I had supper with a friend this week. During the course of our conversation over dinner, he explained his conviction that most people, perhaps even some people who come to Mass every Sunday, don’t really have faith anymore. He thinks our society has lost the conviction that our faith is radical, real, and life-changing. And that is because, he says, if we really did believe that the bread and wine became the body and blood of Christ, we wouldn’t have a vocations crisis, because parents would be eager to encourage their sons to become priests so that we would never go without the Eucharist. I’m still mulling over the implications of what he said.
But whether he’s right or not, today’s Scriptures speak to exactly what he was saying. In these summer days of the Church’s Ordinary Time, we have been exploring the meaning of discipleship. Each Sunday, I think, we are given a tool for living our discipleship. The tool we get today is that of faith. And faith is a word that we toss around kind of carelessly in these days. We talk about having faith in someone, having faith in ourselves, being people of faith. But what does that even mean? What does faith look like? Well, today’s Liturgy of the Word helps us to paint that picture.
The author of the letter to the Hebrews lays down the definition of faith for us: “Faith is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen.” Faith is something we all strive to have, but faith is really a gift. We long to be people of faith because it is faith that gives peace in the midst of uncertainty. Faith, as the author points out, is not the same thing as proof. Proof requires evidence, and faith usually provides none of that. Faith, perhaps, is not knowing what will happen, but instead knowing the one in whom we trust. If we know our God is trustworthy, then we don’t need to know all the details of what is ahead of us; instead, we can trust in the One who leads us. The more that we exercise that faith, the more our faith grows.
The author speaks about Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Jacob. They were heirs of the promise God made, a real covenant with his people. Abraham and Sarah should never even have given birth to Isaac and Jacob – they were too old. But they did, and Isaac and Jacob were but the beginning of “descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sands on the seashore.” Even then, they didn’t see the fulfillment of the promise. That would only come about in the Paschal Mystery of Christ our God, but they had the glimpse of it from afar.
The parable in our Gospel today tells us what living the faith looks like: “You also must be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come.” Faith requires waiting, and we do all sorts of waiting. We wait in the grocery line and in the doctor’s office. We wait for friends or family to join us at the dinner table. We wait for job offers, for the right person in our relationships, and we wait for the right direction in our lives. In all of our waiting, Jesus tells us today, we must be prepared for the outpouring of God’s grace. If we are distracted by worldly things and worldly activities, we may miss that grace as it is poured out right before us. If we are caught up in things that have no permanence, we may miss our opportunity to follow Christ to our salvation. We must always be prepared for the Son of Man to come into our lives.
The parable gives us some wonderful images. Those faithful servants, whom the Master finds busy doing their jobs when he returns, are not just given a pat on the back. No, they are seated at table, and the Master himself begins to wait on them! That image had to be astonishing to those servants of Jesus’ day. But it is none the less real for us. We come here to Mass today expecting that very same thing to happen. We come to the table, and we are fed by our Master in a way that we could never feed ourselves on our own. The grace poured out on us as people of faith is incredible, if we have the faith to notice it.
The second wonderful image in this parable is what happens at the end: “if the master of the house had known the hour when the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into.” But when you think about it, that has already happened: Jesus has returned in his Spirit and has “broken into” our house. Jesus’ return is unexpected: he is like a sneaky thief. And so, we need to be vigilant, we need to be aware of the return of Jesus.
But again, what does that look like? For what should we keep vigil? This is where faith comes in to play. It might be strength in the midst of crisis, or maybe a deep-down joy underneath the same old daily routine. It could be an unexpected treat, like a visit with an old friend. Sometimes it looks like a reassuring presence during a quiet moment of prayer. Or perhaps even a renewed commitment to keep on doing what we know we are called to do.
Faith can be nebulous, but in today’s Liturgy, we are taught that faith looks like something. Faith means living the Gospel with urgency every day, as though Jesus were going to return tomorrow, even if that return is many years in the future. Faith means looking for the blessing in every day, even when cares and concerns and sadness threaten to swallow us up. Faith means standing up for the truth, reaching out to those in need, preaching the Gospel in our words and in our deeds.
The protestant theologian Reinhold Niebuhr spoke of the notion of faith in his famous “Serenity Prayer.” You’ve probably heard the first part, but I think the last part is that prayer for faith that we all pray today:
Grant me the serenity
To accept the things I cannot change;
The courage to change the things I can;
And the wisdom to know the difference.
Living one day at a time;
Enjoying one moment at a time;
Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
Taking, as Jesus did, this sinful world
As it is, not as I would have it;
Trusting that you will make all things right
If I surrender to your will;
So that I may be reasonably happy in this life
And supremely happy with you
Forever in the next. Amen.