01 February 2013

Big Faith not required

32rd Week OT (M)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
Our Lady of the Rosary/St Dominic Church, NOLA

I was ordained to the priesthood in 2005 at St Peter's Church in Memphis, TN. Home of Elvis Presley's Graceland mansion. My first priestly assignment took me to Dallas, TX. Home of big oil, the Cowboys, and the Ewings. Big cars, big houses, big swimming pools, and, of course, big meals! Even living with Christ in TX was big. Megachurches and Christian theme parks. Christians in the south in general tend to live a large faith, an all-consuming preoccupation with the Bible and Jesus. 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 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. From Mark, we hear Jesus tell the apostles that the Kingdom is like a mustard seed: small but packed with the potential to grow into “the largest of plants.” However, when it comes to our faith, our trust in God's promises, size doesn't matter. 

Now, you might say here, “Well, if faith the size of a mustard seed can grow into the Kingdom of God, then surely even the tiniest bit of faith could cure cancer and restore sight!” You could say that, but you would be missing the point entirely. In Luke's version of the Mustard Seed Parable, 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 bigger hammer is not necessarily a better 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 we take care to use every godly gift we have been given. 

A finely honed and well-polished faith is also a good tool to use in building our confidence. In the Letter to the Hebrews we read, “Remember the days past when. . .you endured a great contest of suffering. . .you were publicly exposed to abuse and affliction. . .You even joined in the sufferings of those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property, knowing that you had a better and lasting possession.” That better and lasting possession is eternal life through your faith in Christ. That faith—even the tiniest seed of faith—sustains, nourishes, and strengthens us when it's time for us to suffer persecution. “Therefore, do not throw away your confidence. . .You need endurance to do the will of God and receive what he has promised.” 

Living large with Christ doesn't require a Big Faith. Even the tiniest seed of faith can sprout into the Kingdom of God. 

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1 comment:

  1. Straight-forward...I like straight-forward. I appreciated the distinction you made between "big Faith" and "expertly-used faith". But that's hard too, isn't it? Exercising our faith with intensity and integrity, keeping it well-maintained - yes.

    I also liked how you joined the first reading and Gospel, but it left me with so many questions relating to confidence and faith and endurance. I think those are probably still there from my reading/praying this morning, and not answered in your homily (C'mon, you're supposed to anticipate my questions ;-)!!). Doubts, questions, lack of confidence - which I can trace back to lack of, or poorly kept, faith.... But endurance, that I have!