Strength of Faith.

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has similarly been tested in every way, yet without sin. So let us confidently approach the throne of grace to receive mercy and to find grace for timely help.

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.

We have talked for many weeks about Strength of Faith. We have seen the way people approached Jesus and how He told them to have faith, to not doubt. We have seen various ways we can put Strength of Faith into action and how we share our Strength of Faith with each other and the world. We have contemplated the ways we might invite others to experience God, right here, with the confidence that comes from Strength of Faith.

Today, we are presented with a reflection on the source of our Strength of Faith. Strength of Faith comes solely from Jesus, from doing what He did.

Wait a minute, you mean I can be like Jesus, I can live the way He did?

As we heard in today’s gospel, James and John got it wrong. They were looking for the sort of strength that does not come from faith, but rather comes from position and status. In short, Jesus tells them that they will also have to face what He had to face: “The cup that I drink, you will drink, and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized.” If you want to be like Me, you must be — like Me.

The rest of the disciples become upset, not because of what James and John asked, but because they wanted the same. Jesus tells them all, you must stop thinking the way the world thinks, but rather be like Me, be humble, serve, suffer if you are called to do so, and know that your strength comes from Strength of Faith. It comes from the sort of faith that says I am less so that God can be shown to be more.

The writer of the Letter to the Hebrews fully understands human weakness. The writer also knew that he himself was weak, had failed, had sinned, was constantly tempted by the desire for power and status. Facing what we all face, knowing what we all know, he arrives at an answer: My Strength of Faith comes from being most like Jesus Who was like us and did not sin.

You see, Jesus was tested exactly as we are. His humanity faced all we face. In fact, He was attacked constantly – yet He did not sin. He overcame. So can we.

You mean I can be like Jesus; I can live the way He did? The answer is yes. We are called to confidence, to walk and act in the Strength of Faith that tells us we can live as Jesus did.

Strength of Faith.

He who consecrates and those who are being consecrated all have one origin. Therefore, he is not ashamed to call them “brothers.”

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. We are focusing on our growth in Strength of Faith.

What does God, Who is all powerful, perfectly just, Who knows everything about us, even those things we hold in the secret of our heart, do for His people?

Some might say that sits as judge. That would be correct, for He has that role. Some might say He loves, for indeed that is His attribute as well. The writer of the letter to the Hebrews asks us to consider this:

For it was fitting that He, for Whom and through Whom all things exist, in bringing many children to glory, should make the Leader to their salvation perfect through suffering.

The writer says that it is fitting, i.e., proper, and appropriate for God to choose the path of suffering for His Son, so that through this suffering we might be saved. Not only that, so that His Son would fully comprehend us, have the same experiences and trials as us, and walking with us show us the way to glory. By the Son’s strength of faith we are called to strength of faith.

Now we might figure, God could have done this differently, and of course He could, but then we would miss the vastness of His love, of His willingness to suffer and sacrifice all for us. His willingness to make us His brothers.

God not only loves as a concept but loves completely and sacrificially. He loves so much that He was willing to raise us up to the level of brotherhood with Him by His likeness to us.

This is an awesome and all-encompassing love. It is a compassionate love. It is a love that will not let God stand on the side as a spectator, but rather that involves Him intimately in our lives, because He humbled Himself in His sufferings to raise us higher than angels; to give us a triumph that is everlasting.

The symbols of marriage discussed in Genesis and today’s gospel mark not just a rule for life, a dictate for men and women to follow, but more so a call to be living symbols of God’s love toward us, for this is how God is, how He loves, and lives.

What God does for is people is to live a marital union of fidelity with us. Offering sacrificial love constantly, God only asks that we join ourselves to Him. Indeed, God calls us to live as one flesh with Him. He Who has so loved us that He gave His whole self for us asks us only to love Him and be joined with Him in return.

Strength of Faith.

“Teacher, we saw someone driving out demons in your name, and we tried to prevent him because he does not follow us.” Jesus replied, “Do not prevent him.”

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. We are focusing on our growth in Strength of Faith.

Today, in our exploration of Strength of Faith we encounter a problem that seems to have been a long-lasting one. In fact, it stretched from the time of Moses (and likely well before) to the time of Jesus and on to today. It is the problem, some would say of jealousy, but more in-fact it is about maturity of faith.

In both cases, the Spirit of God moves among His people. In Moses’ time it was the chosen seventy elders. In Jesus’ time, it was those who were moved to do mighty things in Jesus’ name.

In Jesus’ time, the people who set out to do work in His Name “felt” Him in their hearts, perhaps after hearing Him, or maybe just hearing of Him. They were motivated to do what many who encountered Jesus could not do, i.e., set aside their lives, careers, fortunes and go out to work for God. That took maturity and strength of faith.

