Missionary Meditation for Twenty-Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C)

30 September 2022

Holy Guardian Angels; Blessed Antoine Chevrier, priest

Hab 1:2-3;2:2-4;
Ps 95;
2Tm 1:6-8,13-14;
Lk 17:5-10

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.


Useful points to consider:

John Paul II, Encyclical Letter on the Permanent Validity of the Church’s Missionary Mandate, Redemptoris Missio

2. Twenty-five years after the conclusion of the Council and the publication of the Decree on Missionary Activity Ad Gentes, fifteen years after the Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Nuntiandi issued by Pope Paul VI, and in continuity with the magisterial teaching of my predecessors, I wish to invite the Church to renew her missionary commitment. The present document has as its goal an interior renewal of faith and Christian life. For missionary activity renews the Church, revitalizes faith and Christian identity, and offers fresh enthusiasm and new incentive. Faith is strengthened when it is given to others! It is in commitment to the Church’s universal mission that the new evangelization of Christian peoples will find inspiration and support.

But what moves me even more strongly to proclaim the urgency of missionary evangelization is the fact that it is the primary service which the Church can render to every individual and to all humanity in the modern world, a world which has experienced marvelous achievements but which seems to have lost its sense of ultimate realities and of existence itself. “Christ the Redeemer,” I wrote in my first encyclical, “fully reveals man to himself.... The person who wishes to understand himself thoroughly...must...draw near to Christ.... [The] Redemption that took place through the cross has definitively restored to man his dignity and given back meaning to his life in the world.”

Catechism of the Catholic Church

To believe in God alone

150 Faith is first of all a personal adherence of man to God. At the same time, and inseparably, it is a free assent to the whole truth that God has revealed. As personal adherence to God and assent to his truth, Christian faith differs from our faith in any human person. It is right and just to entrust oneself wholly to God and to believe absolutely what he says. It would be futile and false to place such faith in a creature.

To believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God

151 For a Christian, believing in God cannot be separated from believing in the One he sent, his “beloved Son”, in whom the Father is “well pleased”; God tells us to listen to him. The Lord himself said to his disciples: “Believe in God, believe also in me.” We can believe in Jesus Christ because he is himself God, the Word made flesh: “No one has ever seen God; the only Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he has made him known.” Because he “has seen the Father”, Jesus Christ is the only one who knows him and can reveal him.

To believe in the Holy Spirit

152 One cannot believe in Jesus Christ without sharing in his Spirit. It is the Holy Spirit who reveals to men who Jesus is. For “no one can say “Jesus is Lord”, except by the Holy Spirit”, who “searches everything, even the depths of God. No one comprehends the thoughts of God, except the Spirit of God.” Only God knows God completely: we believe in the Holy Spirit because he is God.

176 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.

177 “To believe” has thus a twofold reference: to the person, and to the truth: to the truth, by trust in the person who bears witness to it.

178 We must believe in no one but God: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

179 Faith is a supernatural gift from God. In order to believe, man needs the interior helps of the Holy Spirit.