Homily: XXVII Sunday of Ordinary Time
One year on St. Patrick’s Day, I believe it was my second year in the seminary, 4 of us seminarians went to a restaurant to have a meal together. It was one of those odd days in the seminary schedule where we had Mass in the morning and they gave us the evening off. While we were eating, one of the guys identified ourselves as seminarians to the waitress. This was new to me. In public, I rarely identified myself as a seminarian and I guess there was a fear in revealing who I was and what I was studying. In revealing that we were seminarians, we found out that the waitress herself was a Catholic but had fallen away from practicing the faith. We encouraged her to start praying again and to go to one of those familiar prayers, the rosary, which could kickstart a relationship with Jesus. She had informed us that she used to carry one around but she had misplaced it, so I gave her my rosary and she began to tear up. What we had realized is that she had misplaced more than her rosary, she misplaced her faith in the God who loves her. This small act of charity gave her an opportunity to turn back to God. We paid the bill, left her a good tip, and went on our way. When we had returned to the seminary and shared this story of grace working in the lives of the people we encounter they began to commend me for giving up the rosary to her…and I received those complements, but really I did only what I ought to have done.
In the Gospel, we hear these same words from Jesus as He speaks to us about being faithful servants. Being a follower of Jesus, a disciple, we should not expect congratulations for our good works and acts of charity. Don’t get me wrong, those works and acts of charity are important but they do not go beyond the call of Christian duty and really, no one can fully repay God for His gifts. We have to be people of faith, relying on God for all our good works.
This is what the gift of faith enables us to do in the world, to recognize that it is God at work in the world using us as mere instruments to accomplish that work. Faith is a response to the invitation that God gives to each one of us. Faith is a response to the God who reveals Himself as a servant in becoming one with us in all things but sin because of His love for us. That is why Jesus’ response to the apostles after they prayed, “Increase our faith,” was, “If you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you would say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea’, and it would obey you” (Lk 17:5-10). It is God at work moving the mulberry tree, all we have to do is believe that God will do it. And why should we believe?
The prophet Habbakuk (Hb 1:2-3;2:2-4) laments to God for all the evil in the world and all the evil and hardship that he has to endure. He is crying for help, he is longing for God to step in and stop the violence and the madness that is occurring around him. Yet, the Lord’s response to the cries of Habbakuk was for the prophet to wait, his deliverance and salvation will surely come. God in His time will answer the prayers of Habbakuk in sending us His only begotten Son to save us from our sins.
Yet, God does not just say to Habbakuk, “Be faithful, be a person of faith” only, He also says do not be a person filled with pride. The sin of pride, one of the seven deadly sins, offends God because it puts trust into one’s own works and not on the grace of God. It is the exact opposite of faith, which recognizes God at work in all things.
Pride is that sin when we harden our hearts to the words and deeds of God and think that we can do it on our own. The psalmist evokes the images of pride as shown in the Israelites in the desert (Ps 95:8-9). They were wandering in the desert in Meribah and complained to God because they had no water. Moses had to strike the rock so that they might have water to drink. The Israelites, who had seen God’s saving work over and over again, still did not trust…did not have faith that God would carry them through the wilderness to the promised land, the land of their ancestors. They had seen that God had parted the Red Sea for them to cross. He had provided manna in the desert for them when they complained they had nothing to eat. Over and over again, they were saved by God and yet they still did not have faith in Him.
When we harden our hearts to the Word of God, we too become prideful. We think we can do it on our own. We think that we can save ourselves, that we do not need a saviour. The waitress from the restaurant becomes a good example of this self-reliant pride. Yet she realized when she received the rosary that God is faithful…He is merciful and He is just. Regardless of ourselves, He looks upon us in love and mercy. When we recognize that He gazes upon us in love and mercy, that is when we become thankful, rather than hard hearted. We sing and rejoice and praise God for what He has done in our life….that He has saved us by His Son dying on the cross for us. We humble ourselves before God, we bring ourselves down to our knees and worship God. That is what we do when we come to Mass: we worship God and give thanks to Him for what He has done. He is our Shepherd and He pastures us. He feeds us and He will protect us and guide us along the way (Ps 95:6-7).
The gift of faith enables us to receive the love of God. We rely on His power to save us through His Son, Jesus Christ. We must guard our faith and not take it for granted, not by our own strength, but by the strength of God living within us (2 Tm 1:6-8, 13-14). When we come to Mass, we worship God and we receive God’s love in the Eucharist. Let us then, as we approach the sacrifice of the Mass, pray to God, “Increase my faith,” so that it may shine out as a light in the darkness of the pride filled world we live in.