See the juxtaposition of people who carried out the Spirit’s work in strength and maturity of faith – fearless and those who were not so sure. In both cases, the strength and maturity of those called to act kept the Holy Spirit’s good work moving.

Well, here we are, 2021. The Spirit of God is among and within us. This perspective on strength and maturity of faith cannot be more apropos to our upcoming centennial celebration and our honoring the work of the Polish National Union today. In both these cases, the Holy Spirit inspired people to work in Jesus Holy Name and accomplish amazing things. They in turn set aside all else to do what the Spirit called them to do. They acted with strength and maturity of faith, not jealously, nor apprehension, sure of their footsteps for they knew Jesus was walking with them.

Were there people like John going to Jesus or the young man who ran to Moses saying, hey look what they are doing, let’s stop them? Certainly! Yet here is where strength and maturity combine to get God’s work done. A person who refuses to grow in strength of faith will not step forward. A person without maturity of faith will constantly question the Holy Spirit’s direction, and if challenged they will stop.

In the end, and this is the struggle, we are called to trust. We are never called to build roadblocks or speed bumps; we must not stop. We are called to say yes to the inspiration in us, to act maturely and to remain strong doing the Sprit’s work.

Strength of Faith

And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace for those who cultivate peace.

Hope Is Here! It has been so encouraging to gather as a church and uncover all the ways that our faith is strengthened when we find hope in our relationship with Jesus and each other. We have learned that there is hope for the weary because we don’t have to carry our burdens on our own. There is hope for the broken because forgiveness is offered to us in love. There is hope for the underdog because with God we can do anything. This week we deal with a special subject, with one of the hardest. Is there hope for the doubter?

The gospel illustrates a concept that can be very difficult for us: That service and the attitude of a child is the way to the Kingdom, and that suffering is the prelude to glory. St. James tells us what he learned at Jesus’ side: That we must walk in purity of spirit, gentleness, mercy, constancy, and sincerity as cultivators of peace. This raises a problem of doubt, doubt that those things, that way of living, can make us victorious. Can it?

James’ illustrations of the world’s way the way we are to live presents a juxtaposition. We get that, but still doubt because the worldly seem to be doing so much better. So, I doubt, ‘Can Jesus’ promise be true?’

Each walk has markers. Each of them leads a person on a different path. One is a disordered path with disordered loyalties and desires. The other is well ordered with loyalty to God and a desire only to do God ordered things. One is a life with finality, the other life without end. But, can that promise alone ease my doubt? 

Doubt has become a common occurrence today. People have failed us. There is so much false information out there. Covid-19 has overwhelmed us. Each of these caused doubt and we wonder where God is. Certainly, the disciples must have doubted as Jesus spoke of the road to Jerusalem and the outcome He faced, death and resurrection. They probably doubted that being last and childlike would work out so great. We are there with the disciples and struggle against doubt.

There are many struggling with their faith. They may have lost hope that Jesus is who they thought he was. How does Jesus respond to them, to me when I doubt or struggle? He would welcome the questions, the conversation, the wrestle. He knows that honest doubt will find honest answers.

So Jesus left us, the Church, to listen to those who doubt for what they are not saying as much as what they are saying. Where does the doubt come from? Where is the hurt, pain, and struggle? We are so blessed to be that congregation who is willing to listen and provide hope to the doubting. We empathize and express compassion. We allow ourselves to feel others’ hurt, pain, and struggle, and that equips us to meet needs and build a bridge for the doubting back to faith and hope. The answer to doubt is providing Jesus Who is hope for all. What we do here helps us and all to see Jesus as the antidote to doubt.

Robert Louis Stevenson wrote of a trip where his ship encountered a terrible storm. In the dark belly of the ship, the passengers were frightened and worried. They were filled with doubt. One of the men finally ventured out and to the upper deck, where he saw the captain quietly on the bridge. With a tranquil face, he looked out across the sea and gave orders. He turned to the man and smiled. The man made his way back to the cabin where the other passengers were huddled together. In response to their questions and doubt, he comforted them by saying, “I have seen the captain’s face, and all is well.” That is what we must say.

Yes, hope is here for the doubting for Jesus is here with us. Looking into the face of Christ and holding onto each other we know all is well. We have peace.

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.

Strength of Faith

Humbly welcome the word that has been planted in you and is able to save your souls. Be doers of the word and not hearers only, deluding yourselves.

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.

As we return to the Gospel according to St. Mark, we are asked to pause in our growth in Strength of Faith to assess exactly how changed we are. How fully do we live as Jesus did? How do we walk the gospel walk?

Moses is presenting the Lord’s commandments to the people. These commandments were given by God in love to help His people to grow toward Him.

As you may recall from a few weeks back, the heart in Hebrew, the Lev, means the whole self. God was seeking the hearts of His people, a relationship with the whole self of each of them as individuals and them as a community.  Through these laws they would live in relationship with Him and grow ever closer to Him in strength of faith.

