11th Sunday of Ordinary Time
Fr. Joseph Levine; June 13, 2021
Readings: Ezekiel 17:22-24; Ps 92:2-3,13-16; 2 Cor 5:6-10; Mk 4:26-34
We walk by faith, not by sight. These words of St. Paul mean that in the last analysis faith is anchored in a reality that surpasses not only our sense of sight, but the capacity of our mind, and the sum of our experience. That is because faith is anchored in God himself.
The classic definition of the First Vatican Council tells us: “Faith, which is the beginning of human salvation, is a supernatural virtue by which we, with the aid and inspiration of the grace of God, believe that the things revealed by Him are true, not because the intrinsic truth of the revealed things has been perceived by the natural light of reason, but because of the authority of God Himself who reveals them, who can neither deceive nor be deceived. For, ‘faith is,’ as the Apostle testifies, ‘the substance of things to be hoped for, the evidence of things that appear not’ [Heb 11:1].” (Constitution, Dei Filius, Ch. 3)
The things we see, the things we experience, the things we know point us surely to the God who reveals and what he has revealed – that is why our faith is neither blind nor unreasonable – but faith itself must take another step, by the help of God’s grace, leading us to cleave to God himself so as to accept without hesitation what he makes known to us.
The revelation of God comes to us especially through Jesus Christ, whom the Second Vatican Council refers to as ‘the mediator and fulness of all revelation’, (Dei Verbum 2) but the actual doctrine is proposed to us authoritatively by the Church, which also provides us with the guarantee of the origin and authenticity of the Sacred Scripture. (cf. Vatican I, Ibid)
He makes known that he himself is the goal of our hope; he himself is our true home; he himself is the fulfillment of all our desire. He makes known that his Son, Jesus Christ, born of the Virgin Mary, crucified under Pontius Pilate, risen from the dead and seated at the right hand of the Father, became our way to God. He makes known that we are answerable to him who has become the judge of the living and the dead. If we understand this then, like St. Paul, we will strive to please him.
The reality of faith surpasses our experience; that refers not only to the reality of God, but even the reality of our own act of faith. When we believe in God, when we believe in Jesus Christ, we are doing something much greater than we imagine or conceive precisely because our act of faith takes place under the impulse of the Holy Spirit. No one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except by the Holy Spirit. (1 Cor 12:3)
Let me illustrate the relation between faith and experience by means of my own experience and in the light of today’s Gospel.
As some of you may be aware I am an adult convert; I was baptized a little more than 40 years ago. Recently I was asked when I first invited Jesus into my heart. I found it to be a rather strange question, though it is typical of a certain Protestant mentality. Do not get me wrong, it is a good thing to invite Jesus into your heart, but the problem I found with the question was the presupposition that Christian faith and Christian life begins with accepting Jesus Christ as one’s “personal Savior”, inviting him into your heart, and then experiencing his presence there.
That is not how I came to believe nor is it how I came into the Church. I could perhaps point to a moment when I first believed in Jesus Christ and embraced the Catholic faith. That was the path of my conversion, repenting of my sins, believing in Jesus Christ, embracing the Catholic faith, being baptized, and striving to live my life according to the gift that I had received. Then as I sought to live according to the faith, sleeping and rising night and day, I would, from time to time get a glimpse of the work that God was doing in my heart.
It was, indeed, like today’s Gospel, the seed is first hidden in the soil, unseen, and is first noticed when it sprouts. The growth is slow, but then one day one notices that the tiny sprout has grown up; another day the blade appears; later the ear. The point is not so much that I had invited Jesus into my heart as my ‘personal Savior’, but that believing in him and trying to follow his teaching, he ‘snuck in’ almost unawares, to be discovered at a later time. Nor was it a once and done matter of inviting Jesus into my heart; he was not there as a sort of ‘static’ presence, but as a living and growing reality.
I don’t usually like to talk about my personal experience because different people have different experiences. In this case, though, I think my own example could provide encouragement for some people. It seems that people often have an imagined expectation of what the Christian life should be like, what they should be feeling and experiencing, and when their experience does not conform to that imagination, they get discouraged, thinking that they are doing something wrong.
My point is that the Christian life is not first of all about experience and feeling, but about believing in Jesus Christ and doing his will. If we do that, we will grow in his grace and as we sleep and rise night and day his image will grow in our hearts, whether we perceive it or not. That is part of the beauty of the parable in today’s Gospel; it reminds us that growth takes place slowly and gradually and is God’s doing.
St. Paul wrote of his ministry on behalf of others, I planted, Apollos watered, God gave the growth. (1 Cor 3:6) The same could be said of our efforts in taking care of our own soul, our own life of faith, we plant and we water, but God gives the growth.
From time to time, for our consolation, the Lord in his goodness gives us a glimpse of his work, but our focus should be on him and his will, not on ourselves.