“Increase our faith,” the apostles say to the Lord. The words are familiar to us especially when we deal with trials, suffering or even challenges in life. When we face tragedy ourselves like the pain of seeing a child suffer, when we lose our job and the long struggle to find another, when we see violence done in our community or the ravages of drug use, when we have to suffer through illness or disease, we say those words ourselves — “increase our faith.”
When we see the travesty of war, when we witness the horrors of terrorism, when we see our families broken by infidelity, when we struggle to feed, house and cloth our families, when we face peer pressure, we pray those words — “increase our faith.”
The first reading for today’s liturgy reminds us of some of the harsh realities that people have to face at times. The author cries out a lament. Prayers are offered and seemingly unanswered: “How long, O Lord? I cry for help but you do not listen! I cry out to you, ‘Violence!’ but you do not intervene.” To this the Lord gives the reply: “The vision still has its time, presses on to fulfillment, and will not disappoint; if it delays, wait for it, it will surely come, it will not be late.”
The vision refers to the answer to the prayers of lament which is deliverance. The Lord encourages the hearer to patience and to faith. He says: “The rash one has no integrity; but the just one, because of his faith, shall live.” The Lord is encouraging us to persevere in faith through the trying situations of life. He is always faithful and will deliver us. While the prayer for faith may surely occur in the trying times of life it can also be offered in good times.
Faith is our response in trust and obedience to the Father. Jesus is our model of faith in His Father. He endured much suffering even to the point of death but remained steadfast in His faith. His faith saw Him through the passion and death to the resurrection. The faith we have is the same faith as Jesus. There is always room to grow in faith for it can never be exhausted.
St. Paul in the Second Letter to Timothy speaks of this in terms of a flame. The image comes to mind of a fire that has been reduced to glowing embers. Blowing on those embers and letting the air get to them will result in a flame rising from the dying mound. St. Paul reminds us that the gift given is not “a spirit of cowardice but rather of power and love and self-control.” He encourages us to be grounded in that faith that we have received and to have it come alive and grow in our lives.
Faith can be described in terms of a relationship. Our faith is the response we make to the love that God offers us. Through faith we give ascent to a relationship with God. We respond to his gracious invitation to love. The relationship is a dynamic, life-giving relationship. When we make that prayer, “increase our faith,” it is as though we are saying, “I want to enter more deeply into this relationship, I want to love more, I want to live life more fully.”
Our faith is nourished through prayer. Our prayer to the Lord is essentially listening to him speak to us in our hearts. When we listen we will hear his voice in the silence of our hearts and we will have the opportunity to respond – to grow in faith. The response to the psalm captures this well. “If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.”
The prayer for faith and the prayer of faith is one that is open to the greatness of God’s loving mercy and care. To this end Jesus offers us the image of the servants arriving home from working in the field. The servants’ disposition should be, “we are unprofitable servants; we have done what we were obliged to do.” In this case, the servants humbly place themselves within the context of the Master’s graciousness, nothing deserved, everything freely given.
The collect for today’s Mass expresses it this way: “Almighty ever-living God, who in the abundance of your kindness surpass the merits and the desires of those who entreat you, pour out your mercy upon us to pardon what conscience dreads and to give what prayer does not dare to ask.”
Whether we live in times of violence or peace, whether we lament or rejoice, whether we experience pain or pleasure, whether we face violence or enjoy tranquility, whether we live with hardship or prosperity; we make our prayer: “Increase our faith.”
Msgr. Joseph Prior is pastor of St. John the Evangelist Parish, Morrisville.