Bishop Glen John Provost
Bishop of Lake Charles
Homily for the 3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time
Sunday, January 25, 2009
Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception
“The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.” Mark 1:15
Jesus invites us to faith. “Believe in the gospel,” He says today (Mark 1:15). Then, He proceeds to invite His first apostles to that belief. He sees Simon and Andrew at their nets and says, “Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men” (Mark 1:17). Then, He walks a little farther and sees James and John and invites them to do the same. With a few words their lives are changed. With a few words they believe enough o drop everything and follow. What is this faith that is so powerful?
Perhaps the most eloquent definition of faith in the Scriptures is the one given in the Letter to the Hebrews. “Faith is the assurance of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). The object of faith is God. Through faith I come to know God, but there are different ways of knowing. In science, for example, I know because it is proven by experiment. Heat boils water. I know it because I see it. In opinion, I have an opinion about something because what I know is not proven and your opinion is as good as mine. In faith, however, what I know is neither proven by experiment nor is it simply my opinion. If faith were proven, then it would not be faith. “Faith is the assurance of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen.” Faith cannot be a matter of opinion either, because opinion implies that there is no “assurance” or “evidence.” If there were, there would be no opinion but certainty. Faith lies somewhere between science and opinion. In faith is found its own “assurance” and “evidence.”
Take, for example, the faith that a child has in his father and mother’s love. A child comes to know a parent’s love at a very, very early age. The parents caress the baby. They kiss, hug, and feed the baby. When the child grows older and does something wrong, the child hears the parents raise his or her voice, but the child still believes in the parent’s love. At what time can the child take a parent’s love and measure it? In what way can a child prove a parent’s love in a laboratory? That love simply defies proof. Yet, it is not a matter of opinion. My brother and sister do not share an opinion with me that our parents love us. It is not an opinion. We are certain that they love us. The constant demonstrations of that love—the care, the protection, the gifts—all of these give evidence of a thing not seen. And so it is with God.
As Jesus does in the Gospel today, God invites us to faith. God initiates the act of faith. What that invitation requires is our acceptance. In this it reaches completion. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church says, “Faith is first of all a personal adherence of man to God. At the same time, and inseparably, it is a free assent to the whole truth that God has revealed” (Catechism of the Catholic Church #150). Jesus proclaims, “Believe in the gospel”, and then invites the apostles, “Come after me.” They, in turn, freely drop everything and follow because they believe. They are not coerced. They respond generously. The greater the freedom is, the more generous the response. And this mystery, because it is a mystery, of invitation and response is repeated in the life of every believer.
In the act of faith, in the response of my believing, is revealed the work of a loving and personal God. Faith would be impossible without God’s initiative. I do not invent faith. God’s spirit seeks me out and touches me with His grace. As St. Paul writes, “No one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except by the Holy Spirit” (I Corinthians 12:3). God inserts himself into my life, beckons me with His love, and I accept the invitation. When I am invited to faith, this is the action of God’s grace in me. I do not initiate it nor do I invent it. That invitation to faith is a gift, and I accept it freely.
St. Paul calls it “the obedience of faith.” He writes, “Through him we have received the grace of apostleship, to bring about the obedience of faith” (Romans 1:5). I like that expression, because true obedience requires a free act.
A life of faith is a life of one act of obedience after another. When I profess faith, I make an act of obedience. An invitation is given, and I say “yes.” Just as in human relationships someone invites me to trust his or her intentions and I submit to the invitation, so at a supernatural level God invites and I obey. In doing this I am lost in God’s intention. I submit to God, and when I do, I experience a freedom to act in His grace.
I think the most beautiful prayer for faith is one contained in the Gospel of St. Mark. A father brings his son for Jesus to heal. The man ends his appeal by saying, “If you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” Jesus responds, “‘If you can!’ Everything is possible to one who has faith.” Then, the father makes his prayer, “I do believe, help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:22-24). The father professes his faith and then says if there is anything still lacking, take that too. With that prayer, an act of obedience is made that admits a total acceptance for what Jesus can do, and the miracle happens.
Faith elicits my freedom. Faith involves a response, the response of those who want to be free to the only one who can give them that freedom. Without freedom I cannot believe, and in faith I find my freedom.