NB. This homily is an example of what happens when I drink four cups of Italian roast coffee. . .
19th Sunday OT
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
To be vigilant is to be in a constant state of watchfulness, always prepared, always ready. The faith we claim and practice entails vigilance. Along with trust and belief, faith in God requires us to be perpetually geared up and ready to move out. At a moment's notice, we can be called upon to bear witness, to offer sacrifice, to give thanks and praise, to heal or forgive; to teach, preach, and bless. Whatever it is that the Lord might ask us to do, we must be prepared to obey. This level of persistent preparation means – at the very least – living always within His grace. The Lord says to his disciples and to us: “Blessed are those servants whom the master finds vigilant on his arrival. . .You must be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come.” Though the Lord is with us always – in the sacraments, the Church, the baptized, the ordained, even in creation itself – though he is always with us, he will return to us and sit in judgment of how we have lived our lives as bearers of the Good News. Are you prepared for his return?
One way to be in a constant state of vigilance for the Lord's return is to live your life in Christ as if he had already returned. That is, imagine that he has come again among us to judge the living and the dead and that you're just waiting for your name to be called. How would you live your life in Christ if you knew that your name could be called any moment now? Another way of being vigilant is to live your life as an acknowledgment that Christ is always present to us. Wherever you are, whatever you are doing, Christ is there with you. Every person you meet, there is Christ. Yes, he's present in the Eucharist and the tabernacle. But he is also present in his Father's creation – in the natural world and among his human brothers and sisters. If you want some serious practice acknowledging the reality of Christ's presence in the world, find him among those who hate you. Those who would sooner kill you than look at you. He's among them too, working their hearts and minds toward the Father's mercy. Seeing Christ there and acknowledging his presence could be the lightening strike that breaks Satan's hold on those who would see you crushed. Living as if Christ had already returned and living in his presence now will give you a head start on being properly prepared.
But neither one of these methods is possible without the good habit of faith. The author of Hebrews tells us that: “Faith is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen.” So, the good habit of trusting in God is itself the manifestation of all that we have come to expect from Him. In other words, when we trust in God, when we believe in Him, our trust and belief in Him is itself what we had hoped for, all that we ever expected from Him. Whatever else might result from our faith is a sign of God's own faithfulness with us. Abraham is our example: “By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance; he went out, not knowing where he was to go.” Not knowing where he was going, Abraham went out anyway, trusting that his obedience to God's command would result in a blessing – an inheritance. “By faith Abraham obeyed. . .By faith he sojourned. . .By faith he received power to generate [to have children].” And why did he obey God's command? Because “he thought that the one who had made the promise was trustworthy.” He hoped to have children with his barren wife and his faith in God was made manifest: “So it was that there came forth from one man, himself as good as dead, descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sands on the seashore.”
Vigilance in our faith is necessary not because “believing creates reality,” but because trusting that God will fulfill His promises keeps us always awake in His presence. Christ urges us to stay watchful because he know how easy it is for us to go asleep in faith. What does it take? One bad accident? The loss of a job? The death of a spouse, a child, a friend? What does it take for us to close our eyes on faith and let despair have its way with us? At the very moment when we most need to be awake in the presence of God, we can nod off and lose hope. Or – even worse – we can apply ourselves to activities and people who encourage us to fall dead asleep to faith. Acts of disobedience that separate us from God. Family and friends who lure us away – in a moment of weakness – from all that God has promised. Being vigilant in faith also means being vigilant against those temptations that seduce us away from faith. Abraham received all that he hoped for because he believed in God – found him trustworthy – and obeyed His command to go out in faith. God's command to us is no different. We are commanded to out into the world and bear witness to the Father's freely offered mercy to sinners. We are not only living witnesses to His mercy, we are also instruments of His mercy. We hoped to be saved from our sins, and that hope is made manifest in our faith. Stay ready, always prepared to receive the blessings of God and to give testimony to the saving power of His infinite mercy.
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