Strength of Faith.

Say to those whose hearts are frightened: Be strong, fear not! Here is your God, He comes with vindication; with divine recompense He comes to save you.

Over the months of Ordinary Time, a time dedicated to growth, we focus on how we live out the Christian faith, how we walk in Strength of Faith. Remember to focus on our Strength of Faith.

For weeks we have focused on Strength of Faith, and perhaps it is time to focus on its opposite, strength of despair. 

It often astounds me to see people struggling so much, to see the level of despair they are wrapped up in. I see young families struggling with schedules and financial resources. I see middle aged people trying to make sense of relationships that seem to be breaking down. I see older folks facing decline in health and vitality. At the same time, I know people who face the exact same challenges, yet persevere and come to victory.

Listen to a few words from Adam Zamoyski’s 1812: Napoleon’s Fatal March on Moscow

Although Moscow boasted a French Catholic church whose priest had remained at his post, churchgoing did not figure among the activities of the soldiers. A handful of officers, came to mass or confession, and the pastor was only asked to give Christian burial on two occasions. He went around the hospitals to talk to the wounded, but found them interested only in their physical wants, not their spiritual needs. He said: ‘They do not seem to believe in an afterlife. I baptized several infants born to soldiers, which is the only thing they still care about, and I was treated with respect.’

The difference between people who face the same challenges, and yet have different outcomes is the presence of both faith and the fellowship of Church in their lives. Zamoyski points to soldiers amid despair and on the losing side who were so self-iinvolved they refused to see God in their midst. Their strength of despair overtook faith and led them to give up, to seek no help. They were left with only despair.

You see, we have the actual answer. We have a God of love and complete forgiveness. We have a God ordained way-of-life. We have the Bread of Eternal Life and the Cup of Salvation. We have the “all” so many seek because Jesus said, ‘do this, live this way, receive My promises,’ and so we do.

I can attest this from my own life. Any time where I absented God my life became the definition of absence. It was a turning inward to despair. Yet when I turned to God and committed to live the life of the Church, I was made whole. The challenges did not end, only they were transformed by God.

I imagine the deaf man lived in despair, but then he was brought to Jesus who said: “Ephphatha!”, “Be opened!” Once he was opened his despair was transformed and so are we.

Say what?

Thomas, called Didymus, one of the Twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples said to him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “I will not believe.”

As usual, on this Low Sunday, we consider the consternation St. Thomas faced when confronted by the news of the resurrection.

The consternation St. Thomas faced is what we might call ‘say what-ed-ness.’ We all do that, don’t we? Someone tells us something and we proclaim, ‘Say what?’ We shake our heads in a state of perpetual disbelief. I don’t get it. I can’t accept it. This is too foreign to me.

If you ever want to test your own or others ‘say what-ed-ness,’ tell them what the Church teaches in truth and power. Jesus is God and man – He is not just a nice teacher. His words are the Word of God and must be obeyed. We must take up our cross and follow Him, walking the gospel path. All people are the children of God, and each of the baptized are co-heirs with Jesus to the promises of the Father. The Church’s teachings are not just an option but required belief. Say what?

Within the first three Chapters of the Book of Acts we learn that: The community of believers was of one heart and mind, and no one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they had everything in common. With great power the apostles bore witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus.

We do not even have to imagine the ‘say what’ reaction of the people who witnessed the life of the early Church. The reaction of the established leadership was negative. It is well recorded throughout Acts and the Epistles. We can hear the voices: What do you mean? They sell everything they have and share in the proceeds equally? They proclaim Christ without fear, with no apprehension, but publicly and with great power? Say what? We need to shut them up. That still rings true today.

Our ability to elicit ‘say what-ed-ness’ from the worldly is founded upon the power we have as recorded in St. John’s writings: Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is begotten by God… Whoever is begotten by God conquers the world. And the victory that conquers the world is our faith.

