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July 8, 2018 - "Faith is Hard"

Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Scripture Readings

I have a few questions for you? Put your hands up if at some point of your life, you found faith hard? Put your hands up, if at some point you were tempted to give up faith? Put your hands up, if at some point you doubted if God existed? Put your hands up if at one time or another you had it out with God, because a very selfless and legitimate prayer was unanswered? Put your hands up if you at one or another you looked at God and said, “That’s not fair!” Would you agree with me, if I said, “Faith is hard?”  

In today’s gospel reading Jesus visits his home town. The passage ends with the statement, “He was amazed at their lack of faith” (Mk 6:6). One way to reflect on this passage would be to look at everything that was wrong with the people of Jesus’ town and see what we can learn from it. The approach I am taking a just little broader. I am asking the question, “Why is faith hard?” 

Why is faith hard? Here is my three points for today.

a)  St. Paul defines faith as, “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Heb 11:1). First, faith is hard because a big part of that which is within the realm of faith lies in the future – heaven, the beatific vision, life with no pain and suffering. Faith is hard because that which faith promises is intangible in the here and now. Second, Faith is hard because life is hard. I am talking to a person right now who has been so bruised in life that she has stopped believing. She is disillusioned that she approached life the right way and instead of happiness she reaped pain. Perhaps you have had similar experiences. Not every illness is healed. Not every prayer is answered in the way we want it to be answered. We expect faith to make life easy. Sometimes, it is the opposite that happens. The third reason faith is hard is because of human suffering. Our experience of poverty, misery, injustice, oppression, natural disasters, wars, violence, tragedies, illnesses, death and the suffering of the innocent goes against our belief in a good and all-powerful God. The argument often is – if God is good and all powerful, why does God allow human suffering?  

b) I do not have answers to all the issues I have myself raised. However, allow me to reflect on these questions. Faith is natural, God-given human ability. What I mean by this is that those who believe in God and those who do not exercise tremendous faith in daily life and activities. For example, whether one believes in God or not, marriage is an act of faith - two people commit to sharing life together is good times and back, sickness and health, till death do them apart. They have no idea what the future holds but they make an act of faith. When couples decide to have a child, it is an act of faith. They do not know what the child holds for them, but yet they accept children as a gift. Each day when we get up, get into a car, go to work, or save money in an IRA, it is an act of faith. When we take our natural ability for faith and apply that to the realm of the divine, it becomes religious faith. There are many people for whom religious faith comes easy. St. Augustine, for example, would say, “Despite everything, man, though but a small a part of your creation, wants to praise you. You yourself encourage him to delight in your praise, for you have made us for yourself, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.” The Catholic Church teaches us that “the desire for God is written in the human heart… (CCC, 27). But there are others who find it either impossible or incredibly hard to do take their natural ability for faith and translate it to the religious realm. Stephen Hawking, one of the most brilliant minds of our times, simply said, “God is the name people give to the reason we are here, but I think that reason is the laws of physics rather than someone with whom one can have a personal relationship. An impersonal God.” You and I are in church today because we have faith. It may not always be easy, but we believe. We do not merely believe in something, but Someone. We believe in a personal God who is our origin and our destiny. The more I see people giving up their faith in God, the more I am inclined to cherish and nurture my faith. Reflect on this question this week – what are you doing to nurture the gift of faith?   

c) What can we do nurture our faith? First of all, we must understand that faith is more than about answered prayers. In last weekend’s gospel reading, we heard Jesus performing two miracles. Jesus’ answer to the woman who was healed was, “Daughter, your faith is great!” This inspires us to bring our own needs before God and exercise faith like the woman did.  Sometimes, though, we limit faith to asking God for favors and hoping the God will act in our favor. In this weekend’s gospel reading, the faith that Jesus found his people lacking in was not faith in his ability to do miracles. Rather, they could not believe in what he was teaching them about God. Faith is also about believing in Jesus’ teaching. For example, can we believe that forgiving our enemies is the way to live peace? Can we believe that blessed are the poor? Can we believe that if we give without measure we will receive without measure? Can we believe that the hungry, the thirsty, the naked and the homeless might be where Christ is? When Jesus taught them these things - they found it hard to believe. Instead of believing, their question was “Where did he get all this wisdom?” They did not want to hear him. They wanted to see his miracles. The best way to nurture faith is to live the life and message of Jesus. Real faith is the living out of the faith of Jesus.  

As we celebrate this mass, our faith is tested. It takes a lot of faith to believe that this bread and is the body of blood of Christ. May our faith grow so that one day, what faith promised might one day be ours.

- Fr. Satish Joseph