We know our God is a God of relationship from the identity of God as Trinity, to His creation, to the salvation He won for us through the life, death, and resurrection of His Son, Jesus.

To remain in relationship, God gave us His Holy Spirit Who dwells with us and helps us in the process of loving Him more fully and deeply. He gave us each other, the reason I am so happy and blessed to be here in this time and moment where we are for each other.

So, today (and everyday) we are asked to assess how we are changed by our relationship with God, how our faith is strengthened, how deep we are willing to go with God and His Church. We also figure where we must improve.

The people Jesus encountered, the leaders and officials, no longer cared for depth of relationship. They left the heart behind and reduced relationship with God to motions and actions. They did not have Strength of Faith, but rather adherence to ritual for the sake of the ritual. Growth ended when life became mere performance.

St. James, writing less than a decade after Jesus Ascension, took the time to remind the people to live fully in Strength of Faith. We must not reduce our faith to motions but rather live it out. St. James says: Do not hold back, do not sell yourself short, be all-in just as God is all in for you. He tells us that we have been changed and we are to live changed from the top of our heads to the tips of our toes. He willed to give us birth by the word of truth that we may be a kind of firstfruits. We are a new creation.

We need to be whole-hearted, whole-self livers of new life in Jesus. We are something remarkably special. Let us then check-in on how we live changed and new in strength of faith.

Strength of Faith

Many of Jesus’ disciples who were listening said, “This saying is hard; who can accept it?”

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.

We are at the culmination of our five-week detour into the sixth chapter of the Gospel according to St. John, the discourse on the bread that came down from heaven which we must eat to have eternal life. Next week our study on Strength of Faith returns to Mark’s gospel account.

Some people can go about their life never having their faith tested. It is rare, but it does happen. They face no confrontation. They experience no difficulty. No criticism is encountered. They never have to choose between representing Jesus or just going along. For the rest of us, we have faced and will have to face those moments.

I want to clearly distinguish that God does not send challenges to test us. He is not the god of the science lab where we all get mixed and shaken until we either wither or explode. That said, the world is what it is, worldly. So, we face tests.

Sometimes we face the test of education. That is the moment in which someone who wants to understand God better confronts us and asks for an explanation. Here is where we can shine, not by being all philosophical and theological, but by recounting what the experience of Jesus and His Church hold for us.

Here’s what I would say and have said: In meeting God in Church each week I am renewed and refreshed. I find order in my life, peace, the necessary quiet that is lacking in the world. I can face challenges knowing that God has me in His hands. I am reassured even in the hardest times. And I am blessed doubly and triply over.

Sometimes we face the test of hatred, disdain, and the sin of human arrogance. Here too we can shine as the presence of Christ in the world. If we react as the world would have us react, we belong to the world. If we however react as Christ would, then we have citizenship in heaven.

Yes, I have faced those moments, and I have learned to react in only one way, a word or gesture of peace and kindness. It is rarely accepted, but my conscience is clean, and I maintain my citizenship. Sometimes (especially online) it is by not reacting, by silence.

At some point or another, unless we are that extremely rare person, we will be challenged. Will we: As a result of this return to our former way of life and no longer accompany Him? Or will we too say: “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”

Strength of Faith and our growth in faith may be tested at any moment. In that moment let us, His disciples, say: This is hard; but I accept it!

Strength of Faith

The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, ‘How can this man give us his flesh to eat?’ So Jesus said to them, ‘Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in 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, we are focusing on our Strength of Faith.

Over these past few weeks, in John’s gospel account, we see a steady progression from a feeding with the day’s bread as Jesus multiplies and distributes it, to a teaching on the true meaning of our daily bread, an everlasting feeding with the bread that came down from heaven.

See the change in tone from the day’s bread to our daily bread. See the power of the food Jesus provides – a food that does not perish or waste, a food so abundant that no one who wants it will go hungry. A food so powerful it gives us life.

A day’s bread, the stuff we put on our tables, the ordinary food needed for life will sustain us for a period. Our daily bread however is all that comes forth from God, and most particularly He Who came forth from the Father, Jesus, the Son of God. It has eternal power and life in it.

Who doesn’t love a banquet invitation? We get them for weddings, anniversaries, our parish centennial, and special birthdays. We send our RSVP in the mail and make our food choices. We anticipate the celebration and the exquisite hors d’oeuvres and main course. We go to celebrate and receive a portion of the day’s bread. I’ve eaten great bread of the day and I’ve had some doozy rubber chickens at banquets. Funny how I can remember the bad day’s food so clearly. Better that I remember the great food here at the Lord’s table. Here I have life.

