Father David's Reflection for Sunday of Week Twenty-Seven (Ordinary Time)
Look, Listen and Act
What do I think it means to be a “good Christian”? Is it enough to do all the Church tells us to do? And is that just keeping the Commandments and rules of the Church? Or does it include seeking personal knowledge of the mind and heart of God through reading Scripture? Does it include living out our baptismal consecration and commitment to continue the mission of Jesus as Prophet, Priest and King?
The Entrance Antiphon proclaims that God created a world of order: “O Lord, you have given everything its place in the world.” But when it continues, “and no one can make it otherwise,” it is talking only about the physical universe: “For it is your creation, the heavens and the earth and the stars: you are the Lord of all.”
The sad truth is that when it comes to human civilizations and cultures, people do make it otherwise. We have split and spoiled the unity of the human family. We have replaced order with disorder, harmony with conflict, peace with violence.
Nevertheless, God remains the “Lord of all.” This is why the Responsorial Psalm insists with us “If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts” (Psalm 95). In the plan of God, what humans have distorted and destroyed, God will rectify and restore through human beings. We need to look around us and see what shape our world is in, listen to what God has to say about it, then act on his words.
The Opening Prayer(s) give us courage beyond all human hope: “Father, your love for us surpasses all our hopes and desires. Your goodness is beyond what our spirit can touch and your strength is more than the mind can bear!” We can pray with confidence, “Lead us to seek beyond our reach, and give us the courage to stand before your truth” because we know that if we look up as well as around, and listen to God’s words as much as to the media, God will lead us in the way of salvation.
But we also need to act. Recognizing this, in the Prayer Over the Gifts we ask: “May our obedient service bring us [and others with us] to the fullness of redemption.” Christian life is a life of “obedient service.” We are all stewards of the kingship of Christ, all responsible for establishing God’s reign on earth. To aim simply at avoiding evil and keeping out of sin is to be unfaithful to our baptismal commitment. And it is to fail the human family.
Vision of hope
Habakkuk 1:1 to 2:4 begins with the prophet’s reproach to God: “Why do you not listen!”
I cry out to you, “Violence!” but you do not intervene. Why do you let me see ruin? Why must I look at misery?
God’s answer is to tell Habakkuk to look up instead of just around, and to “write down the vision” that he sees. God is going to act, and is acting now. But he is acting through human beings, and this slows down the pace of redemption! Things will change when people change and change them. As children we learned the “Prayer to the Holy Spirit”: “Lord, send forth your Spirit and our hearts will be regenerated.” And then: “You will renew the face of the earth!” We have been saying this prayer for years; have we been praying it with conscious faith? Do we believe what we pray? Do we believe it can happen now? 1
God’s “now” is not always our “now,” but we have to act as if it is — and wait with undoubting hope.
For the vision… presses on to fulfillment, and will not disappoint. If it delays, wait for it. It will surely come.
What is the vision? Habakkuk promises:
The earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea (2:14).
Though the fig tree does not blossom, and no fruit is on the vines; though the produce of the olive fails, and the fields yield no food; though the flock is cut off from the fold, and there is no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD; I will exult in the God of my salvation.
GOD, the Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, and makes me tread upon the heights (3:17-19).
As “faithful stewards” of the undeniable kingship of Christ, we continue to look at the vision, to listen to God’s words, and to act to establish the “reign of God” on earth — “an eternal and universal kingdom: a kingdom of truth and life, a kingdom of holiness and grace, a kingdom of justice, love and peace” (Preface, Feast of Christ the King).
“If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.”
In Luke 17: 5-10 Jesus establishes a correlation between the renewal of society and our faith. “If you had faith the size of a mustard seed,” he says, “you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you!”
Does “faith” here just mean believing that God will do what we ask? That is too simple, and it would make faith some kind of magical technique in us that could control God. No, the actual meaning of faith is “the gift of sharing in God’s act of knowing.” The gift (and mystery) of grace, which means “the favor of sharing in the divine life of God” empowers us to act in three divine ways — faith, hope and love — which are ways of sharing in God’s own divine operations.
Through faith we share in God’s act of knowing. As the Psalm says, “For with you is the fountain of life; in your light we see light.” Jesus himself is “the true light, which enlightens everyone,” and by sharing in his life we share in his light. That is why he was able to say to us, “You are the light of the world….2
We share in God’s light only by sharing in his life. But through his life in us we are able to do for the world what only Jesus can do. This is the meaning of his shocking promise, “Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father” — and therefore I myself will be doing the works in them who are my risen body.
The key is to be united with Jesus in action, in mind and will and heart. “They said to him, ‘What must we do to perform the works of God?’ Jesus answered them, ‘This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.’” It is through faith that we “become Christ” by Baptism; that we enter into God’s life and receive the gifts of hope and love. In John’s Gospel Jesus is Light and Life interchangeably: “in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.” By faith we are saved: “to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God.” If we have the tiniest spark of divine light in us — like a “mustard seed” — keep ourselves aware of it, and give expression in prayer to the truth that is within us, then Jesus promises, “Whatever you ask for in prayer with faith, you will receive.”3
This is why Jesus continues, “When you have done all that you were ordered to do, say, ‘We are merely servants; we done no more than our duty.’” 4
The “work” God asks of us is not that we should just keep from sin. It is that we should act as Jesus on earth, doing the work of Jesus by the power of Jesus, guided by the light of faith. “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” We are called to live and act on the level of God, to “be perfect” as our “heavenly Father is perfect.” For this we have to believe, remain aware of what we believe, and give expression to it in action. This is how we let our “light shine before others, so that they may see our good works and give glory to our Father in heaven.” And this is how, as faithful stewards of Christ’s kingship, we let him continue, saving the world — with us, in us and through us.5
In 2Timothy 1: 6-14 Paul urges Timothy to be a faithful steward of the gift of faith entrusted to him. He calls it “the gift of God that is within you” and exhorts him “not to be ashamed of witnessing to the Lord” and to “the sound teaching that you have heard from me.” This is “the good treasure entrusted to you,” that Timothy must “guard with the help of the Holy Spirit living in us.”
We need to be conscious of our faith as a divine gift, one we must constantly “rekindle,” “fan into flame” through awareness and expression in action. “If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.” If we listen to God’s voice in our hearts, and act as faithful stewards, our “obedient service” will bring the world to the fullness of redemption.
1 Theologians say, Lex orandi, lex credendi: “What we pray is what we believe.”
2 Psalm 36:9; John 1:9; Matthew 5:14-16. By hope we share in God’s plan and purpose, fixing our hearts with God’s own confidence on what he intends to do. And by love we share in God’s own act of loving himself and his creatures.
3 John 14:12; 6: 28-29.; 1: 4-12; Matthew 21:22; and see Mark 11:24; John 14:13; 15:16.
4 Jerusalem Bible translation.
5 Matthew 5: 48, 16.
What is your real source of confidence? How does faith empower you?
Set aside five minutes a day to look, listen and decide on one action.
Set aside five minutes a day to look, listen and decide on one action.