Monday, August 12, 2013

I'll believe it when I see it...

          Thanks to Fr. Hugo of the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart I had the previous weekend free and, thus, had no homily to post.  I got right back to it this last weekend, so here's what I preached.

          Let us not take for granted our God-given ability to know the truth about our faith!  May your week be blessed!


Homily: 19th Sunday of Ordinary Time – Cycle C
          I for one am continually impressed by the incredible technological advancements that human beings have made, especially through the last 200 years or so of history.  Say what you will about the French Revolution and the Enlightenment period of history, but one undeniable result from those events was the flourishing of the sciences.  One of the unfortunate consequences of those events, however, was that we, as human beings, began to be focused on ourselves and on the material world and we began to lose focus on God.
          One of the many downsides in this change of focus is what I would call the “modern affliction of doubt.”  The natural sciences have all but convinced us that if you can’t see it, measure it, or test it, then it’s just a theory and you shouldn’t “put any stock into it”, so to speak.  In other words, if what is being proposed cannot be backed up with empirical data then you should question whether or not you should rely on it.  It’s this mentality that makes us say “Yeah, right.  I’ll believe it when I see it.”
          Under this model, faith is something of a problem.  The core tenets of Christian faith (otherwise known as the Creed) are undetectable by empirical methods and so, for anyone suffering from this modern affliction of doubt, they seem “fuzzy” and “unreliable” and so subject to questioning and deep skepticism.
          The problem for these modern skeptics, however, is that they have limited themselves to only five senses from which to build their “empirical world”.  The senses of sight, taste, touch, hearing, and smell are all that the modern sciences rely on when compiling empirical data that helps them understand the world.  What they fail to acknowledge is that human beings have a sixth sense—a sense of a spiritual reality that is beyond our material one—that is very real and can be relied upon.  It is this “sixth sense” that the author to the Letter to the Hebrews speaks of today in our second reading.
          In it, the author states that “Faith is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen.”  Faith is evidence, he says!  According to this, faith is not fuzzy at all, but rather it is evidence that there can be (and, in fact, there is) something beyond our ability to detect it with empirical methods.  Given this, it seems like the doubt that we are afflicted with these days is not so much a doubt of the objects of faith—that is, those things that we believe in—but rather a doubt of our own human ability to know that there is something true and real beyond our material ability to detect it.
          The truth that ancient peoples weren’t as afflicted with this condition is seen in our readings today.  The author of the Letter to the Hebrews uses Abraham as an example of someone who relied on faith as if it was evidence of a concrete truth.  Certainly even modern science could not have predicted that all that God had promised Abraham would come true; but his faith in God—that is, his spiritual sense that God was, indeed, trustworthy—provided the assurance he needed to move from his home to an unknown land in which God had promised him he would provide numerous descendents.  And, because of his faith, Abraham realized its reward: a son through whom he would have many descendents, even though he and his wife Sarah were long past the age for having children.
          In our first reading, we are told of how the Israelites relied on faith to realize their promised deliverance from slavery in Egypt.  Even though they had already seen the nine previous “signs” that God had produced in Egypt (what are commonly known as the plagues), they had no assurance that God would fulfill his promise to deliver them on the night of the Passover, except for their spiritual sense that God was, indeed, trustworthy.  Thus, the author of the Book of Wisdom could say that “with sure knowledge of the oaths in which they put their faith, they might have courage.”  In other words, faith—which for them was truly evidence of God, that is, of what was unseen—gave them courage to fulfill the precepts of God—that is, to slaughter a lamb and to set out in the middle of the night—with the assurance that he would, indeed, deliver them from their enslavement in Egypt.
          It is faith that Jesus is calling us to in the Gospel today.  In it he said “Gird your loins and light your lamps and be like servants who await their master’s return from a wedding, ready to open immediately when he comes and knocks.”  In other words, he’s saying “Take courage in your faith!  Do not let the world around you lull you into complacency so that you let your guard down, or into doubt so that you question the assurance that faith has given you: that your master will, indeed, return, and, in finding you ready, will give you the great reward of faith, a place at the eternal banquet and rest from all your labors in heaven.
          My brothers and sisters, science, indeed, has been a great benefit for us. Through it we now know that the laws of physics are reliable.  Therefore, when we are driving in our cars and we press on the brake pedal we do so with assurances that the car will, indeed, stop: the laws of physics, which were used to design the brake system, demand that it be that way.  And if it doesn’t, we don’t question the laws of physics, do we?  No!  We assume that there was some problem in the system itself, because the laws of physics are reliable.
          Religion, my brothers and sisters, is the science through which we know that faith in God is reliable.  Because for thousands and thousands of years God has continually proven himself trustworthy to those who remain faithful, we too can feel assured that if we place our cares and needs into God’s hands that they, indeed, will be taken care of.  And just as we wouldn’t question the laws of physics when our car fails to brake when we press the pedal, so too we shouldn’t question the reliability of God—and our spiritual sense that he is trustworthy—simply because our prayers weren’t answered in the way that we expected; rather, we should question whether or not we, or those through whom God chose to respond, were faithful enough to realize his response.
          For example: Mary is elderly and stuck in her home because of chronic mobility problems and she begins to feel lonely and so she prays that God would send someone to visit her.  God, in response to her prayer, inspires in her next door neighbor, Frank, the thought that he should stop by and say hello.  Frank acknowledges the thought and realizes that it has been a while since he visited her, but he was just going out to run some errands and so he puts it off until later.  Of course later he forgets that he had that thought and Mary never gets her visit.  Is God, therefore, unreliable because Frank didn’t respond to God’s inspiration?  No!  Frank is unreliable, not God!  In other words, it was the system that failed, not the underlying laws that governed it.
          My brothers and sisters, in this Year of Faith, let us take courage—like Abraham and the ancient Israelites—and face this world with faith in Jesus’ assurance that he will, indeed, return; and that he will reward those whom he finds faithful—both in prayer and in works—by seating them at the great, eternal banquet prepared for them in heaven: a foretaste of which we enjoy here, at this Eucharistic table.
Given at All Saints Parish: Logansport, IN – August 11th, 2013

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