Reflection for the 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Cycle C)
Faith is not about simply believing in what may be unbelievable, for even the most evil of spirits can believe in the existence of Mystery, or in whatever we claim to be the unknown Truth. Faith is much more about entrusting ourselves totally to this enigmatic Beloved with what the Apostle refers to as the “spirit of strength, love and good judgment.” Indeed, the prophets have always been consistent in reminding generations that “the upright will live by his faithfulness.”
Unfortunately, an initial misunderstanding about this “nature” of faith, can lead to an even greater misunderstanding about its “fullness.” If faith is about merely believing in what may be beyond the natural, then “faith-fullness” can be misinterpreted as a condition we are prepared to commit to, for as long as we have more evidence of the supernatural. To “increase our faith” would mean “to witness and be moved by more miracles from God that will eventually persuade me to have more faith in him.”
Our “hope of entering heaven” therefore seems to be strangely dependent on a highly developed conviction pointing to the “abundance of blessings” we have received or can receive from it; it is equated to proof of one’s material prosperity, “deserved” fame or even “predestined” absolute power. We need not wonder why we sometimes despair over the inescapable poverty, numerous disadvantages and “lack of miracles” in our lives.
Our Lord is however admonishing us that “faith-fullness” is a continuing and lifelong process which starts quite undramatically from the personal yet intimate love a child has for a divine Parent. This faith, “the size of a mustard seed,” is increased when this innocent love for the Spirit is translated to a more responsible love for all those whom the Spirit also loves: It is increased when we begin to “see injustice,” when we are saddened by “outrage, violence and quarrels,” when we are moved to “denounce oppression.”
It is greatly intensified when this responsible love becomes responsible service: We serve in “strength,” by courageously defending those wronged by “tyranny” and confronting the possibility of being similarly persecuted “in chains” by the structures of sin; we serve in “love,” by daring to appear as “foolish” in uplifting those whom society has deemed to be “undeserving;” and we serve in “good judgment,” by wisely living “in the world” but not attached “to the world,” detached from its allurements, but not indifferent to its errors and transgressions. The Apostle clearly reminds us to “do our share in laboring for the gospel.”
So, our “hope of entering heaven” is actually dependent on a highly formed conviction pointing to the undeserved Grace we have received, which we are likewise willing to give to others; it is also equated not to how much was given from oneself in charity, but to how much remained with oneself in humility. In this sense, faith is immaculately consummated when responsible service is humbly reduced to dutiful performance: “We are no more than servants; we have only done our duty.” In the end, we must never think that God “needs us” for helping him achieve a better world, that we “deserve gratitude for our contributions” or “praise for our missions and ministries.” He is not impacted by what we do or fail to do; we are. Our Master is neither obliged to console us for the hard work we have accomplished, nor to thank us for the sacrifices we gave in the name of the kingdom. For it is not for God’s sake that we chose to be and to do good; it is for our own.
May the following admonitions of St. Francis of Assisi remain in our minds and hearts: “I did not come to be served but to serve, says the Lord. Those who are placed over others should glory in such an office only as much as they would were they assigned the task of washing the feet of the brothers.” (Adm. IV, 1 – 2) “Blessed is the servant who esteems himself no better when he is praised and exalted by people than when he is considered worthless, simple, and despicable; for what a man is before God, that he is and nothing more.” (Adm. XIX, 1 – 2). “Blessed is that religious who takes no pleasure and joy except in the most holy words and deeds of the Lord and with these leads people to the love of God in joy and gladness.” (Adm. XX, 1 – 2).
Brother Jess Matias is a professed brother of the Secular Franciscan Order. He serves as minister of the St. Pio of Pietrelcina Fraternity at St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Mandaluyong City, coordinator of the Padre Pio Prayer Groups of the Capuchins in the Philippines and prison counselor and catechist for the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology.
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