27th Sunday of Ordinary Time
Preached October 6, 2019; St. Peter’s Catholic Church, The Dalles, Oregon
In today’s 1st reading the prophet Habakkuk cries out to God with the perennial human complaint. It is not only that I suffer unjustly, it is that the whole world seems to be filled with injustice and violence, while God remains silent. We live in a time in which the prevalence of violence and injustice seems more acute than ever.
God gives the prophet a response part of which is quoted by St. Paul in a key passage of the New Testament: The just man shall live by faith. (Rm 1:17) This is the key to salvation.
The whole of God’s answer to the prophet sets this faith in the context of a ‘vision’ that will reach its fulfillment and for which the prophet, and all who believe, must wait in patience and hope.
Justice and injustice now take on a very different meaning from what we might be accustomed to. The just man is above all the one who follows God, puts his trust in him, and awaits the fulfillment of his word and his promise. He is set in contrast to the rash man, who impatient of the vision, will not wait, and seeks to take matters into his own hands.
The rash man might indeed act in the name of justice, like St. Peter in the garden of Gethsemane, lopping off the ear of the High Priest’s slave, but he has indeed become part of the realm of violence and injustice. (cf. Jn 18:10) Or the rash man might be like the servant Jesus mentions in the parable, who decides the master is delayed in coming, and so begins to beat the other menservants and maidservants, to eat, and to drink, and get drunk. (cf. Lk 12:45)
We can see the faith to which God refers exhibited above all in the Virgin Mary, standing at the foot of the Cross. She is witnessing and suffering the height of human injustice, the crucifixion of God, her Son. She is witnessing what seems to be the supreme triumph of violence and injustice and she believes in the victory of justice, she believes in the resurrection of her Son, she believes in the coming judgment.
At the Last Supper, Jesus announced the coming of the Holy Spirit and said that he, the Holy Spirit, will convict the world in regard to sin and justice and judgment: sin, because they do not believe in me; justice because I am going to the Father and you will no longer see me; judgment because the ruler of this world has been judged. (Jn 16:8-10)
The human race is convicted of sin because of the refusal to believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God made man; justice is revealed because the man Jesus finds his reward in the presence of the Father and together with him, sharing the reward, will be all who believe in him and follow him; judgment, because the devil, the ruler of this world, is vanquished by the justice of Jesus Christ, obedient to death on the Cross, losing in the very moment of Jesus’ death all the ‘rights’ he had gained over mankind because of Adam’s sin.
The just man lives by faith. Faith reaches to the invisible reality of the drama of human sin and salvation; faith reaches the invisible reality of the seduction wrought by the devil and the salvation wrought by Jesus Christ, the Son of God, and the promise of eternal life at the right hand of the Father. This is the light that reveals our pilgrim path through the darkness of this fallen world.
Alas that our faith is weak. We need to pray as the Apostles in today’s Gospel, Lord, increase our faith. Or like the man who was disappointed by the failure of Jesus’ disciples, I do believe, help my unbelief! (Mk 9:24) We need to ask the intercession of the Virgin Mary, asking her for the faith to stand with her at the foot of the Cross. We need to pray her rosary and, in her company, meditate on the mysteries of Jesus.
Alas, there is the mulberry tree, as it were, that has grown up within our soul, in our mind and in our heart, and has choked out the life of faith.
There is of course the experience of violence and injustice and all the disillusion that has come with it, especially when it has touched us personally and left our own life deeply wounded. There is all the noise of scandal in the Church, hypocrisy and evil doing by those who should be leaders and examples of faith. There is the whole history of sin in which we have grown up and taken part ourselves. Then the is the daily grind of life that so often consumes us, taking us away from God.
Then there are many particularly modern challenges: the whole chaotic tide of information, too much information for us to make sense of it all or to sort out from all the disinformation mixed in with it; the distraction of instant entertainment (much of it filled with sex and violence) now made available to us on the ubiquitous screens; and the claims of an overweening ‘science’ that we are afraid to contradict lest we be mocked for our ignorance and stupidity.
Of all these obstacles to faith only the claims of science appear to go directly against the faith. Only science sets itself up as an authority in opposition to faith. Here we need to recognize that science itself is nothing more than a very limited and fallible human endeavor of knowledge and that the supposed opposition to faith has more to do with rather questionable interpretations and suppositions – that are not at all scientific – than with the actual facts.
So instead of fearing science, let us hear the words of Jesus: Whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this faithless and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels. (Mk 8:38)
St. Peter, after hearing Jesus say these words, after beholding his glory on the mount of the Transfiguration, trembled with fear and shame before the bystanders in the courtyard of the High Priest, and he swore and cursed, saying, I do not know this man of whom you speak. (Mk 14:71)
There is the crux of the matter: we have become ashamed of Jesus Christ. That is perhaps the sin of the modern world. Robert Cardinal Sarah wrote:
“Like Peter, the modern world has denied Christ. Contemporary man is afraid of God, afraid of becoming a disciple. He has said: ‘I do not want to know God.’ He feared what others might think. They asked him whether he knew Christ, and he replied: ‘I do not know this man.’ He was ashamed of himself, and he swore: ‘God? I don’t know who that is!’ We wanted to shine in the world’s sight, and, three times, we denied our God. We declared: I am not sure about him, about the Gospels, about dogmas, about Christian morality. We were ashamed of the saints and the martyrs; we were embarrassed by God, his Church, and her liturgy and trembled in the presence of the world and its servants.” (“The Day is Now Far Spent”, pp. 23-24)
Still there is hope. The Cardinal continues: “Jesus looked at Peter when he had just betrayed him. What love and mercy, but also what reproaches and how much justice in that look! Peter wept bitterly. He was able to ask forgiveness. Will we agree to look back at Christ?” (Ibid. pg. 24)
But we might think that like the prophet we need a vision. The prophet was told to wait for a vision. We have perhaps read of people who have had visions. The children of Fatima had a vision, several visions of the Virgin Mary. Wouldn’t that be wonderful. Then maybe we could believe. Then maybe our faith would come alive. Then maybe we would have the faith to command the mulberry tree of obstacles to cast itself into the sea.
We are mistaken. The vision does not cause faith but presupposes faith and nourishes it. There are many who witnessed the miracle of the sun at Fatima on October 13, 1917 but did not believe. There are many who witnessed the miracles of Jesus but did not believe.
We need rather to nourish our faith with the vision that has been given to us by Jesus. What vision? It is a vision that is given to us at every Mass, the vision of the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, crucified and risen, offered for the forgiveness of sins, our sins.
We hear the words, This is my Body given up for you. The host is raised up before our eyes and we believe in the reality of the Body of Christ, nailed to the Cross. We hear the words, This is the chalice of my Blood, the Blood of the new and eternal covenant pour out for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins. The chalice is raised up before our eyes and we believe in the reality Blood of Christ, poured out for our sins.
We hear the words, Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. At the same time, the host and the chalice together are raised up before our eyes, and we believe in the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the source of eternal life.
Then when we come to receive communion, the minister shows us the host, saying, The Body of Christ. We respond, Amen. I believe. The minister shows us the chalice, saying, The Blood of Christ. We respond, Amen. I believe.
The Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, the Son of God made man, crucified and risen for our salvation, really, truly, and substantially present beneath the appearances of bread and wine, offered in sacrifice, given as the nourishment of eternal life in communion, and abiding with us in our tabernacles: This is the Mystery of Faith; this is the vision.
Let us not be ashamed of him; let us wait for him; let us put all of our hope in him; let us love him with all our heart. He is the one who will come in glory to judge the living and the dead.
Lord, increase our faith.