27 Sunday C: Faith and Fidelity

From the Connections:

Faith is not something that is won, bought or earned.  Faith only becomes genuine in our lives when we realize in all humility that faith is a gift freely given by God.  The two images in today’s Gospel point to this mystery of faith:
The gift of faith is like the mustard seed, among the tiniest of seeds.  The seed of faith needs to be nurtured or else it will wither and die; but allowed to grow, it yields the greatest of harvests.

In the light of real faith, we realize our total dependence on the providence of God.  To God’s graciousness we owe everything.  We recognize ourselves as God’s “useless servants,” deserving nothing by our own account.  The only adequate response we can make to God's unfathomable and immeasurable goodness is to live lives of joyful gratitude and humble servanthood.

Quite literally, the tiniest seed can accomplish great things.  With “mustard seed” faith, we can bring the presence of God into the most ordinary dimensions of our lives and the lives of those we love.
Christ calls us to embrace “mustard seed” faith – to believe that even the slightest act of goodness, done in faith and trust in God’s presence, has meaning in the reign of God.  The mustard seeds that each one of us plant will yield not only the greatest harvest but the most enduring and rooted harvest. 
Faith begins with the gratitude and humility of the servant in today’s Gospel: to realize that the gift of faith requires justice, compassion and forgiveness; to realize, in the light of God’s love, how blessed we have been and to see ourselves and others as brother and sister “servants” at the table of the Father.

Knowing what to say
After church one Sunday, a parishioner pulled the pastor aside.  He was a dedicated member of the parish’s ministry to the sick and homebound.  Just the day before he had visited the local hospital and discovered that a young couple in the church had just had a baby: a little girl with Down Syndrome. 
“I didn’t know what to say,” the man said to the pastor.  “We visited for a few minutes.  They let me hold her and I told them she was beautiful . . . I didn’t know what to say.”  He went on to describe how he had prayed with the couple, thanking God for their child and asking God’s peace and blessing on the family.
The pastor assured the man that he had said exactly the right thing and that his words and gestures were appropriate and kind.  The pastor said he could not have done better himself.
A couple of weeks later the man again pulled the pastor aside and showed him a note from the young mother.  She thanked him for his visit and prayer and then concluded her note:  “Thank you for not saying what so many people said and telling us how sorry you were.  We are so happy to have our baby.  Thank you for sharing our family’s joy.”
“That’s great,” the pastor said.
“But can you imagine people telling them how sorry they were?” the man wondered.
“Well,” the pastor replied, “I guess they just didn’t know what to say.”
[From “Living by the Word: What to say” by Patrick J. Wilson, The Christian Century, June 26, 2007.]
In his heart, the visitor knew exactly what to say even though he didn’t realize it.  He knew how to speak a simple word of gratitude for the gift of this child and speak a word of peace to her family.  That is “mustard seed” faith: the conviction that even the smallest act of compassion, done in faith and trust in God’s providence, has meaning in the reign of God.  May we embrace the spirit of the Gospel mustard seed: that our willingness to be vehicles of God’s compassion for the sake of others enables us to overcome our own doubts and self-consciousness in order to plant and reap God’s harvest of peace, justice and reconciliation in our own small corner of the Father’s kingdom.  

Fr. Jude Botelho:

The Prophet Habakkuk, a contemporary of Jeremiah wants to know why God the all-pure, the all-holy allows Israel to suffer at the hands of the unholy pagans. Why is it that sinners prosper while the just are made to suffer? - A question that is relevant today as well! God's answer: that no power can overcome the faithful person, is valid today as well. Habakkuk had the great event of the Exodus to remind him and the Israelites that God is the 'Rock', he saves his people. All we have to do is trust and be faithful to Him even when he appears to be silent.1. Mountain moving faithAn old woman regularly read the Bible before retiring at night. One day she came across the passage that said: "If you have faith as little as a mustard seed and ask the mountain to go away, it will go." She decided to test the efficacy of the passage. There was a hillock behind her house. She commanded the hillock to go away from there and went to bed. In the morning she got up as usual and remembered her command to the hillock. She wore her spectacles and peered through the window. The hillock was there. Then she muttered to herself, "Ah! That's what I thought."  - What she thought was that the mountain would not move. While her outer mind gave the command, her inner mind was convinced that she was giving a futile order. She did not have even an atom of faith!
G. Francis Xavier in 'The World's best inspiring stories

