“Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved; whoever does not believe will be condemned.”
Many of our brothers and sisters in the Christian faith today are losing their faith for so many reasons. The faith may be lost because of tragedies in life, lack of practice of the faith over time, grave and strong temptations, scandals in the Church, unrepented sins, casual drifting away, broken relationships and divorce, sickness, etc. The rampant loss of faith in our times makes it appear that it is a much greater struggle to maintain and grow in the faith than to begin to believe in the first place.
In today’s Gospel, the risen Christ reminds His disciples who already believed in Him of the need to maintain their faith in Him in this world, “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved; whoever does not believe will be condemned.” No matter what we are experiencing in this life or the struggles we are facing, we cannot afford to lose our faith in the risen Christ that we received at the moment of our baptism. As long as we maintain our faith in Him, we would never stray from the path of salvation.
Today’s First Reading shows us two ways in which we can lose our faith in the risen Christ and His presence and action in our lives despite having His Spirit in us.
Firstly, our faith dwindles to the extent that we are moved in our lives by anything and everything except the instructions of Jesus. The Acts of the Apostles tells us that Jesus “gave instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom He had chosen.” We know that “Faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes by the preaching of Christ.”(Rom 10:17) When we live by faith in the risen Christ always, ready to act on His instructions without excuses or compromise, the light of faith is intensified in us and we are not left guessing about what to do in this life, “I am the light of the world; he who follows me will not walk in darkness but will have the light of life.”(Rom 8:12) Through the gift of His Spirit dwelling in our hearts, our risen Lord continues to give faith-enkindling instructions in our hearts today. The question is if we are being moved by these divine instructions or by something else.
Secondly, we lose our faith when we have no intention at all to give witness to Jesus constantly before others. We begin to experience the power of the risen Christ in our lives when we are determined to be His witnesses before others in every time and place. Jesus assured His disciples in today’s First Reading, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” When the disciples took up His challenge to be His witnesses who “proclaim the Gospel to every creature,” they experienced the power of the risen Christ with them, “But they went forth and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the word through accompanying signs.”
St. Paul reminds us in the Second Reading that we lose out on the amazing gifts that are ours from the glorious Ascension of Jesus Christ when we lose our faith in the risen Christ for whatever reason. We have access to firm hope, heavenly riches, and His invincible power in us only because Jesus Christ has ascended into heaven and the Father has “put all things beneath His feet and given Him as head over all things to the Church, which is His body, the fullness of the one who fills all things in every way,”
When our faith is lost, we also lose that “hope that belongs to His call,” we feel alone, heaven becomes a impossible pie in the sky for us, we become unsure that we will receive from Him all that we need to enter into heaven, our desire for heaven dwindles too and we become discouraged and despairing. When we lose our faith in the risen Christ, we lose a sense of the “riches of glory in His inheritance among the holy ones” and we forget that we are pilgrims in this world, accumulating and enjoying the things and pleasures of this world without thought or desire for the things of heaven. With our faith lost, we fail to experience the “surpassing greatness of His power for us who believe,” and we think and feel helpless and abandoned, completely unable to overcome the many struggles, trials, and temptations of this life.
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, we must never let our painful earthly experiences, sins or moral failures, or assault of the evil one quench the faith in the risen Christ that we received at baptism. This is our struggle of faith. Losing our faith in Jesus because of our condition or experiences in this world make us deserving of the gentle rebuke of St. Paul, “If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all men most to be pitied,”(1Cor 15:19)
The Ascension of Jesus, apart from being a source of joy and hope to us, reminds us of the imminent return of Christ in glory and challenges us to keep our faith in Jesus alive and growing till the very end. In the words of the angelic persons to the disciples at the moment of the Ascension, “Men of Galilee, why are you standing there looking at the sky? This Jesus who has been taken up from you into heaven will return in the same way as you have seen Him going into heaven.” The Catechism put it this way: “Since the Ascension Christ’s coming in glory has been imminent.”(CCC 673) He is coming soon to judge all of us based on how our faith received in baptism has matured in this life through all the trials and difficulties.
This is definitely not the time to lose our faith in Jesus but to struggle to grow in our faith in Jesus. This is the time to make sure that we are being moved more than anything else by His instructions received in prayer or in the Scriptures or in the Church and her infallible teaching. This is the time to let His words find room in our minds and hearts and change our ways of thinking and acting. This is the time to ensure that we are not being moved by public opinion, blind passions, human respect, mere sentiments or feelings, or desire for worldly gain.
This is also a time for us to examine the quality of our witness to Jesus before others. Are we willing to speak the saving truth of Jesus and show His love to others by our words and actions or are we crippled by the fear of being rejected, misunderstood, or labeled as bigots? Are we going to show the humble face of Jesus to others by our live of selfless service to all? Are we communicating to others the merciful face of Jesus who forgave others constantly? Are we going to be the good examples of Jesus’ redeeming love to our world that alone brings hope to others?
Our Eucharist is always a communion with Jesus Christ, the “Author and perfecter of our faith.”(Heb 12:2) No matter our condition or experiences in life today, Jesus comes silently to strengthen in us that baptismal faith by continuously instructing and empowering us for witness to Him through His Spirit. He once lamented to His followers, “When the Son of Man comes will He find faith on earth?”(Lk 18:8) If Jesus returns in glory now, will He find faith in our hearts or will He find us faithless because of our life’s experiences? Our answer to this question will determine our salvation because “whoever does not believe will be condemned.”
Glory to Jesus! Honor to Mary!