32rd Week OT (M)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
Ss. Domenico e Sisto, Roma
As is painfully obvious, I'm an American and not only an American but an American from the deep south of the U.S., specifically, Mississippi and Texas. This means that my already distinctly American tendency to live life in a big way is intensified by that distinctly southern tradition of exaggeration, making that which is already too much even bigger. Big cars, big houses, big swimming pools, and, of course, big meals! Even our lives in Christ way down in the American south tend to be exaggerated. Megachurches, Hollywood-style Sunday services, Christian theme parks, and the occasional pentecostal tent revival. We enjoy a large faith, an all-consuming preoccupation with all things biblical and apocalyptic. But like the super-sized meals we love, a super-sized faith can be dangerous, especially when that faith is measured in terms of quantity. You can hear preachers—Protestant and Catholic—telling the sick that they will be healed if only they have “enough faith.” Or that a new job or a real estate deal will come if you just “believe enough.” This idea that our faith is about quantity seems to be reinforced by this morning's gospel. Jesus tells the apostles that they must forgive an offending brother as many times as he might ask for forgiveness. They say to Jesus, “Lord, increase our faith.” Jesus' response to this plea tells us that when it comes to faith, to trusting in the Father's promises, size doesn't matter.
Now, you might say here, “Well, if faith the size of a mustard seed can uproot a tree and replant it in the sea, then faith the size of a mountain could stop the planet from orbiting the sun!” You could say that. . .but you would be missing the point entirely. The apostles ask Jesus to increase their faith so that they can accomplish a seemingly impossible task, i.e. forgiving an offending brother every time he asks to be forgiven. Jesus' answer to this request tells us plainly that it is not the size or amount of our faith that matters, but the intensity, the integrity with which we exercise it. A big hammer is not a good tool if it is improperly used. A smaller hammer expertly used can be an excellent tool. So, the question is not “how big is your faith?” but rather “with what degree of strength and skill do you wield your faith?”
In the same way that good tools must be sharpened, oiled, cleaned, and properly stored, so our faith must be expertly honed and maintained. We have on hand the expertise of the Church Fathers, the saints, the sacraments, the magisterium, and we have one another. All of these are specifically designed to assist us in keeping our trust in the Father's promises brightly polished, razor sharp, and squeaky clean. When we make full use of them, use them regularly, sincerely, and with an eye toward our ultimate end, our faith can only be strengthen. The tallest tower can collapse with time. The biggest monument can erode away. But our faith—even faith the size of a mustard seed—is invincible, indestructible if take care to use every godly gift we have been given.
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