Amazing God

“He was amazed at their lack of faith.” Amazed. This line has stuck in my head all week long. Jesus was amazed at their lack of faith. Jesus doesn’t get amazed too often. I looked it up, and Jesus is only amazed twice in the Gospels. The single other time the Greek verb we translate as “amazed” is used to describe Jesus is when he saw the incredible faith of the centurion in Capernaum who had asked Jesus to heal the servant in his household. Jesus is amazed at faith: either a lack or a depth of it.

The Nazarenes thought they knew who Jesus was. He was the son of Mary and Joseph. He was a carpenter. They knew his cousins. So what if he had exorcised demons, healed paralytics, calmed the seas, and even raised people from the dead? He was still just that Jesus kid from down the street. Because they “knew” him, they were not willing to take the tiniest step of faith towards Jesus.

Compare that to the centurion in Capernaum. The centurion may not have known exactly who Jesus was, but he knew that Jesus could help; so, he came to Jesus for help. Turning to Jesus, the centurion recognized something greater than him standing in front of him, someone worthy of his faith. The centurion, a commander of many men and well-respected in the army, humiliated himself to ask Jesus, a poor man who had no social standing at all, to help him. Jesus offered to come over and heal the centurion’s servant; however, the centurion debased himself further and told Jesus that he is not worthy for him to enter under his roof, and said that Jesus can heal the servant with his words. “[Jesus] was amazed and said to those following him, “Amen, I say to you, in no one in Israel have I found such faith.”

When it comes to the question of faith, there are only two options. You either have faith or you don’t. Some might claim that they don’t have an opinion on the subject, but that is simply lack of faith in different clothing. So… do I have faith or not? How do I amaze God? Do I amaze God with my lack of faith, or do I amaze God with my faith? Maybe, for most of us here, the question is a bit different: I have faith, but it is weak; how can I turn my faith into something that amazes God?

The first step toward answering that question is to recognize that any faith is better than none, and that the seeds of faith are a gift from God. The work is not all on God though. Yes, God and the people around us work to nurture those seeds of faith within us, but it ultimately comes down to our own decisions. God has given us each free will, and because of that free will we are able to make decisions that impact our future, not just here on earth, but also in the afterlife. If we did not have a free will, then we would be predestined to heaven or hell at the outset of our lives, as John Calvin—the founder of the Calvinist sect of Protestantism—taught. But that can’t be true. God loves us, and God’s love for us would not be true love if he forced us to have faith or if he forced us to love him. God will not force us to love him, but he will give us all we need to make that decision on our own.

Having faith is, ultimately, a decision we must make. I know that I often make the error of thinking that virtues or graces from God have something to do with my feelings. I don’t always feel 100% close to God: there are days when I feel that he is quite distant from me, but there are also days that he feels very close, where it feels that he is directly working through me. Faith, though, is not the same thing as feelings. Faith is deeper than that: faith is above our feelings. Even on the worst of days, even when I feel like God is 1000 miles away, even when I feel like I’m wasting my time saying my prayers, even when I am halfway through a homily and forget the second half, I always know that God is with me. Every day I make the choice to believe in God, to believe that he loves me, and to live my life in accordance with his will. I try to, at least. I do what I can, and I leave the rest up to God. If I do my best, he’ll fill in the cracks.

Those cracks God fills in are, really, his way of helping us increase our faith. Paul recognizes this, writing that “when I am weak, then I am strong.” Paul says that through his weaknesses, the power of Christ dwells in him. Paul’s weaknesses are where Christ shows forth the most. It is the same for us. Our weaknesses are where we are most exposed to others. They are the areas where we are most vulnerable. They are the areas where we recognize that we need help from God the most, the areas where we cry out to God in our prayer, saying, “I believe; help my unbelief!”

We can all pray that God helps us in our unbelief. We can all work to increase our faith by consciously making the decision to believe in God, in his love, and in his plan for us. These decisions can be made rationally, as shown by the 2000 years of academic scholarship the Catholic Church has produced, (we did invent universities, after all…) nearly all of it relying on the fact that not only is our faith based in God himself, but it is also fundamentally reasonable. Let us all choose to believe, and to devote ourselves to God in heart and in mind. Let’s choose to put our faith in God, so that when we die and stand before Him on the day of our judgment, he will look at us with love, be amazed at our faith, and say to us, “well done, my good and faithful servant.”

Note: This homily was posted on July 10, 2018. It was delivered on July 8, 2018, so I have modified the posting date to match the delivery date.

