Missionary Meditation for Twenty-Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C)
Holy Guardian Angels; Blessed Antoine Chevrier, priest
If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts
Three Lessons for Increasing Faith
Today, Jesus’ words seem like a set of teachings on unrelated topics. However, if we reflect more carefully as we read the Gospel together with the biblical readings that precede it, these words of the Lord actually show themselves to be valuable directions for the life of faith of each of his disciples. At least three basic practical suggestions can be drawn from them as a response to the legitimate request of the apostles, whose voice expresses the deep desire of any believer aware of his own weakness and inability, “[Lord] increase our faith.” This theme of faith turns out to be significant and relevant at the very beginning of this missionary October during which we pray and remember in a special way the vocation of every baptized in his or her mission to share the Christian faith with others.
1. First Lesson: Recognize the Imperfect State of One’s Faith
The apostles’ above-mentioned request in the Gospel is both understandable and praiseworthy. It shows, on the one hand, the consciousness of a still weak faith, and on the other hand, the humility and good will of the requestors in begging the Lord for help. Recognizing the imperfect state of one’s faith and praying to God to make it grow steadily is already the beginning of growth in faith. In this regard, it should be remembered that, as the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches us, “Faith is a personal adherence of the whole man to God who reveals himself. It involves an assent of the intellect and will to the self-revelation God has made through his deeds and words” (nr. 176). This faith that is “a human act, conscious and free,” is also and above all “a supernatural gift from God”; hence, “in order to believe, man needs the interior helps of the Holy Spirit” (nr.179-180). Thus, a fortiori, divine help will be needed for faith growth.
However, Jesus’ response in the Gospel seems strange, totally out of place, or at least unsatisfactory. He does not answer yes or no to the request; He does not explain what he will do and how he will increase the disciples’ faith. He simply illustrates what a faith the size of a mustard seed, that is very small among all the grains, could do! This is actually an indirect message to the apostles’ request. Such an effect of “large” faith then becomes the measure of any faith we have. Genuine faith works miracles, as expressed in the parable and also hyperbolically by Jesus, “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.” To use a play on words, the faith, by which mankind adheres to God in obedience to His revelation and call, possesses the power to make other realities like “this mulberry tree” obey and perform extraordinary deeds. So much so that the sacred author of the Letter to the Hebrews remarked on the extraordinary deeds of the men/women of God in the history of Israel, “Who by faith conquered kingdoms, did what was righteous, obtained the promises; they closed the mouths of lions, put out raging fires, escaped the devouring sword; out of weakness they were made powerful, became strong in battle, and turned back foreign invaders” (Heb 11:33-34). In a word, as the prophet Habakkuk reminds us in the first reading, “the just one who is righteous because of faith shall live” (Hb 2:4), even in the midst of a death situation.
Jesus’ hyperbolic example is obviously not to be interpreted literally. It serves to emphasize an unattainable ideal, in order to put every believer in crisis (“salutary”): if you do not yet have such faith as to remove the tree or the mountain, then acknowledge your weak faith and always humbly ask for its growth. In this regard, the prayer of the father of an epileptic boy to Jesus will be a perfect model for every believer, “I do believe [Lord], help my unbelief!» (Mk 9:24).
2. Second Lesson: Humble Faithfulness in Fulfilling Duties
After a brief teaching on faith, Jesus offers a parable that apparently changes the theme. It speaks of the humble attitude each disciple is to have after fulfilling assigned duties, “We are unprofitable servants; we have done what we were obliged to do” (Lk 17:10). One can glimpse here another suggestion for the growth of faith, which, in the original Hebrew and Greek sense of the term, also implies faithfulness. Faithfully and humbly fulfilling the duties that God entrusts to each person plays an important role in the journey of faith. It helps one to persevere in faith and to face the various crises in one’s vocation and Christian life.
On the other hand, the promise of the prize that the Lord announced for servants, who know how to be vigilant in waiting for their master’s return, is recalled here, “Blessed are those servants whom the master finds vigilant on his arrival. Amen, I say to you, he will gird himself, have them recline at table, and proceed to wait on them” (Lk 12:37). Such vigilance and readiness are done precisely by living one’s faith and by faithfulness in performing the duties entrusted. And the Lord, unlike other earthly lords, will surely appreciate and reward his faithful ones generously.
3. Lesson Three: Witnessing and Sharing Faith - the Mission of Faith
The Second Mass reading completes the lessons on faith on this Sunday. St. Paul exhorts Timothy, his disciple, to have the courage to bear witness to faith in Christ by virtue of the received spirit not of timidity but “of strength and charity and prudence”, “so do not be ashamed of your testimony to our Lord” (2Tm 1:8). This bearing witness to the Lord is precisely a joyful and forthright sharing of the Christian faith, and this surely helps to increase the faith of those who share it with others.
Indeed, St. John Paul II points out at the beginning of the Encyclical Redemptoris Missio: “Faith is strengthened when it is given to others!” (no. 2). The Catechism of the Church, on the other hand, explains in detail the “missionary” character of the Christian faith:
“Faith is a personal act - the free response of the human person to the initiative of God who reveals himself. But faith is not an isolated act. No one can believe alone, just as no one can live alone.
You have not given yourself faith as you have not given yourself life. the believer has received faith from others and should hand it on to others. Our love for Jesus and for our neighbour impels us to speak to others about our faith. Each believer is thus a link in the great chain of believers. I cannot believe without being carried by the faith of others, and by my faith I help support others in the faith” (no. 166).
We conclude our reflection with a prayer of St. Francis of Assisi at the beginning of his conversion, also to celebrate his feast on October 4. Let us pray together with the patron saint of Italy for the gift of “right faith” that gives God, who enlightens hearts and makes us always grow in his service:
Most High, glorious God,
Enlighten the darkness of my heart
Give me right faith,
Sure hope and perfect charity.
Fill me with understanding and knowledge,
That I may fulfill your holy and true command.