In today's gospel Jesus has two lessons to give us about living our lives in troubled times. Firstly he tells his disciples and us to grow and increase our faith in Him. The second message that Jesus gives us is that we should live our lives in humble service believing and trusting that God is at work and needs us to do our part in fulfilling His plan in the world today. To drive the message of faith he says: "If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, 'Be uprooted and planted in the sea and it would obey you!" What is the point Jesus is making? We know that a mulberry tree is known for its deep roots. And it is very difficult to uproot it. Besides how can you plant a tree in the sea? Evidently Jesus is telling us that what is impossible for us is not impossible for God. If we hold on in faith and let God take over our lives, the impossible will become possible for us. Just as the power of the seed does not depend on its size but on the hidden life within it, so the power of faith depends not on its quantity but on its quality. With faith we may not be able to literally move mountains, but we will have power to overcome obstacles, to do great things for the Lord in this world. The gospel concludes with a reminder that when all is said and done, God does not depend on our works but on our faith in Him. So when we are frustrated that things do not change in spite of our efforts, we must hold on and hand it over to God. God is at work, No matter how bleak the picture, God's power can and will, make it right.

2. I believe…
At the end of World War II, it is reported, the Allied soldiers were searching farm houses for snipers. In one abandoned house, which was almost a heap of rubble, they had to use their flashlights to get to the basement. On the crumbling wall, they spotted a Star of David.  It had obviously been scratched by a victim of the Jewish Holocaust. And beneath it was the following message in clear but rough lettering: "I believe in the sun -even when it does not shine.  I believe in love - even when it is not shown. I believe in God - even when he does not speak." -Like the Holocaust victim who had inscribed those uplifting words on the basement wall, Mother Teresa 'believed in the sun-even when it did not shine. She believed in love -even when it was not shown. And she believed in God -even when God did not speak. In her secret and personal letters Mother Teresa revealed that for almost 50 years, she went through what is best described as 'the dark night of the soul', driving her to doubt the existence of heaven and even God. Said a Jesuit priest, Fr. James Martin, "I have never read a saint's life where the saint has had such an intense spiritual darkness. No one knew she was that tormented." Like all of us, Mother Teresa was but human. And it is only natural that we, like her, will experience times of doubt, loneliness, dryness and even denial. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe!
James Valladares in 'Your Words O Lord, are Spirit, and They are Life'

3. Be careful in whom you place your trust!

Before modern radio and television became so sophisticated, a telephone operator used to get a call every afternoon asking for the correct time. She was always able to give this information with great confidence. The reason for this was that she always checked her watch, and adjusted it when needed, when the whistle blew for the closing time in the local factory. One day her watch stopped. The telephone rang inquiring for the correct time. She explained her predicament. Her watch had stopped, and she had no way of ascertaining the correct time until the factory whistle sounded some time later.  The caller then explained his predicament. He was calling today, as he had done every other day, from the same local factory, and he had always adjusted his clock, when necessary, to agree with whatever time it was in the telephone exchange. -Be careful in whom you place your trust!
Jack McArdle in 'And that's the Gospel truth'

4. Mustard-seed Faith

You have heard of Dorothy Day, a woman many considered a living saint. Many admirers came to visit her, to have a look at her, to cherish her, to speak to her, to touch her, if possible. Sometimes they would tell her, "You are a saint," or she would overhear others saying of her, "She is a saint." She would get upset, turn to the speaker, and say, "Don't say that. Don't make it too easy for yourself. Don't escape this way. I know why you are saying, 'she is a saint.' You say that to convince yourself that you are different from me, that I am different from you. I am not a saint. I am like you. You could do what I do. You don't need any more than you have; get kicking, please."  -A mustard seed is very tiny; there is a chance of losing it if it is not handled carefully. Likewise, faith; if it is not handled carefully there is a chance of losing it. We have to feed faith. Do not despise small beginnings, for the Lord rejoices to see the work begin. (Zachariah 4:10) Let us look at the Bible. Against a towering giant, a brook pebble seems futile. But God used it to topple Goliath. Compared to the tithes of the wealthy, a widow's coins seem puny. But Jesus used them to inspire us. Moses had a staff. David had a sling. Samson had a jawbone. Rahab had a string. Mary had some ointment. Dorcas had a needle. All were used by God.
John Pichappilly in 'The Table of the Word'