Proverbs tells us that God has prepared a banquet and in Jesus that is true. He is the banquet. What He feeds us on is certainly the Holy Eucharist, the flesh and blood we eat and drink in communion, but not just limited to that. That would make His bread too small. His daily bread is the complete food we need. It is His complete self – flesh, blood, words, teaching, and way of living.

Jesus echoes Proverbs when He invites us to RSVP and show up for His daily bread. Answering yes on the RSVP and showing up has broad consequences for our whole lives. Those who accept the invitation must eat and drink of the entire daily bread, thereby choosing to “live.” We chose to live now and eternally by walking the gospel path in strength of faith.

In the Our Father we ask for our daily bread. The Father gives us Jesus, the perfect daily bread. As we partake of Jesus, Who gives us true life, let us open ourselves to share Him with a world that is so very hungry for life. As Jesus withheld nothing, so let our faith be so strong we never hesitate to proclaim and share Jesus – our daily bread.

Strength of Faith

So be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and handed himself over for us as a sacrificial offering to God for a fragrant aroma.

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, we are focusing on our Strength of Faith.

We have heard various examples of strength of faith among those whom Jesus encountered, and in Jesus Himself. I cannot stress strongly enough that our call is to walk the gospel way, to follow in Jesus’ footsteps, to encounter Him over and over because in living His way we receive ever greater grace to do so.

Grace is this, an encounter in the eternal and heavenly doorway where Jesus stands opposite us and hands over all we need to be powerfully successful in our mission and ministry.

As we experience today, this encounter begins at baptism. We meet Jesus in that doorway for the first time and He says, you are now a member of my body, the Church. You now have access to this doorway anytime and every time you approach. Come back a lot.

The catch, we must show up, certainly in church every Sunday for the particularly strong encounter we have for Jesus said: I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever. That is the bread we need, the sharing in the heavenly bread that gives us the victorious eternal life Jesus won for us and that renews us for the work we need to show up for every day.

The catch, we who are called by the Father must return to the doorway again and again, each day, asking Jesus to meet us there is prayer so we become better and better outfitted for walking in strength of faith, for living the gospel way, walking the gospel path. Then speaking, proclaiming, and sharing Jesus.

Living Jesus’ way is not easy. This week Renee and I were up in Maine for Carly and Dom’s wedding – a truly beautiful event. We walked the streets of York and visited the Kittery Trading Post on our way back. We encountered people totally dedicated to readiness, spending the time needed. They were ready for the sea. They were ready to hike the highways and byways. They were prepared against dehydration and hunger. Their lesson to us – be ready. Like they do, let us be dedicated to readiness by strengthening our faith in the doorway every day.

Like anyone dedicated, we must spend the time needed to encounter the deep sea of grace, to walk the highways and byways proclaiming the Word of God and partake of the Body and Blood of Jesus so that we may never hunger or thirst. 

We the baptized, and today, Cameron, pledge to be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love by strengthening our faith and living it out in strong active witness to Jesus.

Strength of Faith.

“Sir, give us this bread always.” Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst.”

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, we are focusing on our Strength of Faith.

In Exodus 16 we join the children of Israel just six weeks into their wilderness journey. They witnessed the ten plagues visited on Egypt for her disobedience. They experienced the first Passover, the deliverance out of literal death and out of Egypt. They walked dry shod through parted sea. Yet now, here in the wilderness, they allowed fear and doubt take over. They grumble against Moses and through him at God. God is not a saving god; we’d rather go back to Egypt. We would rather sell ourselves back into slavery over trusting in God, over living in strength of faith.

God, in His mercy, responds to their grumbling by giving them food. If we were to read on to Exodus 17, we would find them grumbling again, this time about water.  That event was at Meribah and Massah, names which mean “testing,” and “quarrelling.” The people when tested, quarreled with God.

For the people of Israel, immediate need, and in the face of that need, doubt and worry, won over strength of faith and complete reliance on God. How could one see the great works of God and doubt? How could one worry when God has them in His hand? Yet we do too.

The model for what Jesus would face is right there – the people are fed in the wilderness and yet they ask: “What sign can you do, that we may see and believe in you? What can you do?” They saw a great work of God, yet still doubt and question. They still quarrel when tested. 

God sent His Son to once and finally free us from all captivity. He gave us an eternal Passover from death. He gave us bread that lasts forever, the food of eternal life. All we need to do is “believe in the One.

Jesus told us that He is “the bread of life;” and He added: “whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst.”

God knows our needs. He knows them before we even realize them. He also knows that we need a provision that is complete and whole – so in Jesus we have assurance of a life that is eternal and perfect. We who believe in strength of faith receive not only food for today, but food everlasting!

As St. Paul states, we must live and think differently, no longer in the futility of our minds. The Galileans were thinking in earthy terms when they confronted and quarreled with Jesus. Let us not sell ourselves back into slavery over trusting in God, over living in strength of faith as we continue to become new selves.