27th Sun [C] 2007

Fr. Charles Irvin


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

Like unpacking an old trunk, we need to unpack today’s Gospel and take out the hidden treasures within it and then appreciate them. We are dealing here with the reality of faith, the substance of things not immediately obvious. It takes a bit of courage to do that because we are all governed by fear, the fear that we don’t have enough faith, or the right kind of faith. Then there’s the fear that God really isn’t there, that there’s no next life, and the ultimate fear that faith is but a dream.

We all need to be realistic and recognize that every act of faith has the element of failure within it, just as in every act of courage an element of failure is present. But only cowards follow the path of least resistance and simply give up. Faith is gutsy; it’s a tough decision. But faith is not unreasonable. It’s not a mindless act in which we hand over our intellects. Nor is faith merely a nice, warm, fuzzy feeling. Faith is based on evidence, evidence which human beings can experience and know. Faith is an act of reason, it’s reasonable.

From Adam and Eve until now, human pride and human sin are the enemies of faith. Stated another way, our human propensity is to control, to demand proofs, to have certitude, and thus to control God. These are all detours that take us off the high road of faith. Each one of these things can prevent us from arriving at our final destination. Human pride tries to control God and so a subtle feeling creeps in when we experience failure in our relationship with God. A little voice within us whispers to God: “If you don’t pay attention to me, I’m not going to pay attention to You. If you disappoint me, I’m not going to love You any more. If you don’t play by my rules, then the game’s over between You and me.” Habakkuk, whom we heard about in today’s first reading, was dealing with that temptation.      

We have to recognize that faith has to be received and lived out on God’s terms, not ours. That’s the fundamental message of Jesus Christ. He constantly repeated that He had come solely to do the will of His Father. He found God to be present in all trials, all sufferings, in all loss and disaster. The message of the Cross is meaningless if it is not that.

Another item to be unpacked is the fact that faith is something that we cannot earn, buy, save, or store away. We can only use it. Unless it is used it will wither away like any unused muscle in our bodies. Jesus insists that faith is essential to our relationship with God. We are not giving God a big present by having faith in Him.

Some might feel they deserve a reward for having faith in God. All we can do is recognize that it is necessary to have faith in Him and then let our relationship with God develop according to God’s plan, not ours. All we can say is that we are only His servants and only doing our duty. Faith in God and faith in others is basic in all of life, the essential element in living in any relationship. It is never a prize or a reward. Faith and love are joined together. You can’t have one without the other.

If we have faith in God, faith in others, and faith in our selves then powerful things happen within us. Talk with a recovering alcoholic about that. Talk with someone who now lives free of dope addiction. Talk with someone who has come out on the other side through the black tunnel of depression. They will tell you about real power in life, power that can move mountains or giant sycamore trees. They will tell you that God may not be on time but He’s never late. They will tell you that God is present in trials, losses, suffering, and disasters… that Jesus was right after all, and that because of His faith He rose from the dead in power and glory. They know because the same thing happened to them. And they will tell you that in times of trouble you find out who your real friends are, who abandons you, and who stays. They will tell you that Jesus never leaves. They will tell you of the power of faith.

We are all surrounded by a culture that works against committed relationships. Faith is expressed in staying power. At first glance the freedom to keep all our options open and to avoid the entanglements of faith appears to be the way to really live. But soon the fallacy surfaces and it isn’t too long thereafter that young adults realize that depression, addiction, disease, loneliness, spiritual poverty, and sleepless nights filled with bad dreams are the dirty sheets and the unmade mornings of many swinging singles. Life without faith is life not worth living. It’s life empty of real currency, empty of real value. It’s life lived in spiritual and emotional bankruptcy.

Obviously we are not talking here about Christmas and Easter faith. We’re talking here about what is ordinary in life… what should always be there… what is essential and fundamental in all of life. Without faith, particularly faith in the mysterious presence of God in our lives, people become weakened, powerless, depressed, and live purposeless lives. To be sure there’s much in life that is out of kilter, that’s twisted and painful. We naturally use Habakkuk’s words: “How long, O Lord? I cry for help buy you do not listen! I cry out to you, ‘Violence!’ but you do not intervene. Why do you let me see ruin; why must I look at misery? Destruction and violence are before me; there is strife and clamorous discord.”

The response of Jesus is to steadfastly and resolutely go to Jerusalem and there to face death and find new life. He rejects the advise of Peter, the advice of conflict avoidance. Jesus demands unconditional faith in the mysterious presence and workings of God no matter who the world appears around us. And in response to the request in the first sentence in today’s Gospel, Jesus calls them to a fundamental and tough faith. He even spells it out in terms of duty. It is the duty of a Christian to keep and hold on to faith.

But the extraordinary does, in fact, happen. Mountains of despair can be removed. Deep rooted trees of addiction and depression can be moved aside. Meaning can be brought out of absurdity, good out of evil, order out of chaos, and life out of death. Jesus tells us that to be realistic we simply must recognize that any extraordinary manifestations of the power of faith will come only after faith is an ordinary part of our everyday lives. Until then we are only useless servants.

In the end, however, we must recognize a final, remarkable statement of Jesus on the night before He died, at the Last Supper. As He was about to enter into the guts of disaster, violence, pain, suffering, loss, and ruin He got down in His knees and washed the feet of His disciples, telling them: “I no longer call you slaves, I call you friends.” Knowing that they were about to lose faith, flee, and leave Him, He nevertheless said this to them. How astonishing! Evidently God has more faith in us than we have in our selves, and certainly more than we have in God. That’s why we can celebrate this Eucharist and give Him thanks. For He has believed in us so much, trusted us so much, and had such infinite faith in us, that He’s here once again to place His trust, His love, and His hope for us once again into our hands. To make our relationship with God complete and whole, we have only to do the same Him… and so have as much faith in Him as He has in us.

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.”