As a people empowered by the salvation and inheritance we have in the risen Jesus – the God-man who overcame for us – we need to be a people of resolute faith, a people who truly believe and own, within our hearts as well as shown by our actions and words, the power of the Risen One.

We are called then to go out, dressed in Easter joy, with power, to challenge the ‘say what-ed-ness’ of the world. We are called to proclaim truth and liberty, freedom from death in sin to life in the resurrected Christ. The next time we hear ‘say what?’ let us respond with ‘Let me tell you about Jesus.’ “My Lord and my God!” He lives. In Him we have life. Come and believe.

True freedom.

The sea beheld and fled; the Jordan turned back. The mountains skipped like rams, the hills like lambs of the flock. 

This scripture, taken from today’s Alleluia verse, comes from Psalm 114. It speaks of God’s awesome power in leading the people of Israel out of Egypt to freedom. He freed His people from the bondage of slavery, and from being trapped back into it, through the parted waters of the sea.

Thus today, Jesus comes from Nazareth in Galilee with this purpose in mind. He steps into and parts the water, for a baptism He didn’t need, to save people who didn’t deserve it, so we could be truly free. 

Jesus was implementing His Father’s plan to save and free us, for each and every one of us have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. Having no ability to save or free ourselves, Jesus steps into the waters to tie Himself, the sinless one, to the suffering state of humanity and to identify Himself with sinful mankind, “Because he poured out his life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors.

The scene was dramatic. Large crowds. John preaching. People confessing their sins and being baptized. Then Jesus steps into the water. He rises up, with water dripping from His body, the Spirit descends in the form of a dove and the Father’s voice is heard: “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”

Today is the next step in the love story that ends our bondage to sin, frees us from ever having to go back, destroys the fear of death, and offers hope for all who chose friendship with God.

This event which we celebrate today publicly proclaims to the world that the Son of God entered the battle to save us from sin and to truly free us. We are freed from eternal death and the power of the worldly who serve the evil one.

The Bible is clear, people break God’s commandments, they serve the world, but have the option to restore their lost and broken intimacy and peace with God. We all have the chance to be free.

True freedom takes true faith. It takes a faith that says no to the world, no to those that would exploit us for their own gain, and no to those who would use the Holy Name of Jesus to further their selfish ends. The world, governments, politicians, and systems cannot give freedom. Rather, freedom comes from an act of faith, our kneeling and saying, Lord, I place my life in Your hands. I repent and desire only to return to You and Your true freedom.

The good news of the gospel is that true freedom is ours for the asking. Once we have asked, we are invited onto the gospel road where we walk in the footsteps of Jesus, proclaim His message, invite those who do not know Him, and celebrate the true freedom that has removed from us any sense of unworthiness, guilt, shame, or condemnation. True freedom!

Less God?

He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter said in reply, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

It is the question of the ages, Who do you say that I am? This question, to the Apostles, should not have been a surprise. It is the same question God presented to Adam and Eve, Noah, Abraham, Moses, the Judges, kings, and prophets. In each instance, Who do you say that I am?

Peter answers in the same way the rest would answer. He answers in the same way the faithful have always answered. In faith (which is the rock), he clearly stated that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God. You are God, my God.

As with the rest of the Apostles, and as was done before them by the prophets, judges, kings, and every person on earth, we quickly go from proclamation to a failure to follow through. We somehow lose touch with the fact that we just proclaimed God to be our God, and suddenly consider Him ‘less God.’

It happened to Peter right after this bold proclamation, He suddenly saw Jesus as ‘less God.’ He told Jesus He believed Him to be God, then told Him – You’re wrong.

This is our predicament as Christians. We are really asked to do very few things. Proclaim salvation in Jesus. Accept Him in faith, live the gospel message by doing love, and give God the worship. All Church laws and dogmas come down to that. We worship Jesus, who is God, and do what He said, for that is the perfection of truth; God’s wisdom laid out before us. All we have to do is take up and do what God said, but we don’t.