5. Pavarotti: My Own Story
Not since the legendary Caruso has another opera personality had such charisma as tenor Luciano Pavarotti. In his autobiography, Pavarotti: My Own Story, he describes how he was trained by a great master, Arrigo Pola. "Everything Pola asked me to do, I did, -day after day, blindly. For six months we did nothing but vocalize and work on vowels." Pavarotti worked hard under Pola for two and a half years and then worked just as hard under Maestro Ettore Campogalliani for another five years. Finally after putting so much faith and trust in his mentors, Pavarotti made a breakthrough at a concert in Salsomaggiore where he thrilled the audience and was catapulted into fame. This story about faith and trust leads us into today's readings which focus on the same themes. As Luciano Pavarotti put his trust in his master teacher, we too must put our trust in our mentor Jesus Christ.
Albert Cylwicki in 'His Word Resounds'

6.     Jump! I will catch you

 One night a house caught fire and a young boy was forced to flee to the roof. The father stood on the ground below with outstretched arms, calling to his son, "Jump! I'll catch you." He knew the boy had to jump to save his life. All the boy could see, however, was flame, smoke, and blackness. As can be imagined, he was afraid to leave the roof. His father kept yelling: "Jump! I will catch you." But the boy protested, "Daddy, I can't see you." The father replied, "But I can see you and that's all that matters." 

7.     Here is a similar illustration: “I can’t see you”

During the terrible days of the Blitz, a father, holding his small son by the hand, ran from a building that had been struck by a bomb. In the front yard was a shell hole. Seeking shelter as quickly as possible, the father jumped into the hole and held up his arms for his son to follow. Terrified, yet hearing his father's voice telling him to jump, the boy replied, "I can't see you!"

The father, looking up against the sky tinted red by the burning buildings, called to the silhouette of his son, "But I can see you. Jump!" The boy jumped, because he trusted his father. The Christian faith enables us to face life or meet death, not because we can see, but with the certainty that we are seen; not that we know all the answers, but that we are known. 

Donner Atwood.

8.     "There is an angel in there and I must set it free."
One day the great Michelangelo attracted a crowd of spectators as he worked. One child in particular was fascinated by the sight of chips flying and the sound of mallet on chisel. The master was shaping a large block of white marble. Unable to contain her curiosity, the little girl inquired, "What are you making?" He replied, "There is an angel in there and I must set it free."

Every Christian at their confirmation or conversion is handed a large cold white marble block called religion. We must then take the mallet in hand and set to work. Religion is not our goal but we must first start there. Now there are many names for religion. At times we do call it religion but we often use other words and images to describe it. Sometimes we call it our faith. Jesus spoke in terms of the Kingdom of God. We say we are the Church, Christians, or Disciples. There are many names with varying nuances of meaning but in the end they all describe the same thing. We are a people of Faith, faith in Christ to be sure, but faith nonetheless.

We are not a business or institution. We do not sell or produce anything. We advocate no earthly cause. We serve no worldly authority. We come to a church building made by men. And to do what? Practice our faith. But we just as well could have met on a hillside or cave...

9.      "Get away from it all"

Urbanites and suburbanites might have very different definitions of a "neighborhood," but both daydream about the gladed landscapes and bucolic beauty of a truly rural setting.  

Who wouldn't like to "get away from it all" for a while?
Who wouldn't want to experience a refreshing dose of peace and quiet?
Who wouldn't prefer a two lane gravel road instead of an eight lane "freeway" parking lot?
Who wouldn't trade fields of green for acres of asphalt?

The only problem with this rural respite is that we really cannot ever "get away from it all" anymore. We always "take it with us." In our smart phones. On our lap tops. With our tablets. We are constantly connected to it "all" - all the time - regardless of our actual geographic location.

