Msgr. Joseph Prior

(See the readings for the Twenty-seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time, Oct. 2, 2022)

“You inspire us to take delight in praising you, for you have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you,” St. Augustine writes in the opening paragraph of his Confessions.

In his book, a classic of world literature, Augustine describes God’s saving activity in his life. While his parents entered him into the catechumenate (a time in the church when adult baptism was the norm) as a child, it was not until this thirty-seventh year that he was baptized. All the while Monica, his mother, regularly prayed for him to enter the church, but he wandered far and wide. He wrote the Confessions ten years after Saint Ambrose baptized him on Easter Sunday in 387.

As Augustine looks back on his life leading up to his baptism, he describes his journey. He describes God’s abiding love and presence in his life from its beginning. Although he did not recognize it at the time, God was leading, drawing, guiding him to Him. The thirty-seven years of restlessness led to a life of peace, serenity and joy.

As Augustine describes his life’s journey, a key observation that occurs over and over again is that God was working in his life all along, even in his wanderings. God is immeasurably patient. God’s saving work in Augustine’s life is repeated over and over again in the lives of his people. He is always at work. His love is ever present, even when we do not recognize it. He is always inviting us, knocking at the door of our souls, waiting for the door to be opened.

Our relationship with God is described as faith. He calls, we respond. Faith is the response “yes” to the invitation. Faith is dynamic. It can be strong, although sometimes it might be weak. It can be informed, though sometimes it might be ignorant. It can be powerful, but sometimes it might be feeble. Faith can be tried in times of sorrow, grief, anxiety, confusion, doubt or fear.

Jesus urges us to live a life of faith. His faith in the Father is the example of all examples, the one in which we strive to live.

In the Gospel passage for today’s liturgy, Jesus speaks of our relationship with God in two distinct but related sayings. In the first, he responds to the disciple’s request: “Increase our faith.” Jesus tells them, “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.”

In the second, he gives the analogy of the servant coming in from a long days hard work raising the question – should the servant expect reward because of the work, or should he be content in master’s service?

Both give us insight into our relationship with God and his abiding love. The first is a reminder that faith, our response to God, is not stagnant, it can always grow. God’s love and presence in our lives is infinite, we are finite. There is always more to give in way of response to him who loves completely. Perhaps Jesus uses the small seed as a contrast to what we are regularly receiving from the One who loves.

The second is an invitation for us to look at our lives of faith as a gift. Living the life God gives us is a gift. In the hard work of life, the gift is ever present; even the hard work of life is a gift. The more this is our attitude and disposition, the more we may hear his voice saying, as he does in another context: “Come, to me all you who are weary and find life burdensome, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon your shoulder and learn from me for I am meek and humble of heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)

The passage from Habbakuk likewise urges us to have faith in God, in this case even during times of violence, destruction and strife. In response to Habbakuk’s lament, God speaks of deliverance (see the full text of Habbakuk 1:3ff). Yet he adds this: “For 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 rash one has no integrity; but the just one, because of his faith, shall live.”

The words are a reminder that God acts in his time, at the right time, not necessarily our time. He who sees all, knows all and loves all, will act and when that happens “it will not be late.” How do we who are finite and limited respond? By having faith, remaining steadfast in trust and confident in Him who loves.

The second reading, from St. Paul’s Second Letter to Timothy, likewise gives us an insight into faith – “the gift of God that you have through the imposition of my hands.” Faith gives us a strength that is not of our own; it comes from the One who gives life and love. “For God did not give us a spirit of cowardice but rather of power and love and self-control. So do not be ashamed of your testimony to our Lord … but bear your share of hardship for the gospel with the strength that comes from God.” Thus, our faith can be seen as both gift and response.

Augustine beautifully described God’s love as always present, drawing us to himself. While his story is personal and intimate, it is not unique. God calls all of us to that same love. Like Augustine, we each have our stories, we each have our lives. Toward the end of Augustine’s account, he summarizes the loving draw of God which led him to faith. His words capture the beauty of that love which draws us all to he who is Love, and that peace that a faith-filled response receives:

Late have I loved you, O Beauty, so ancient and so new: late have I loved you!
And look! You were within me, and I was outside myself: and it was there that I searched for you.
In my unloveliness I plunged into the lovely things which you created: you were with me, but I was not with you.
Those created things kept me far away from you: yet if they had not been in you, they would not have been at all.
You called and shouted: and broke through my deafness.
You flamed and shone: and banished my blindness.
You breathed your fragrance on me: and I drew in my breath and pant for you.
I have tasted you: and now I hunger and thirst for more.
You have touched me: and I have burned for your peace.
When I cleave to you with all that I am, I shall experience no more pain and toil, and my whole life will be alive: because it is filled with you. (Confessions X.27,28.1)

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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.