When we proclaim the creed, we will attest to the fact that Jesus is true God and true man. He is not half-and-half, more of one, less of the other. He is the fullness and completeness of both. So, His words and example are the way to live. His is the way we are to follow. Perfect instruction.

Consider the question of faith; our desire to cling to and fully believe: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Let us ask ourselves whether our lives speak the truth of our belief. Is Jesus God for me, or is He ‘less God?’

Much seems to get in the way. What does for us? Desires, politics, personalities, angers, having it our way, hypocrisy, thinking we are right, property over people, nation over God, the need to state our opinion? It is the question of the ages. If He is nothing less than God, let us put all that aside and live like He really is our God.

I brought dinner.

But the woman came and did Jesus homage, saying, “Lord, help me.” He said in reply, “It is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs.” 

Yesterday, after Holy Mass for the Dormition, I had the opportunity to spend time with our friend, Bishop Judy Murphy-Jack, Miss Adrienne from Team Esteem, and the Hon. Owusu Anane, a member of Albany’s Common Council. We sat on Bishop’s porch in a beautiful neighborhood on a great day and strategized ideas to address the serious matters pressing on the people of our region and the city. While weighty matter, just spending time on a porch in an old school way and talking with people of faith uplifted us and gave us renewed hope.

The Canaanite woman had serious weighty matter to discuss with Jesus. She wanted to sit on his porch and tell Him about her daughter and her needs. In hope, she sounded the age-old cry of people of faith, “Lord, help me.”

Jesus’ response was not welcoming. He basically said, Look, I brought dinner, but it is not for you. He referred to her as a dog, a Jewish term of contempt for Gentiles. Yet, He would not concede to the disciples request to send her away. He left the door open as He had in prior encounters with the Gentiles. Jesus leaves the door open to all who want to come onto His porch, to talk with Him, and to eat at His table, but we must take action.

In Jesus’ day, Canaanite was an ancient term for a people who did not know God, worshiped false gods, and were God’s enemies. This Canaanite woman, at face value a false god worshipper, needed to show the truth of her faith; Jesus could not just snap His fingers and make her a believer. She does and hangs on through Jesus ignoring her and telling her that the dinner was not for her. She does not take silence or “no” for an answer. She takes the action necessary to show herself as God’s faithful daughter, not an enemy of God. Jesus then grants her request.

Sophia comes here today as an outsider and will leave as one who will now have the opportunity to fully grow into a person of faith, a believer. It won’t just happen, no magic finger snapping here. To help her grow and enjoy porch time with Jesus and the dinner Jesus brought will take work. Sophia, those who brought her, and we commit to taking on the work of building her into a faithful daughter. Let us all commit to helping her become that woman of wisdom who hears Jesus say: “O woman, great is your faith!” and whose hope is constantly renewed.

Victory
cost.

Brothers and sisters: May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who has loved us and given us everlasting encouragement and good hope through his grace, encourage your hearts and strengthen them in every good deed and word.

Last week we met Zacchaeus and found in his encounter with Jesus one reborn to new life. We found great hope and promise because each person has the opportunity to be reborn into new victorious life in Jesus.

This week we meet a different group, people who at great cost kept faith, did not falter through every cruelty, and persevered in the new lives they knew they had in the Kingdom.

These last few weeks of the Church year are dedicated to contemplation of the Eschatological moment, the end times, Jesus’ victorious return and our being caught up with Him. These are topics of wonder, so the Holy Church lays before us teaching that shows us the way.

Our starting point is the encouragement of God, called to mind by St. Paul. Our hope is not temporary nor is it fleeting. What we have is everlasting. Having come to Jesus by faith and confession of sin, we have new life. We have the promise of victory and we must not take it lightly. Let us study, read, pray, mutually encourage and be steadfast in our faith and in the expectation of Jesus’ return.

You know, it isn’t easy. The world and even other churches are throwing every distraction before people. Like the mother and seven sons, we must face torments that attempt to pull us away from the Kingdom life into abandonment of God. For us, these things may not be as outright as others face, but know Christians face these sorts of things daily in the Middle East, Asia, and Africa. Among us, it is not so obvious, more insidious.

