Saturday, October 1, 2016

2016/10/02 - Exercising Faith

Notice it was the apostles who asked to have their faith increased… the APOSTLES…the inner circle… if anybody in the world would have faith, surely it would be them.  They walked with Jesus – heard him speak – they SAW HIS MIRACLES.  They spent 24 hours a day in His presence….and yet, THEY asked for more faith???  If you and I sometimes doubt our faith, we can take comfort in the fact that these super-Christians, these first Bishops of the Church, were also having doubts.  Most of us would echo their request, “Lord, Increase our Faith”.

What’s confusing is Jesus’ response to that request.  First – he tells them that if you had just the smallest amount of faith, you would do the impossible.  In other words, he’s kinda telling them they don’t even have faith yet!  Then he jumps into that parable of the unprofitable servant…and if you’re like me, you wonder, what does THAT have to do with increasing our faith?!

If you learn nothing else, hear this definition of faith which I heard from Bishop Robert Barron:  “Faith is an attitude of Trust and confidence in God.”  (repeat)

How DO we get more faith…How do we learn to Trust God more?  Is faith something you get when you’re young and carry with you the rest of your life?  Or is it something you grow out of?  You don’t grow out of it – but like a muscle – if you don’t use it, you’ll lose it.  I may have had good arm muscles in high school, but since I went into computers, they didn’t continue to get exercised…so they went back to the arms of a 90 pound weakling.

Faith is like a muscle – it only grows when it is fed and exercised.  Think about that metaphor, because I think it’s really a good one.

Like a muscle, Faith is something we originally receive from God when we’re first created.  God plants a homing device in each of us which guides us back to Him. But it’s our choice whether we want our Faith Muscle to grow.  We can’t just ask Jesus to “increase our faith”… WE have to exercise it.  Building our Faith is like building Muscle.

It might be easier to understand if we substitute Faith with the word Trust, as Bishop Barron pointed out.

How do we build trust in God – how do we exercise our own faith muscle?
- I can trust in my wealth, or I can choose to trust that God will provide.
- I can place my trust in my abilities. (strength, brain, understanding) – or I can trust that God make it happen
- I can trust my own life’s plan – so God doesn’t have a place to make His presence known.  If I don’t give him the chance to take credit, I’ll never recognize His presence …and only in recognizing His miracles will my trust in Him grow.

-Most of us fill our day with one thing after another and we fill-in any gaps with technology like phones, ipad, TV, video games – or I can schedule in time for God – time to pray – time to be silent - time to do something for someone – time to read a good Christian book… in short – schedule time for God to speak to me.

No matter what I do, I shouldn’t expect ‘thanks’ or some sort of payback…. That’s part of the entitlement mentality of our American culture of today… If I do ‘this’, I deserve ‘that’.  If I spend 10 minutes in prayer to God, he owes me more faith.  If I do a good job today working for the parish at the social, I deserve something in return from God.

That’s the point, I think, of the parable of the unprofitable servant.  We should concentrate on the job in front of us – doing what we are obliged to do – and not expect any special recognition or thanks.  I should just trust that in doing my job, I am fulfilling the will of God.

I’m sure every one of us has someone we can look up to that was a person of faith…someone who seemed to automatically put their trust in God.  For example, My mom was a woman of faith.  What’s that mean, she was a “woman of faith”?  It means She Trusted God.  How did she get to that point – and more importantly – how can we get the faith that she had?  Let’s look a little bit at her life.

She was born into a poor family with a dozen brothers and sisters.  Immediately, church was a central part of their lives – daily prayers – rosaries – going to Mass together.  These actions helped to build a foundation of Faith that would carry her through the rest of her life.

She married Dad when she was 19 and went on to have eleven kids herself.  Two of them died before age three, which had to make her heart heavy.  Money was tight and they lived in the bad part of town.  Many months they weren’t sure how they would make it to the next paycheck.  They learned to make do with what they had.  She could pinch a penny so tight it would squeeze out dimes.  She would cut coupons, run to every store to find bargains like double-coupon days.  The kids would wear the same clothes until they were thread-bare – then we’d get some “new” clothes either as hand-me-downs from cousins or from a yard sale.  People in the community recognized the need, and they would just drop-off clothes or food.  It never even occurred to me (until writing this homily) that this was charity… it was simply what people did… anybody who has excess of something would share it with somebody else.  Looking back, I can see how Mom had to swallow her pride to accept that charity…. But she never showed it.

She ran her kids everywhere, cooked meals, cleaned the house, did the shopping, cut hair, baked cakes to bring in some extra money, helped kids with homework, bathed them – all the things a stay-at-home Mom would do… and never expected a thanks.  As if that wasn’t enough, she took care of foster children for many years and even adopted my youngest sister… one more person to share the love with.  Mom’s only reward was watching her kids grow. 

Her greatest heart-ache was also her kids.  Somebody was always picking a fight over some silly thing. Like most kids….we all made some bad choices as we grew, and it would tear at her heart.  She prayed for us daily that God would show us the way, and I’m sure she cried herself to sleep at night wondering if God would ever intervene.  I learned yesterday that she actually carried a rosary in her pocket to pray for her kids, and she and Dad had a special parent’s prayer they’d pray daily.

In the end, every one of her kids grew into strong Christians –active in their Churches spread across the country.  Her lifelong mission was to get her kids to heaven – and it seems she successfully passed on the Faith to the next generation…. Which is remarkable in our society today.

What gave her such faith?  She was forced to exercise it.  I’m sure she asked God many times, “How Long, O Lord”.  But she continued to do the job in front of her.  That’s a key point:  when she couldn’t make sense of what was happening, she simply trusted that God would work it out – and she turned her attention to the job at hand:  raising her family.  She couldn’t place her trust in money, but had to trust that God would show her how to make it through or send angels would deliver hand-me-down clothes and day-old donuts to fill the gap in the budget.  She couldn’t plan her kids’ lives for them, but had to trust that the foundation of faith she had given them would one day carry them into an adult faith.

And when she approached the throne of God a year ago today, I’m sure God was smiling down at her for being the faithful servant – but – as with the servant in the Gospel, I’m sure her response was:
                          …“I merely did what I was obliged to do”

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