27th Sun [C] 2004

Fr. Charles Irvin

Habakkuk 1:2-3, 2:2-4; 2 Timothy 1:6-8, 13-14; Luke 17:5-10           


During the last sixty years there has been among Americans a tremendous loss in our willingness to trust others. Beginning with the Vietnam War and immediately thereafter with Watergate, our confidence and faith in our governmental leaders has demonstrably diminished. The huge increases in divorce are symptomatic of our general loss of trust in others. It was once believed that science and technology would make our world a better place, and education was supposed to be the key to making us better people. Education was supposed to cause us to respect others and treat others better than had been the case in past human history. But they all have failed us; we don’t trust them much any more to improve our human lot.


Ever since the Age of Enlightenment until now, reason was thought to be the enemy of faith and faith was thought to be opposed to reason. Science and Religion were thought to be at odds with each other. That sort of thinking is waning these days. People are much more concerned now with developing their spirituality. Old Europe has pretty much shorn itself of Christianity. But we over here while living in the so-called New World, the most technologically developed nation in the world, are a very religious people. For us, faith matters.


When we look more deeply into philosophy and the study of now we know what we know (the Philosophy of Truth) we realize that scientists in fact rely on faith for most of their knowledge. Although they can examine facts, information and data for themselves and duplicate many experiments, they always build on what others have done. They take on faith the work others have done and then proceed to build on what has been given them by others, those that have gone before them.


Sometimes this reliance proves itself to be naïve. For example, anthropologists in the 1950’s believed they had found the “missing link” between men and apes. Closer examination of the evidence, however, showed it to be a modern human skull and an orangutan jaw. The “missing link” turned out to be an embarrassing hoax. But no one said, “that’s the last time I’ll trust a scientific report.” We cannot do without faith, even in the so-called hard sciences such as physics, engineering, astronomy, and other intellectual disciplines of like kind.  


When we move into the so-called “soft sciences” like psychology and sociology, the issue of faith becomes more complex, but in remains indispensable. Educators begin by accepting certain pre-suppositions — for example, that a child’s early experiences will influence his later behavior. As the student advances, he probably does not spend much time reflecting on how much he knows directly and how much he knows that has come by way of trusting in what others have told him. If a student insists on rigorous proof for every proposition, he would not get beyond the most elementary texts. He has to accept a lot on faith.


While we acquire much of our ordinary knowledge by faith, we usually have no reason to question it. By and large, it works. However, there is a level of faith which is much more important, but less secure. It is the faith required for successful human relations. Our everyday dealings with others depend on trust. Unfortunately, people betray that trust, either by momentary weakness, or by premeditated deception, or when they run a hidden agenda on us. The corporate scandals of recent years show us that humans can deceive in monstrous ways. Because of such sad experiences, as we grow older, we become more circumspect and tend to have only a few really close friends. If we are not to wind up completely isolated, we have to deliberately cultivate trust.


By faith, we submit our minds and wills to God. By faith we say “yes” to God, to our Father in heaven who reveals to us what is in His mind and in His heart. Sacred Scripture calls this human response to God, the Author of Revelation, “the obedience of faith”. The English phrase “to obey” comes from a Latin word ob-audire, to “hear out, or listen to”. The obedience of faith is to submit freely to the Word that has been heard, because its truth is guaranteed by God, who is Truth itself. Abraham is the model of such obedience offered us by Sacred Scripture. The Virgin Mary is its most perfect embodiment. The resurrected Christ is the guarantor of God’s revealed truth to us.


The readings for today’s Mass are telling us: “God is aware. Now have faith.” It sounds so simple, doesn’t it? How many times have you had people simply say to you: “Have faith.” Well, it is certainly easy to say, “Have faith,” but when the doctor tells you that your illness is permanent, and the world is crashing down around you, it’s really hard to have faith. Let me rephrase that, “It is hard to have faith amid the crises of our lives.”


That’s all quite true — unless faith has become our lifestyle. If we mature enough to cast cynicism aside, if we reject constant mistrust of others, and if we throw away our perpetual attitudes of disbelief, life will quickly change for us. We will begin to see others, reality and life in a whole new way. Light will enter into our dark world.


One of the wonderful gifts that comes with being a priest is the continual encounters we priests have with people of faith. Many times I go into a home or into a hospital room where a person is dying. I’m sure you would think that this would be a terrible scene, something very difficult to do. Usually, however, it is not. People of faith, in the midst of tears, are most often ready to let go and trust God to care for their loved one. Many times the dying person himself or herself has such a deep faith that he or she radiates a peace in what would otherwise be empty despair and paralyzing fear of death. Many a priest realizes that he is among people whose service to the Lord is so strong, that they serve the Lord even in crises, particularly in their own personal sufferings and crises.  So often I realize that these same people have spent their lives saying their prayers, performing acts of Christian charity, coming to Mass, and receiving the Sacraments and living their confidence and their faith in God. Their faith life is so strong in their daily lives that it is their support in all of their times of crises.


Let’s you and I now stand in the shoes of the apostles who in today’s gospel account said to the Lord, “Increase our faith.” And let’s also hear Him say to us “Were your faith the size of a mustard seed you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.” May you and I place our trust in Jesus, believing that what He has said to us will in fact come true. 

About Charles Irvin

Fr. Charlie was ordained a priest June 3, 1967 and has served as pastor of St. Mary Student Chapel in Ann Arbor, founded Holy Spirit parish in Hamburg, MI, served as pastor of St. Francis of Assisi parish in Ann Arbor and was pastor of St. Mary parish in Manchester, MI when he entered Senior Priest status in 2001. In 1999 he was appointed Founding Editor of FAITH Magazine which has grown into Faith Catholic Publishing located in Lansing, MI. He is now very active in his “retirement.”