might mean relationship. With a friend you have assurance that he or she will be loyal to you, will be true to the promise contained in friendship, as you also will try to be. You have confidence your friend’s love will not expire.
This is a deeper level of faith, and let it be very clear that it includes moments when just the opposite seems true, when it feels like a friend has surely turned away. Such suspicions are terrible moments. Some of us avoid having close relationships altogether just for fear of being deserted! Understandable as this is, all of us need to gradually and prudently open ourselves to deeper friendships. We need and want to love and be loved, but it takes time to learn that hurt does not necessarily mean cancellation of friendship, even with God.
We see this type of faith in the First Reading. The writer has in fact been harmed and speaks to God with great emotion, the way a friend might. “How long, O Lord? I cry for help but you do not listen. Why do you let me see ruin? Why must I look at misery?”
Maybe God had not yet revealed that hurt can be part of relationship, so the person demands to know how the Lord could be so unmoved. Surprisingly, God answers, in a lengthy and encouraging reply. “The vision still has its time,” he says, “presses on to fulfillment, and it will not disappoint; if it delays, wait for it, it will surely come.”
God is saying, “I understand your sorrow and I will make things better.” The big problem is that “wait for it” part. God will make things better but not yet.
“Not yet! what are you talking about?” our insides scream. “Why don’t you help us right now? Why delay and give suffering such a feast?” The apostles are saying roughly the same thing to Jesus in the Gospel. “Do This now! Increase our faith!” they say.
But in fact, the way God is giving us faith is by delaying. Our souls are not yet ready for the fullness of belief in and with him (relationship). So he brings us along until we are. According to Jesus it does not matter how much faith you have, a car-load or a teaspoon-full. Stay in there and the rest will come.