In today’s mass readings, St. Paul tells the Romans, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” (Cf. Rom. 4:1-8). Later, the Lord warns his followers, “Beware the leaven – that his, the hypocrisy – of the Pharisees (Lk. 12:1-7). How might we look with eyes of faith at these readings and daily life?
To begin with, belief, even under the best of circumstances can be really hard. …and I mean believe in anything. The strongest beliefs usually involve an intense credibility between the believer and the person proposing the belief. Such credibility usually comes after a long relationship with ups and downs. Our own life stories/history complicate things, as does trying to peer into the future, “What will the consequences of this belief be for how I live?” Belief is, perhaps, hardest when involves total lack of control… as in, “I believe that everything will turn out ok.” So, indeed, the fact that Abraham believed God would bring him across the desert to the Promised Land… and give him a vast lineage in his old age… the fact that Abraham believed was truly credited to him as righteousness.
At the other end of the spectrum are the Pharisees who had sold out. Those who should’ve believed in, hoped for, looked for the coming of the heavenly Kingdom could not recognize it when they appeared in Jesus. Rather, they sought a lesser peace, founded on fear, collaborating with the authorities of the Roman Empire. Nowhere is this more obvious than the trial of Jesus (Lk. 22-23).
Most of us exist somewhere between the Pharisaical fear and Abrahamic Faith. I know that reading these texts this morning, I couldn’t quite place myself. I really have no clue what the future holds for the parish where I serve, but I know God wants people there to get to heaven. “Lord, how will we overcome our obstacles? Lord, are you there? Is there hope? I do believe Lord… help my unbelief.”
To avoid getting stuck in the challenges of belief, always contemplate… then act. Today’s saint, Paul of the Cross, is a great example for us. Paul founded the Passionist Fathers, whose yearly existence is instructive. The Passionists spend several months each year living as contemplatives, observing a rigorous monastic schedule before returning to active ministry for the remaining months of the year. What a witness! A great example is Passionist father, Bl. Dominic Barberi. Dominic was an Italian theologian fascinated by the beginnings of the Oxford Movement in the Anglican Church. Traveling to England (which was not a terribly welcoming place for Catholics or non-English speakers at the time), Dominic began to learn about budding converts at Oxford. Preaching one day in pouring rain, holding his passionis cross high in the air, he was spied by a young John Henry Newman. Newman had set a little test for God. He was so close to becoming Cathoic, but needed a little push to put him over the edge. He said, “If I could but see a holy priest preaching with the cross, I would convert.” Newman saw Fr. Barberi and was (along with two friends) received by him into the Church. Barberi had no idea when he left Italy that his mission to England would not only enhance the Oxford Movement, but give spiritual birth to one of the greatest theologians of the last five hundred years. Contemplation led to belief… belief to action… action to the fulfillment of God’s plan.
Lord, I do believe… fill me with a contemplative Spirit… help my unbelief, and move me to be your instrument though another day. Amen.