By Faith: 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time and The Year of Faith

August 11, 2013

The Year of Faith, spurred by, now, pope emeritus Benedict XVI, is designated to end this November hand in hand with the liturgical calendar. During this time, we have been encouraged to remember–to recall the principles of our faith, all that we’ve learned about our faith, the history of the Church and, above all else, to remember the words of our Lord, “Do this in remembrance of me” (Lk 22: 19 and I Cor 11:24). The year of faith was inaugurated mindful of the anniversaries of the Catechism of the Catholic Church and of the second Vatican Council. As if to keep us strong for the final stretch, God calls us today to remember our goal this year through today’s scripture readings.

Today’s scripture urges us to be aware of the past and what has been done. The book of Wisdom, written well after the events of Moses, reminds its readers of the night of the Passover in Egypt and how that strengthened them in courage to take the steps that followed by stepping through the Red Sea. Likewise, the second reading from the book of Hebrews, recalls the life and fulfillment of God’s promises to Abraham in return for his faithfulness. The author of the letter to the Hebrews (which is disputed as being Paul) encourages the Hebrew people to see the continuity between the known history of God’s providence for Abraham as father of the faithful and now with Christ as a new Isaac, the Son that was taken from the hands of death and now carries on the name of the Father.

To explain this the author of Hebrews uses a repetitive rhetorical device pointing to faith as the catalyst. The author recalls that it was “by faith…” that Abraham dared to leave where he had settled to, what more that when he left he did not know where he was being led to. By faith, Abraham followed God’s instructions such that even in his old age he conceived a son with his wife. This is all part of the author’s explanation of what faith is: “the realization of things hoped for and the evidence for things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1) This is what we hear in today’s readings however, there is a section that we do not hear that is relevant to what I write today. The reading for today is Hebrews 11:1-2 and 8-19. Take a second to read verses 3-7 to see how the writer of Hebrews makes his point. Then following the reading the writer continues on speaking of Moses and glosses quickly over the kings and prophets of old. All of this to simply say look at history–God is for us.

Those who read the apostolic letter, Porta Fidei, immediately recognize that in Paragraph 13 Benedict XVI is using the same rhetorical device to encourage the Church today. Of course, this was a deliberate mimicry because the force of the argument is only compounded as time moves forward. Benedict begins with Mary, up through the apostles, to the fathers and then the saints throughout history. With this simple look at history, there is no denying that the miraculous has availed itself to the Church and that it has done so through the faith of its people. The ultimate thrust is that God is with the faithful. However, this argument comes also with a calling. It is an ever-new call to faithfulness.

Placing these two rhetorical flourishes together we get the whole of salvation history up to now. Where the writer of Hebrews began with the creation of the world and ends at his present moment, which was a few years following the life, death and resurrection of Christ, Benedict XVI as, then, minister of the Petrine Office, helps us return to our scriptural roots by humbly giving us a lens to read it.

But what is the point? What kind of disposition are we to have in light of our faith and the history we are born into?

The Gospel enlightens us here with Jesus saying, “be like servants who await their master’s return from a wedding, ready to open immediately when he comes and knocks” (Luke 12:36). Taken together with all that we’ve heard so far, there is a consistency between faith and vigilance, being ready to meet the Lord at any moment during one’s life. For Abraham it was in his old age, past normal child-bearing years, and for Mary it was while still very young not even having “known a man.” Yet, these models of faith are so because they were waiting for the Lord’s coming and ready for the Lord’s requests. Jesus continues, “Blessed are those servants whom the master finds vigilant on his arrival.” Jesus gives vigilance as a beatitude–a maxim for our happiness.

The history of salvation is still being told. As we, Catholics, profess, we believe that Christ will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead and of this time we have no knowledge. But we are not left unprepared and without forewarning. That is what this year of Faith is about. Our faith tells us nothing of when, but the hope that is to come is that Christ, albeit like a thief in the night, will come again. It is a promise. And, as history shows, God keeps his promises. Take courage and lift your heads ready to see God’s glory.

For Further Reading:

Readings for the 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C

Apostolic Letter “Motu Proprio Data” Porta Fidei , Benedict XVI

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