10. Except. 

Except in those isolated patches of the planet where getting connected to the internet is like watching paint dry - an agonizing sit-and-wait period that is limited by the power of whatever broadband is available in that area. The endlessly blinking cursor on pc's, or the ceaselessly "spinning wheel of death" on Macs, advertises that we aren't connected to anything or anyone "yet" and might not be ever.

If it takes longer than five seconds to connect, to get online or get access to any website, we go into meltdown mode.  

Repeating commands.

If there is any yet undeclared "endangered species," it would have to be the human attention span. We need online and we need it right now. We pay big bucks in order to slice away seconds. Super satellite hook-ups or muscle-bound bandwidths are the new gold standard. We cannot sit and wait while information is downloaded. We cannot live with a weak or wavering signal. We crave full power and instant access to the online world all the time-wherever we are. 

Jesus' mission and ministry was also all about trying to connect disciples to a new world... 
11.     Go Ahead and Do It

 Slowly I have realized that I do not have to be qualified to do what I am asked to do. That I just have to go ahead and do it, even though I can't do it as well as I think it ought to be done. This is one of the most liberating lessons of my life.

 Madeleine L'Engel

12.     For Lovers, Duty Is Only Natural

Ask any parent who gets up at 2:00 a.m. and then at 3:00 a.m. and then at 3:30 a.m. to answer the cry of a sick baby. Lovers never ask, "What's the least I can do?"

Ask any man whose income is so limited that after he pays his rent and buys his groceries he has only pennies to spare. But his sweetheart has a birthday the next month and he has his eye on something that means he'll have to go without lunch for three weeks. So he buys it.

Boys' Town near Omaha has made capital of a poster showing a little guy toting a tyke nearly as big as he is, saying, "He's not heavy; he's my brother."

Are any of these lovers looking for a medal? No. They're only doing their duty. And it's only natural.

Our relationship to Christ is like that. For although Jesus may have been cracking a small joke when he portrayed how ludicrous it could have been if the master served the slave, yet that ridiculous reversal of roles is just what took place in the Upper Room when the Master served the disciples, washing their feet. It was symbolic of his entire ministry, including the cross. 

Alvin Rueter, Freedom to Be Wrong, CSS Publishing Company

13.     Accept the Fact 

The great theologian Paul Tillich used to say, "Accept the fact that you're accepted." And we might add, "When you do, you will accept all others too and serve them. And no one will owe you anything." And you won't mind that at all.

Richard W. Patt, All Stirred Up, CSS Publishing

14.  The Size of Faith

The size of faith doesn't matter because God is the one doing the moving.

If it is my faith that moved the mountain, then the bigger the mountain the more faith I would need to move it.
The bigger the obstacle the more strength I'd need to climb it.
The more serious the illness a faith even greater would be required to overcome it.
The more serious the sin the more faith I would need in order to have it forgiven.

That kind of thinking kind of makes sense, but that's not how faith works. In fact, faith doesn't do the work at all. And thank God for that.

God is the one doing the work through faith. Think of faith as the key that opens the door to God acting in our lives. If I have a bigger key ring than you do, does it matter? The size of a key ring doesn't matter - key rings don't open doors but it's that little key on the ring that opens doors. Even a little faith opens the door for God to move the mountains and trees and even our hearts.

Vince Gerhardy, Faith the Size of a Mustard Seed

15.  Excuses, Excuses 

I have read that Dorothy Day, a co-founder of the Catholic Worker movement and an extraordinarily faithful laywoman, was often approached by people who said things to here like, "You are a saint," "You are so special - a true gift of God as a person." She hated that! She was quite gruff with those who suggested these things. She'd say, "No, I'm not! I'm no different from you. If you value what I do, go do it yourself. You could, you know." She detested any language that set her apart from others because she saw it as a cop-out, a way for people to rationalize why they were not more devoted to easing the suffering of the poorest. 

The disciples were this way - they saw before them what their faithfulness would require and declared that they didn't have enough faith to consider such choices. "Excuses, excuses," Jesus tells them. We say "I don't have enough faith to be that kind of person, the kind of person who..." Jesus says, "Sure you do."

Alison L. Boden 

16.  Daily Forgiveness 

I once visited on online greeting card website to send an electronic anniversary card to some friends. As I was glancing through the website's menu of choices, I noticed they had a separate category of cards devoted to "Forgiveness." Most of these cards were humorous ones intended to be used for relatively minor hurts. "Forget about it," "Don't worry about it" were the sentiments of two cards. Another expressed forgiveness by saying, "Everybody is a work in progress."