I encourage you to read 2nd Maccabees. In Chapter 6 we see this: The Gentiles filled the temple with debauchery and revelry; They also brought forbidden things into the temple so that the altar was covered with abominable offerings. This is literally happening today on the altars of St. Peter’s in Rome and other Roman churches. Where is faith being kept? It is kept here!

Keep faith in these last days where the costs are high. Keep faith here and in your hearts. Jesus reminds us not to fret over the detail or the cost but maintain the hope that is our promise of victory – everlasting life.

Strong in
prayer.

The prayer of the lowly pierces the clouds; it does not rest till it reaches its goal, nor will it withdraw till the Most High responds, judges justly and affirms the right, and the Lord will not delay.

Jesus presents us with the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector, both gone to the temple to pray. He draws a distinction in the manner of prayer offered by each.

The Pharisee takes his position (his entitled place, reserved just for him) and prays to… himself.

The tax collector takes the position of everyone, of no one in particular and in great humility seeks mercy.

It is easy for us to see the difference. Bad Pharisee, presumptive and arrogant, and poor tax collector, presumptive and humble. Our hearts close to one and open to the other. Wait, did you just say both were presumptive? Factually, yes.

The Pharisee was presumptive in the most negative way possible. He judged himself to be worthy. He had no need to pray to God because all was already settled. He spent his time in temple with himself. On the other hand, the tax collector presumed to pray in the first place, that God was merciful enough not to strike him down for his sins right where he stood. He spent his time in temple with God. Presumption in and of itself was not the problem, rather it was the focus of the presumption, the expected outcome.

For the Pharisee, the expected outcome was more of the same. In the end, Jesus points out, that presumption lost him the little he had. The tax collector’s outcome was change and that presumption won mercy, salvation, and justification.

In our New Testament lives, we need to modify our presumptions. Consider what they are and adjust. Our primary presumption in prayer must be relationship with God followed by trust in His promises. Our prayer is not a mere speaking to ourselves about needs, but full knowledge that our prayers pierce the clouds; does not rest till it reaches its goal. Indeed, our presumptions must be based on what Jesus taught, and He taught the strength and power of prayer. Jesus reminds us to constantly to set our hearts on Him in faith, not to despair, and to know that our prayer reaches the throne of God and is effective. Presume that!

I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, Who will judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingly power: proclaim the word; be persistent whether it is convenient or inconvenient; convince, reprimand, encourage through all patience and teaching.

Paul is once again charging Timothy to remain strong and faithful in his ministry to his people. Paul reminds Timothy, as he has been doing, of what he learned. Paul does these recaps before he enters into the strong charge his listeners are called and recalled to.

Paul tells Timothy: Remain faithful to what you have learned and believed, because you know from whom you learned it

Now Paul was not necessarily referring to himself – you’ve got to get this, believe it, and live it just because I took the time to teach you. Paul never stood on his own words. Rather, Paul is helping Timothy to remember that his heart was touched, his soul was moved, by the Holy Spirit who imparted God’s word to him. This word – the Gospel of Jesus – has affected your life from the beginning. It has changed the course of your life and outcomes you would have otherwise been destined for.

Because God’s word comes to us by proclamation, through the insistence of faithful teachers, by the example of mentors, in ways that are ever human and ordinary, we can easily miss Who it is that is imparting the word. Paul reminds Timothy and us – you know from whom you learned it.

If we realize the source, the rest of Paul’s set of directives becomes easy: proclaim the word; be persistent whether it is convenient or inconvenient; convince, reprimand, encourage through all patience and teaching. If this thing I have, that we have, is from God it will prosper by our persistence and dedication, by our patience and teaching.

Jesus brings this all home. He uses the example of the worst of the worst doing right to show us how much more our great, powerful, all just, all merciful God will do for His faithful. He will prosper our proclamation, teaching, persistence, in good times or bad, work. All we need do is ask with faith.

