“Lord, increase our faith.”
A diocesan priest friend of mine was surprised a few months ago to see two men walking around the parish Church premises in the evening. He asked the security man if the men were looking for a priest. The guard replied, “No Father, they are looking for Pokémon.”
The Pokémon craze reached fever pitch worldwide a few months ago. But who is still hyped with searching for Pokémons today? Why are we tired of it now? Most likely, we have come to realize from experience that virtual creatures like Pokémon are useless, not important, and above all, we never develop the sense of a need for a deeper relationship with such things.
The most important and useful thing in this life that we always want more of is our faith in God. We cannot get enough of faith because faith brings us into a relationship with God and we just cannot exhaust the mystery of God.
Taking Sunday’s Gospel in context, Jesus had earlier issued a strong warning about the certainty of things that will cause sin in the world and the great punishment for those who cause others to sin, “Temptations to sin are sure to come; but woe to him by whom they come! It would be better if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were cast into the sea, than that he should cause one of these little ones to sin.” Then Jesus issued a command to correct and forgive others constantly, “If your brother sins, correct him… and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and returns to you seven times, and says, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.” This warning and command reflects how seriously God takes His relationship with us.
To fight temptations constantly, to be a good example and support to others in their own fight against sin, to forgive others constantly – all these demand such a great faith in God. Hearing Jesus’ warning and command, the disciples realize that faith is the most useful and important thing in this life and they have a sense of their need for a deeper faith in God, “Lord, increase our faith!” Their request shows that they have faith already, but they want more and more of it.
Jesus Christ responds to their request by calling them to act on the faith that they have already. By comparing it to a seed which has life within it and the potential to grow, faith is depicted as a gift from God that grows and is strengthened by actually acting on what is believed. The Gospel shows us how we can grow in this faith relationship with God.
First, we must pray to God incessantly for the gift of faith, “Lord, increase our faith.” We must be convinced of the gratuitousness of faith – faith is a gift, to act by faith is a gift, and the reward of living our faith is itself a gift from God. As beggars without any right to reward, we should rightly say, “We are unprofitable servants.” Secondly, if faith must grow, then we must listen to God’s words to us with a readiness to act on it because “Faith comes from what is heard.”(Rom 10:17) We cannot grow in faith if we only listen to our own opinions, feelings, or public opinions and maxims. Thirdly, faith grows when we speak words of faith because we allow our faith to influence our thoughts and speech. We must face the challenges of our lives by speaking in the spirit of faith, “Be uprooted and planted in the sea.” Fourthly, faith grows when we humbly take the place of a servant who obeys and serves God in others because God deserves to be obeyed and served and not because we want to get something from God, “We have done what we were obliged to do.”
In the Second Reading, in the midst of all the challenges that the young bishop Timothy is facing, St. Paul calls on him to mature in what matters most – his relationship with God through the Spirit that God has given to Him, “Stir into flame the gift of God that you have through the imposition of my hands.” By growing in this relationship, Timothy can imitate St. Paul and serve and obey God no matter what he gets, “So do not be ashamed of your testimony to our Lord, nor of me, a prisoner for His sake.”
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, our faith in God remains the most important and useful thing in this life. It is our faith that makes us pleasing to God, “Without faith, we cannot please God.” (Heb 11:6) By the gift of our faith, the Father exclaims over us as He did over Jesus in His baptism, “This is my beloved son/daughter in whom I am well pleased.” (Mt 3:17) Things come and go in this world but our faith is what prevails, “This is the victory that overcomes the world, our faith.” (1Jn 5:4) We received this gift of faith in baptism. But we cannot have enough of this faith because we want an ever greater relationship with God and we were made for this.
There are many opportunities that God is providing for us today to grow in our relationship with Him in this world of pain and suffering. Are we making use of the many invitations to pray for ourselves and others before the throne of grace as we see all the sin, human sufferings, and death in our world? Are we soaking in the message of social media without any form of discernment about the truth of God’s words? Are we so occupied with our feelings and being accepted by others that we block out the voice of God? Do we speak with faith when we face difficulties in life or are we so quick to resign ourselves to a life of defeat and failure as if the power of God is not enough to deliver us from our woes? Have we made a conscious decision to obey and serve God in whatever way that He wills no matter what we get in return? Praying for more faith is good but not enough; faith is strengthened when we consistently act in faith.
Things will be viral, fascinating, and trending today and completely forgotten in short time. We will get tired of them sooner or later just as we are tired of Pokémon now because they cannot satisfy our hunger for the God who made us for relationship with Him by faith. But we will realize our need for more and more faith if we resolve to bear faithful witness to God’s love in a world of constant temptation, sin and selfishness.
The Eucharist is further proof that God is passionate about His relationship with us and His intense desire to communicate this faith to us. In every Eucharist, our faith is renewed and deepened because we come into contact with “the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.” His gift of faith also whets our appetite for more faith until we too cry out, “Lord, increase our faith!”
In our struggles and weakness to grow in this faith, let us turn to Mother Mary. Her fiat at the Annunciation was an unconditional “Yes” to obey and serve God whatever may come. She was praised by the Spirit-filled Elizabeth above all for her faith, “Blessed is she who believed what was spoken to her would be fulfilled.” Mary believed and spoke words of faith for others at the difficult moments of the wedding of Cana, “They have no wine.” She requested and received nothing for herself by her intercessory prayer and example. She moves us to follow her example and serve and obey God no matter what we get, “Do whatever He (Jesus) tells you.” She can bring this influence into our own lives too if we have confident recourse to her.
May Mary, the woman of heroic and steadfast faith, help us to hold on to our faith in God and to grow in it because it is the most important and useful thing in this life and we just cannot get enough of it.
Glory to Jesus!!! Honor to Mary!!!