Curiously, forgiveness cards were categorized right along with birthday and get well cards. That is, they were what could be called "occasional cards." You don't send a "Get Well" card just any old time, but occasionally you need such a sentiment and that's when you purchase and send just such a card. So also you may not need a forgiveness card very often, but once in a while such a thing may be handy.

Seen this way, forgiveness becomes a "now and then" matter. But it is precisely such an understanding of forgiveness that the New Testament calls us to resist. Forgiveness is an ongoing necessity, and so the church will never be done with needing it. Maybe that is why in that most famous of all prayers, the Lord's Prayer, Jesus puts the need to forgive hard on the heels of the request for daily bread. Have you ever thought of that? The request for bread and the plea for forgiveness are yoked with the word "and." "Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our sins as we forgive the sins of others." You say these two petitions in the same breath. Why is that important? Because perhaps it is Jesus' way of telling us that there is a connection between daily bread and forgiveness--we need both every day!

Scott Hoezee, Comments and Observations

17.  Faith Needs Daily Exercise 

One day my wife brought a jar and asked me to open it for her. I tried and tried to open that jar, but my hands just weren't strong enough to hold the jar tightly and turn the lid. It is a little embarrassing to a man when a woman asks him to open a jar and he can't do it, so I decided that I needed to increase the strength in my hands. I got this hand exerciser to help me. You have probably seen one of these. You just squeeze the two sides together, like this. If you don't have one of these, you can do the same type of exercise by squeezing a rubber ball. By exercising my hands every day, they will get stronger and stronger. Then maybe I won't be embarrassed the next time my wife asks me to open a jar for her. 

Faith is believing and trusting in God. Faith is like a muscle, you have to exercise it every day to make it strong. Sometimes we say that we have faith in God. We say that we believe that He can do anything, but then we act as if everything depends on us. That isn't a very strong faith, is it?

Jesus told his disciples that if they had as much faith as a tiny mustard seed, they could tell a tree to move from one place to another and the tree would obey them. Now, that is a strong faith, isn't it? I wish I had as much faith as a mustard seed. Maybe I will if I keep exercising it. I do know my faith will grow stronger if I exercise it by trusting in God each and every day. How strong is your faith? Does it need a little daily exercise?

Charles Kirkpatrick, Exercising Your Faith

18.  How My Light Is Spent 

One of the greatest poems in the English language was written by John Milton as he dealt with the onset of his blindness. "When I Consider How My Light Is Spent" has eleven lines with seven subordinate clauses. When the dependent clauses are stripped away we are left with their sense: 

When I consider how my light is spent,
I fondly ask (so he won't scold me)
If God demands day-labor light denied? 

John Milton's contention with himself as he thought on his blindness was not simply a complaint and a chastening. Clearly he was in anguish not only at his loss of sight but at his inability to serve God as he thought he should. But, Milton found through his loss not only the resignation to abide it but turned his mind with a startling clarity of thought and vision to writing his most memorable work: Paradise Lost.

Adapted from Miller Williams, "Touchstones, American Poets on a Favorite Poem" Robert Pack and Jay Parini, Editors, Middlebury College Press 1996.

19.  Ralph Waldo Emerson on Duty 

There is a time in every mans education when he arrives at the conviction that envy is ignorance; that imitation is suicide; that he must take himself for better or worse as his portion... 

It is the harder because you will always find those who think they know what is your duty better than you know it. It is easy in the world to live after the world's opinion; it is easy in solitude to live after our own; but the great man is he who in the midst of the crowd keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude.

A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds... 

Ralph Waldo Emerson, "Self Reliance," in Essays (First Series 1841).

 20.  The Priorities of a Servant 

A young boy by the name of James had a desire to be the most famous manufacturer and salesman of cheese in the world. He planned on becoming rich and famous by making and selling cheese and began with a little buggy pulled by a pony named Paddy. After making his cheese, he would load his wagon and he and Paddy would drive down the streets of Chicago to sell the cheese. As the months passed, the young boy began to despair because he was not making any money, in spite of his long hours and hard work.