Today’s Readings
July 8, 2018
14th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year B
Ezekiel 2:2-5; Psalm 123:1-2, 2, 3-4; 2 Corinthians 12:7-10; Mark 6:1-6

The Faith Which Conquers Death

Death was not a part of God’s plan. God did not create us to die. He made us in his own image. He made us imperishable. He created us to live in His presence forever. Adam and Eve had this sort of life. They lived in the Garden of Eden in happiness, in the presence of God. Then, Satan got involved. The devil got involved and started whispering lies in the ears of Adam and Eve. He whispered to them that they would become powerful, like God himself. He whispered to them that they would learn all sorts of things, things that God was hiding from them. He whispered to them that they would only be happy if they disobeyed God and ate fruit from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.

For some reason, they listened. Adam and Eve failed to trust in God. Through Adam and Eve’s failure to trust in God, through their jealousy of God’s power and knowledge, through their pride and thinking that they knew better than God, through their first, original sin, death entered the world. God originally had “made man immortal,” free from pain and suffering, free from a tendency toward sin “and ignorance, sinless, and lord of the earth.” 1 Adam and Eve lost more than they could have ever imagined, and the shockwaves of this original sin shook the universe. God revealed to Adam and Eve the ramifications of what they had done: while they still bore the image of God, they had lost their original grace (the technical, fancy term is preternatural grace) and the ability to pass this on to their children. Humanity now had to suffer pain, sin, ignorance, and death. God, however, was not going to let this be humanity’s fate. Even though God was hurt enormously by this sin—His beloved children had turned away from Him!—He would not let this result stand. God had a plan to redeem us and to save us. In Genesis 3:15, God said:

“I will put enmity between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and hers;
They will strike at your head,
while you strike at their heel.” (NABRE)

This plan culminated in the life of Jesus Christ, the Divine Son of God who became one of us, a human being, for our sake. Jesus, the offspring of Mary, the New Eve, is the one who struck that mortal blow to Satan’s head. Sin and death entered the world because of Satan, but Jesus Christ conquered sin and death. Jesus Christ destroyed them through his Passion, Death and Resurrection, rendering Satan’s power over us ineffective. This was Jesus’s mission all along: to destroy death. By destroying death, He opened the pathway to Heaven.

In the Gospel today, we hear of Jairus, a synagogue official. His daughter is on her deathbed. I’m sure he tried every remedy of which he could think to save her. We also hear of a woman suffering from hemorrhages. She has spent all her wealth and tried everything, but nothing works. She is also, somewhat more slowly, dying. For her, the situation gets even worse, because her sickness makes her “unclean;” therefore, she is cut off from the worship community. She is alone and without support. Nothing has worked for her or for Jairus. They are in desperate situations. They have one last hope: a man called Jesus. They have heard that Jesus can heal them, and they seek him out. They believe that he can solve their problems. They have faith that he can do what they have heard.

Imagine: the woman reaches out to touch Jesus. There is a huge crowd of people mobbing Jesus. She somehow makes her way through the crowd to Jesus, and then is finally close enough to reach out and just brush the tassels on his clothes. Immediately, Mark says, she was healed. Her faith saved her. Jesus doesn’t stop there. He knows that she has been cast out of the community. He calls her “daughter” and tells her to “go in peace.” How much joy and peace must have been in her heart at that moment? She had encountered God’s love face to face, and was healed in body and soul.

Imagine: Jairus receives the news that his daughter has died. Jesus tells him not to fear. The mourners are already gathered at the home, and they ridicule Jesus. He casts the naysayers out, and tells Jairus’s daughter to stand up. Immediately, Mark says, she rose from bed and walked around. Jairus’s faith saved his daughter. Jesus doesn’t stop there. He told them to give her something to eat—she was most certainly hungry! God knows even our most basic physical needs. How much joy and peace must have been in Jairus’s heart? He had encountered God’s love face to face. His daughter—and he too—was healed in body and soul.

We must never be afraid to ask God for what we need: He loves us more than we can imagine. He wants us to bother him. He wants us to tell him everything. He wants us to have faith that he will answer us in the best way possible. God wants us to have a deep, personal relationship with him: a deep, personal relationship like the Father, Son and Holy Spirit have; a deep, personal relationship like a husband and wife have; a deep, personal relationship like the best of friends have. We develop this relationship through prayer and through striving to live God’s will. Over time, this relationship will grow. It will result in a living faith in our hearts, a living faith which help us to reject our fear and entrust everything to God. This living faith, when it grows, can conquer death itself, and lead us into Heaven, where we will once again live in perfect happiness, peace, and joy, and where we will gaze on the glorious presence of God.

Note: This homily was posted on July 4, 2018. It was delivered on July 1, 2018, so I have modified the posting date to match the delivery date.

Today’s Readings
July 1, 2018
13th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year B
Wisdom 1:13-15, 2:23-24; Psalms 30:2, 4, 5-6, 11, 12, 13; 2 Corinthians 8:7, 9, 13-15; Mark 5:21-43