In the chapters of St. Luke’s Gospel leading up to the events of today’s Gospel, Jesus gave his disciples a lot to live up to. He told them that if they were going to be his followers, they would have to practice humility. They would have to accept Him unconditionally and they would have to bear their own cross. And in the parable of the prodigal son which we heard last Sunday, Jesus told them that if they were going to be His followers, they would have to become reconciled to God and to one another; and the list goes on!
In short, Jesus was telling the apostles that they had to have a new kind of faith that would enable them to change their attitudes, their direction, and their goals. They would have to risk turning their lives around, and then they would be enriched beyond their wildest dreams. He urged them to trust Him unconditionally, even though it would be difficult to give up some of their deep-rooted old attitudes. He was asking for the kind of faith that can “move mountains”.
It was with those demanding teachings that the disciples seem to be struggling with these so they plea: “Increase our faith!” Isn’t that the plea of all of us?
For the Apostles, faith would mean accepting the rejection of most of their contemporaries and witnessing to the passion and death of their Master. But their faith was shaken at the cross. They couldn’t see beyond the suffering of the Cross to the promise of the resurrection. They hid in the upper room on Good Friday night, and they had a difficult time believing the reports of the women who went to the tomb early Easter morning. They were confused and frightened after the Lord ascended into heaven and yet at Pentecost through the coming of the Holy Spirit, they began to live, hope, and profess their faith.
They began to understand that the Lord was with them and that they could endure hardships, persecutions, and misunderstandings as they lived out their faith as the church began to grow. They understood that faith is not some internal funny feeling that would make them happy, rather it is a living, growing relationship with the person of Jesus.
What about our faith today? Part of the problem with many people is that they think that faith is merely a matter of accepting a body of doctrines; or that it is a matter of accepting Jesus once and for all in a once-in-a-lifetime spiritual experience. They want a feel-good faith, a faith that entertains, not a faith that challenges!
Faith is so much more than that. It is giving up the control we have and entrusting our lives to God. It is being open to the power of the Holy Spirit so that He can reach into our hearts and change us, bringing us to a spiritual conversion. Faith must be alive and active. Faith must change and grow every moment of our lives. Faith must influence every word we say and every action we take. Faith must be a matter of living what we say we believe.
As the Gospel ends today, we are called to examine our lives and give up our desire to be in control. That won’t happen unless we are convinced that life in union with Jesus Christ is worth living, and we can’t be convinced without faith.
These past few weeks, through the gospel we have proclaimed, Jesus has been challenging us as He challenged His apostles. Get rid of greed. Get rid of lust. Get rid of indifference to the poor. Be prepared to give up anything and everything God may ask of you even life itself. “Anyone who does not take up his cross and follow Me cannot be my disciple.”
This is what the Apostles had been hearing from Jesus before they said to Him: “Lord increase our faith.” We don’t easily give up our control over money or property. We don’t easily give up the pleasure of food or drink or sex or drugs. We don’t easily give up personal prestige or popularity or political power. We don’t easily give up these things or even cut back on them unless we are convinced that it’s worth it, and that takes faith!
We are not the center of the universe God is! To live in faith is to recognize that God is the center, not us. To live in faith is to realize that our individual journey of faith is actual participation in the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ, a journey in which the whole church shares.
That is why the church has always celebrated and will always celebrate the mystery of the Eucharist, the Sacrifice of the Mass, and the Mystery of Faith. It is only in this sacrifice, this divine mystery, that we recognize the sacrifice of Jesus and cry out to him in union with the apostles, the martyrs, the confessors, and the whole church from apostolic times to this very day “Lord increase our faith”.