One day he pulled his pony to a stop and began to talk to him. He said, "Paddy, there is something wrong. We are not doing it right. I am afraid we have things turned around and our priorities are not where they ought to be. Maybe we ought to serve God and place him first in our lives." The boy drove home and made a covenant that for the rest of his life he would first serve God and then would work as God directed.
21. Burning Truck
In the late 1990’s, CNN, the American news channel, ran an ad in the print media that made a deep impression on me: not necessarily to watch CNN – which, of course, I do sometimes, but about the spirituality of daily life.  The two page ad had this large truck in the foreground which was on fire.  At one of the corners of the photograph there was this elderly person who was throwing a bucket of water on the blazing truck in an attempt to put off the fire.  And the caption read: “History is not made by kings and presidents; but by ordinary people doing extraordinary things.” (Fr. Selvam, sdb)
22. St. Francis de Sales
St Francis would write to ‘Philothea’, in his classical, An Introduction to the Devout Life:

“It is not merely an error but a heresy to suppose that a devout life (holiness) is necessarily banished from the soldier’s camp, the merchant’s shop, the prince’s court, or the domestic hearth” (Chap. III).
23. Don Bosco and Dominic Savio
This spirituality of daily life was lived out in an exemplary manner by St John Bosco (1815-1888), who lived in Turinin the 19th Century.  He also passed on this simple spirituality to his boys, for whom he gave his life. A story is told of St Dominic Savio (1842-1857) who was the student of St John Bosco.  When he entered the home run by Don Bosco (which was called the Oratory), the little Dominic Savio wanted to become a saint.  Initially he thought, one became a saint through asceticism and penance. So Dominic used to put stones on his bed and sleep on them.  When St John Bosco came to discover this, he gently told him: “Dominic, in my school becoming a saint is very simple.  Sanctity consists in fulfilling your daily duties.”  The young Dominic Savio began to cheer up, and indeed he did become a saint. (Fr. Selvam, sdb)
From Fr Tony Kadavil's Collection:

1) Blondin the French tight rope walker became world-famous  in June of 1859, when he walked on a tightrope stretched over quarter of a mile across the mighty Niagara Falls. He became the first person to accomplish this amazing feat.  He walked across 160 feet above the waterfalls several times, each time with a different daring feat - once in a sack, on stilts, on a bicycle, in the dark, and once even carrying a stove and cooking an omelet! A large crowd gathered and a buzz of excitement ran along both sides of the river bank. The crowd “Oooooohed!” and “Aaaaahed!” as Blondin carefully walked across one dangerous step after another -- blindfolded and pushing a wheelbarrow. Upon reaching the other side, the crowd's applause was louder than the roar of the falls! Blondin suddenly stopped and addressed his audience: "Do you believe I can carry a person across in this wheelbarrow?” The crowd enthusiastically shouted, "Yes, yes, yes. You are the greatest tightrope walker in the world. You can do anything!" "Okay," said Blondin, "Get in the wheelbarrow....." The Blondin story goes that no one did although all had faith in his ability! Later in August of 1859, his manager, Harry Colcord showed his faith in Blondin and did ride on Blondin's back across the Falls. ( In today’s Gospel Jesus challenges his disciples to have such a faith in him so that they may work miracles in their lives.   

2)  Pavarotti: My Own Story: Luciano Pavarotti was the charismatic successor of the legendary opera tenor, Enrico Caruso.  In his autobiography, Pavarotti: My Own Story, he describes how he was trained by a great master, Arrigo Pola. “Everything Pola asked me to do, I did, – day after day, blindly. For six months we did nothing but vocalize and work on vowels.” Pavarotti worked hard under Pola for two and a half years and then worked just as hard under Maestro Ettore Campogalliani for another five years. Finally after putting so much faith and trust in his mentors, Pavarotti made a breakthrough at a concert in Salsomaggiore in Northern Italy where he thrilled the audience and was catapulted into fame. This story about faith and trust leads us into today’s readings which focus on the same themes. As Luciano Pavarotti put his trust in his teachers, today’s gospel instructs that we too must put our trust in our mentor Jesus Christ. (Albert Cylwicki in ‘’His Word Resounds").