O Lord! Please, Increase Our Faith For Action!
Readings: (1st: Hab 1, 2-3. 2, 2-4; Ps: 94, 1-2. 6-9; 2nd: 2Tim 1, 6-8. 13-14; Gos: Lk 17, 5-19)
This brief reflection was written by Rev. Fr. Njoku Canice Chukwuemeka, C.S.Sp. He is a Catholic Priest and a member of the Congregation Holy Ghost Fathers and Brothers, Province of Nigeria South East. He is currently the Parochial Vicar of Our Lady of Fatima Catholic Church Woliwo Onitsha, Anambra State, Nigeria. For more details and comments contact him on: firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, Phone: +23408063767512, +23408024942843
As the Church draws closer to the end of The Year of Faith, declared by Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI with his Apostolic Letter of October 11, 2011, Porta Fidei, and which began on October 11, 2012, today in a special way we reflect on the theme Faith which is a core element of our Christian life. This rhymes well with the Catechetical week celebrations ahead. Faith gives us a new version of the world. Without it we see only the ugly and darker sides of life, and perhaps, still remain helpless and slaves to despair and hopelessness. It is faith which liberates us and makes us see the spirit of power and the love at work in our lives and those of our neighbors.
The readings of this 27th Sunday make a very important reference to faith and highlight the fundamental role this very important virtue should play in our lives as Christians. In the first reading, in response to the lamentation over his woes and persecution, Yahweh encourages prophet Habakkuk to be patient because it will not take time for his oppressors to be vanquished. However, on his path, the prophet and all true children of God must hold firmly to their faith because it is the true mark of the righteous one: “…But the upright man will live by his faithfulness.” In pronouncing this, God is simply admonishing us to remain faithful to him, faithful in good deeds and actions, faithful in keeping watch and faithful in joyful hope that in spite of the odds against us He will come quickly to help us. This faith in question is a strong trust in God that irrespective of what we face, He will not abandon us. It is a saving faith but should not however be understood in the context of the theological debate which tilts towards justification by faith alone (sola fidei). Indeed, God says that the Just shall live by faith, but who is the Just here and what qualifies one to be the Just, or what does living entail here? Am sure it is not folding our arms, sitting down all alone by ourselves and waiting for God to act. Instead the Just here is the one whose deeds and action are good enough to attract the saving power and attention of God. The justification involved here is that achieved through a living, and in fact a lived faith. It is justification that comes factis, non verbis (by means of deeds, not words).
In the second reading, Paul taps on the same string and strikes the same note by admonishing us thus: “Fan in to flame the gift that God gave you when I laid my hands on you…keep as your pattern the sound teaching you have heard from us, in the FAITH and LOVE that are in Christ Jesus.” Here we must note that Paul pointed out that we have to preserve the teaching first, in faith and secondly, in love. Love here is the expression of the faith in action and deeds because, this is one of the many ways we prove our faith in God and consequently, a good reason for our justification. Therefore, Paul further encourages us to guard by the help of the Holy Spirit that precious gift of faith which God entrusted to us. In all of these, our journey is a journey of faith that must be lived out in our actions; good deeds, steadfastness, perseverance, and good will towards our neighbours and God our Creator. This faith must “indulge” in actions and good deeds for it to merit us the justification that is so much needed since: “As the body without the spirit is dead so faith without deeds is dead” (James 2, 26).
Some years ago, a young man who claimed to have faith in the power of Jesus to deliver him from the Lion’s den as God delivered Daniel, decided to dare a starving Lion in a zoo in the South Western part of my country. He claimed and boasted that as a Man of God he had the power to speak and command the Lion and it will obey him and shut its mouth. One morning, he picked up his bible after some weeks of “dry fasting, prayer and meditation on the word of God”, and headed straight to the zoo. Of course, he paid his ticked to gain entry into the zoo, but kept his intention secrete to himself without informing the zoo attendants. Suddenly, he clinched his Holy Bible with his left arm and began to climb into the cage of the Lion. Before anyone could stop him he landed inside the cage and was face to face with his host. As soon as he landed the fierce and hungry looking Lion charged him immediately, and the Man of God with “enormous faith” reached for his Holy Bible from his arm pit, raised it up to heaven and started shouting: “I decree and command you in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, be still and shut your mouth there now!” He had barely completed pronouncing his decrees when the Lion bounced on him and devoured him. What a suicide he committed in the name of demonstrating his faith in action.
This is shear ignorance of what faith in action means, and am sure this is not what Jesus means in today’s gospel. What faith did the apostles ask for today? It is not faith to dare or tempt God. Rather, it is the faith to do good works, to remain steadfast in the face of difficulties, the faith that will enable them hold on to God irrespective of the turbulences in their lives and journey. It is equally, the faith that will help them to reasonably demonstrate the power of Jesus Christ when they are in difficult situations not faith to attempt suicide missions, it is the faith that will help them persist in doing good even when everyone around them seems to follow the wrong things in vogue. This is the faith they craved for when they pleaded: “Lord Increase our faith!” We must humble ourselves and acknowledge that we are weak in this important Christian virtue and then plead with Jesus: “Lord, increase our faith”, and when he generously does it for us, we must be ready to fan it into flame for our spiritual upliftment and eternal salvation.
A rusty shield once said to the sun, “dazzle me,” and the sun gave it a simple condition, “polish yourself and I will dazzle you.” This means that our God is ever ready to increase our faith, but we must first be ready to ask, take the steps and then make the necessary efforts. This calls for a stronger commitment in words, work and deeds. It calls for a wholesome expression of our love for God and for our neighbours. It also calls for being ready to follow faithfully and tenderly the precepts of the Lord our God. As we draw closer to November 24, 2013, the end of the Year of Faith, we must humbly continue to ask the Lord to increase our faith for action in the coming days, and years ahead of us in order to enable us remain faithful to him in a world that is decaying at the speed of light every day. The institution of the Year of Faith came at the right time, and I am sure that having prayed for faith this one whole year, God has strengthened His Church the more with abundant faith for actions and good works. All we need do now is to continue fanning it into flame by wisely demonstrating it through our actions and deeds for our good and for our eternal salvation.
Peace be with you all!