Msgr. Joseph Prior

(See the readings for the Twenty-Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time, Oct. 6, 2019.)

“How long, O Lord? I cry for help but you do not listen! I cry out to you, ‘Violence!’ but you do not intervene,” cries the prophet Habbakuk.

The Lord responds, “The rash one has no integrity; but the just one, because of his faith, shall live.”

In a similar interchange, the apostles say to Jesus, “Increase our faith.”

He replies, “If you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you would say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.”

Both cases involve a call to faith. The Lord’s response to Habbakuk and Jesus’ response to the apostles might seem harsh or cold or distant, but in reality they are none of these. God calls us to faith because it will give us what we need to see us through the challenges of life, even the most serious of them.

Many times our faith is seen in the way we pray. When we make a prayer to God, we start from the perspective of where we are at in life. The prayer may be for deliverance or protection, it may be for ourselves or a loved one, it may be for wisdom or counsel, it may be for a people or family. That is good, for these prayers come from the heart. We recognize God in his goodness is compassionate and can deliver us. We also recognize that he knows our situation and the challenges we face.

Another aspect that can sometimes creep into this type of prayer is the thought that we know what the outcome should be. This perhaps can get us into some difficulties. When we start down this path, we can easily start telling God the way things should be and expect him to act accordingly. Most of us would not be that direct about that, but it is an attitude that can easily slip in if we are not careful.

Perhaps this is why Jesus gives the second part of his response to the apostles, “Who among you would say to your servant who has just come in from plowing or tending sheep in the field, ‘Come here immediately and take your place at table’? Would he not rather say to him, ‘Prepare something for me to eat. Put on your apron and wait on me while I eat and drink. You may eat and drink when I am finished’? Is he grateful to that servant because he did what was commanded? So should it be with you. When you have done all you have been commanded, say, ‘We are unprofitable servants; we have done what we were obliged to do.'”

We should remember here that Jesus is speaking of the way we approach the Father, not the way he approaches us. Addressing the latter, Jesus says, “What father among you would hand his son a snake when he asks for a fish? Or hand him a scorpion when he asks for an egg? If you then, who are wicked, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the Father in heaven give the holy Spirit to those who ask him?” (Luke 11:11-13)

Recently I read an account of a college president who had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. The doctors suggested chemotherapy, which he undertook without success. He acknowledged that he did not have long to live. Many people were praying for him and for a miracle. He wrote them the following:

“Many are praying for one of God’s ‘big’ miracles. We are as well. But it is not how God answers prayer that determines our response to God. God is committed to my ultimate healing. But being cured of my cancer may or may not be a part of that healing work … One person told me how disturbing it is to her to watch so many thousands of prayers on my behalf and yet to see a minimal of physical evidence of healing. Does God really heal? … Does the amount of prayer have any special impact? Honestly, while I understand the importance and logic of questions like this … most of these questions are not ones that are important to me.

“I truly don’t know what God has planned … I could receive ‘healing’ through whatever means, or I could continue to deteriorate. But life is about a lot more than physical health. It is measured by a lot more than medical tests and vital signs. More important than the more particular aspects of God’s work with us … is God’s overall presence with us, nourishing, equipping, transforming, empowering, and sustaining us for whatever might be God’s call to my life today. TODAY, my call might be to learn something new about rest. TODAY, my call might be to encourage another person in some very tangible way. TODAY, my call might be to learn something new about patience, endurance and the identification with those who suffer. TODAY, my call might be to mull through a new insight about God’s truth or character.”

He closed the post by quoting E.E. Cummings: “I thank you, God, for most this amazing day.”

Faith is our response in trust and confidence in the Lord’s love and mercy. It is our response to the call to discipleship. It is the desire to be healed and the trust we place in the healer. It is the desire to be free as we place ourselves into the hands of the liberator. It is the desire for life as we open our hearts to love. It is the thanks we offer to the giver of all good.

There is no limit to faith until it is replaced by sight. Today we have the opportunity to make the apostles’ request our own, as we say to Jesus, “Increase our faith.”

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Msgr. Joseph Prior is pastor of Our Lady of Grace Parish, Penndel, and a former professor of Sacred Scripture and rector of St. Charles Borromeo Seminary.