Saturday, August 10, 2013

Faith: 'What surrender will you make to God?' (Sunday homily)

Many years ago, I had a conversation with my brother. 
We were talking about the Catholic Faith, 
and I was explaining why I believed what I believe. 
And he said something that shocked me: 
“I don’t hear any faith.”

I had to think awhile about that 
before I realized what he was saying.
His point was that, in my explanations of what I believed, and why, 
I was making the case 
for how reasonable the Catholic Faith seemed to me.

And it is true: I have thought through what we profess;
And it does seem reasonable to me.

His point was that, if it’s all so reasonable, where’s the faith?

Saint Anselm is the one who coined the phrase, 
“faith seeking understanding.” 

He is one of a long line of Christian thinkers—
Really beginning with Saint Paul the Apostle,
But continuing, unbroken, down to the present—
who have taken what our Faith teaches, 
and pressed it through the sieve of their intellect.

Here’s the funny thing: down through the ages, 
there have always been those who claimed 
we Christians can’t handle a rigorous examination of our Faith.
It’s not true: Christianity gave birth to the scientific method 
and the great universities.

Yet here was my brother making the opposite point: 
that I’d organized my Faith 
into an elegant flow-chart of logical propositions.

And he was right!

As I said, that was, oh, maybe 20 years ago now.
Today, while I make no bones about professing the Catholic Faith—
in its entirety—I am readier to admit 
that there are some parts I find harder to explain.

That’s where the faith is. 

So, what are some things we can say about faith?

First, there is a seeking—a hunger.
Abraham went far and wide seeking the Lord.
St. Anselm, St. Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas, 
and so many others, went as far into the mystery of faith
as their great intellects could take them.

But then there is a humility, a submission, 
like that of the servant in the Gospel.

I mentioned St. Thomas Aquinas a moment ago.
As brilliant as he was—and he wrote prolifically—
there came a day, near the end of his life, 
when he had a vision; and after that, he wrote no more.
He said, “after what I’ve just seen, all I’ve written is like straw.”

Or we might think of another act of surrender by a saint—not so long ago.
So many of us remember Pope John Paul II.
When he became pope, he was vigorous and healthy;
what a contrast were his later years, 
when his back became stooped, he could no longer walk, 
his voice became slurred because of Parkinsons.

I’ll never forget the last time I saw him alive. 
It was Palm Sunday, 2005. 
He wasn’t able to offer Mass, but he came to the window to greet people.
They brought him a microphone, 
and you could see he was struggling to speak. 
In the end, he couldn’t say a word.

But he didn’t have to! His surrender to God,
That painful, obedient walk to the Calvary of his own death:
a thousand homilies couldn’t have been more eloquent.

So here we are.
In a few moments, as we always do, we’ll profess the Creed together.

It’s a ritual we enact: we say the words:
But what’s going on in our heads?
How much are we, like Saint Anselm, seeking to discover what they mean?

But in the end, it’s not about the mind, or even the heart, but the will:
Above all, what surrender will we make to God?


Steve Finnell said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Fr Martin Fox said...

Steve Finnell:

Post that nonsense on your own blog, not mine.