What we ask in faith is not just some poor request from an underling – please support me if You get a moment God. No, it is a word of power from us who remain in Jesus. Jesus guarantees we will see it done speedily. Believe that!  

Who by
faith.

“Much will be required of the person entrusted with much, and still more will be demanded of the person entrusted with more.”

What do you have?

Last week we spoke of introspection, and the necessity of getting out of ourselves, of looking up and out. We spoke of using the power God has given us to draw in many to know, love, and serve God, to build up a storehouse of treasures God will be proud of. It is what we have.

Today, St. Paul drives the power of faith home in a long illustration of faith history. We only heard a part of it, from Chapter 11 of Hebrews. If we take the opportunity to read the whole thing, we will see illustrations from every age of people who stood in the breech. These people did great and amazing things all founded upon faith in things unseen and only promised. Paul tells us that this kind of faith is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen. It is what we have.

The people of the old Israel kept faith alive in the midst of every challenge. Even when they had to worship in silence and hiding, they did not stop, and because of this, God brought them to victory. This is not just then, or a tale of old. This kind of faith lives today. We see illustration of the Church in hiding through the days of communism – a Church emerging intact from behind the iron curtain, and these people too are well attested. We see it wherever bravery and perseverance are called for.

We have these examples of faith alive in our hearts, in our stories, in our reflections and prayers. They live in the way we face daily challenge and resistance to the worldly.

In just the past two weeks persecution has touched our Church. Fr. Franciscus Urban, a priest in Sweden, a former Marine, and an educator, was fired from his teaching job because of his faith. The headmaster said: “I can see no possibility for you to stay. Your ‘values’ do not meet with the school’s ‘value foundation’”

Walking by faith has never been unchallenged, nor unchallenging. Yet, in living faith out we gain the greatest attestation available, the blessing of God and the assurance of the kingdom. Jesus drove the point home, saying: “Do not be afraid any longer, little flock, for your Father is pleased to give you the kingdom.” Let us take confidence acting in Him. This faith is what we have!

Are we
hungry enough?

They all ate and were satisfied.

Last week, we discussed the hungry Jesus and His chief hunger, unity of life with the Father and Spirit and our participation in that reality, that meal where love is perfected. It is the meal to which We have gained access. We were left with the question: Are we hungry? Are we hungry enough to participate in God’s life?

Today we continue the celebration that began this past Thursday, the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. The Holy Church sets aside special Octaves, eight days of celebration that follow special moments in our collective faith life. We celebrate Octaves after Christmas, the Epiphany, Easter, Pentecost, and Corpus Christi. You have to love a Church that focuses on celebrating!

Today’s Gospel tells us that crowd ate and were satisfied. Now we’ve all had plenty of meals where we ate, and remained unsatisfied, perhaps even disappointed.  Yet, when Jesus feeds us we find only satisfaction. The Gospel goes on to tell us that the leftovers filled twelve baskets– in other words, Jesus feeding us leads to an overflowing abundance.

Sunday, in the Octave, is a great moment to reflect. Do we really believe this? Does receiving this bread and wine really make us whole and satisfied? Does this activity, have any real meaning and reality? Do we have any overflowing abundance coming from this feeding? Are Jesus’ promises real?

Father, what are you saying? You’re confusing me. I’ve said that myself to people who called me to express what I really believed.

That is the question, not whether I am confusing you, but taking this very important moment, this eight-day period, and the rest of our lives to come to terms with what we really believe of God’s reality. We can read words – This is my Body. This is My blood. Do this… but reading alone will not move us from disbelief and unbelief and going-through-the-motions, to full faith and overflowing abundance.

If we do anything, as we meet the reality of Jesus’ Body and Blood today, as He passes us in procession, let us make an absolute affirmation of true faith and belief. Let us say and believe: He is here, and I am hungry for Him. Let us eat and be satisfied. Then with that realization of faith, come to see all His promises fulfilled in our lives to overflowing.