Each year in the weeks of Ordinary Time that follow the Christmas season and anticipate Lent and Easter, the Church invites each Christian to ponder the call that is inherent in our Baptism. The call of God is always both an invitation and a capacitation. In simplest terms when he sends us an invitation to the ball he also provides the carriage and the horses to draw it. In fact, like the fairy godmother in Cinderella, one could say he also provides the dress and the shoes. God never asks us to undertake a task or way of life that He is not going to make it possible for us to do. The gift of Faith, classically defined as one of the theological virtues, is the beginning of that capacitation.
The three theological virtues of faith, hope and love are perhaps best understood as expressions of God’s own being; the Spirit that empowers humans to make the future what God desires it to be. The three gifts are interactive and synergistic. When I genuinely love God I have hope or confidence that God will bring about the good and I am willing to co-operate with God with everything I have to cause God’s desire to be realized on earth as it is in heaven. It is this latter behavior that we call faith.
I am often struck by my college students who think that faith is an intellectual abstraction. Many have not yet come to see that faith is less about ideology than it is about how we actually live and act. Belief is the source of our behavior; and conversely, our behaviors tell us what we really believe! Abraham’s faith, according to the passage offered to us today, IS his obedience, his movement out of security into a long journey to a place he did not know or know how to get to. His faith is the offering of his son unto death because he believed that God asked that of him. He set out because he believed that the God he was responding to would lead him. He gave up his son because he believed that God would provide for him all that he needed and longed for.
For Abraham to have had such faith meant that God had already begun to be in a relationship with him; that God had already disclosed himself in such a way that Abraham had fallen in love with him. It was this experience of loving God that made it possible for him to say “this will work, I am not being led falsely.”
Those most deeply formed in the spirituality of St. Ignatius know that what Ignatius calls the “First Principle and Foundation” of the Exercises (and therefore the spiritual life) is this very deep responsive desire to act on God’s behalf that flows out of the experience of God’s love for us. We have to receive the gift of God’s love for us in order to BE and to ACT out of Faith. The way we can know if we believe in God’s loving care for us is by the way we do or do not act in faith. If I am deeply confidant of God’s love, then I hope for a future where God reigns over all creation and I am free to labor of behalf of that reign, rather than labor on behalf of my own well-being. Why? Because I know that God can not neglect my true well being if God loves me.
The hitch in all this, of course, is the same experience that happened to the Apostles in the boat on the lake in the storm according to the gospel of today’s liturgy. It’s all well and good to be confidant that Jesus can do something, but what if we experience him to be asleep (we can’t sense or feel his care)? The storm rages and it clearly looks like we are going down and then we start thinking that maybe we imagined his love (or his power) and so we take matters into our own hands and panic – at least that is often my own pattern.
But unlike the apostles, I don’t have an excuse. They did not have the grace of the Spirit at this point in their journey with Jesus – and I/we who are baptized do! It’s understandable that the disciples were a little frightened and dismayed – Jesus had not yet revealed himself through the resurrection to be the Son of God. But the Church today does not have that excuse. What are we doing when we panic about the future of the Church – or even our corner of the world? Why do we wring our hands and say that everything is “going to hell in a hand basket” when there are storm clouds on our ecclesial (or personal) horizon? Why do those who have leadership responsibility become so easily panicked about their loss of power or control? One of the things today’s Gospel teaches us is that we don’t have control of the boat or of the storm – God does. “We are servants, not messiahs” Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador once said – so we serve. If the boat sinks on our watch when we are doing our best and acting in genuine loving compassion, then somehow its sinking will praise God and bring about the Divine Reign.
God will raise up – even from the dead – those who believe. That is the deepest and most profound conviction of Christianity. I am most a Christian when I never lose confidence that God (who is love) is in charge – even of those things I most want to be in charge of!
Quick now, here, now, always—
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