30 December 2011

Measuring the blessings of faithfulness

NB.  If you listen to this Mass you'll notice that I'm sputtering at the preface.  I think a bug flew in my mouth!

Feast of the Holy Family
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Dominic Church, New Orleans

Listen Here (5.30)

One of the first abstract concepts we learn as children is the difference btw “less than” and “greater than.” Three is less than four but greater than two. Ten pounds of sugar is more than five pounds of sugar. $100 is less than $1,000. When we compare the size, weight, height, width, depth, etc. of two or more things we are engaged in what's called “measurement.” Any physical object can be measured, and we have a long list of words to us when measuring: pounds, feet, leagues, miles, volts, minutes, years, etc. Because we are both rational and creative creatures, we even have the capacity to measure abstract nouns like happiness, sadness, beauty, and trust. Bob is happier than Sue. Mozart's music is more beautiful than the music of the Rolling Stones. As Catholics, we often find ourselves using the human obsession with measurement in our spiritual lives. Sometimes this helpful, sometimes not so much. How many of us attend two Masses in one day in order to get “more grace”? Or confess the same sin multiple times in order to receive “more forgiveness”? We often talk about “days or years in purgatory,” as if we experience time after death. Even though we sometimes use this kind of language in our spiritual lives, it's vital that we understand that there is no such thing as “more faith,” or “enough faith,” or “better faith.” Faith is the good habit of trusting in God's loving-care. You either exercise this habit or you don't. 

Abraham shows us the way. “By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called. . .By faith he received power. . .By faith Abraham offered up Isaac, his son. . .” Why did he obey the call, receive power, and offer up his son? Because “he thought that the one who had made the promise was trustworthy.” Abraham exercises the good habit of trusting in God's loving-care and the results speak for themselves. He receives from God an inheritance: though he was “himself as good as dead,” from him and his sterile wife, Sarah, came “descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky as countless as the sands on the seashore.” Because Abraham exercised the good habit of trusting in God's loving-care, he and his wife produced a holy family, a holy nation, a people dedicated to the love and service of the Lord. And some few thousand years later, we honor him still as “our father in faith.” 

Abraham believed and acted “by faith” and he received a bounty from the Lord. His faith was not measured in pounds or feet or volts. He didn't pray for “more faith,” or “extra trust.” He heard the Lord's call and he acted, knowing that his God would not fail him. Though your own faithful relationship with the Lord may not produce “descendants as numerous as the stars,” you are still poised to follow after the Christ-child and his family when you trust His love. Luke tells us that after Mary and Joseph fulfilled the requirements of the Law by presenting the Baby Jesus in the temple, “The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.” Mary and Joseph obeyed the Lord's commandments; they trusted in His Word, and they and their child found favor with God, growing in wisdom and strength. They did not measure their trust nor did they quibble over the niceties of the Law. They simply did what God asked them to do and b/c they trusted His promises and acted accordingly, they came to know God and grew in His divine love. This same inheritance awaits us, awaits anyone who will listen to God's Word, trust in His promises, and act according to His will. His blessings for faithfulness are immeasurable.

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