Sunday Sermon for August 11, 2019, the Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C

Readings: Wis 18:6-9; Heb 11:1-2, 8-19; Lk 12:32-48

In the readings today we hear about faith, its necessity and its reward.  St. Paul speaks of faith as “the realization of what is hoped for and the evidence of things not seen.”  He goes on to talk about Abraham, the Father of the Jewish Faith and of our Faith.  Abraham left his homeland after being called by God.  This was already an act of faith, but it was even greater since he did not even know where he was going.  God did not even tell him to go south or east; He just promised that He would tell Abraham where he was to go and show him what he would inherit. 

Abraham also had faith that God would fulfill the promise that he would have a son, an heir.  This looked impossible because Abraham was 99 and his wife, Sarah, was 89.  An unlikely couple to be having a baby!  But God’s promise was explicit, and Abraham believed.  After Isaac was born, Abraham’s faith was tested again when God called him to sacrifice Isaac.  St. Paul comments that when Abraham went forth willingly to offer his son, Abraham “reasoned that God was able to raise even from the dead.”  The point St. Paul is making is that God promised Abraham’s descendants would come through Isaac, not through another son.

In all these situations Abraham was victorious because of his faith, but he also saw the first fruits of his faith: he was in the Promised Land and he had the heir he desired.  However, St. Paul reminds us that there were other promises that would not be fulfilled in Abraham’s lifetime, or in the lifespan of the other Patriarchs.  St. Paul says that although they did not receive what God had promised, they saw it and greeted it from afar. 

We hear something similar in the first reading when the holy children of the good were secretly offering the Passover sacrifice when they were enslaved in Egypt.  For many generations the children of Israel did not see the fruit of their fidelity, but they remained faithful and were rewarded for their faith after they had died.  We can only imagine how difficult it was for those Israelites to remain faithful in Egypt when many of the people gave themselves over to the Egyptian ways and religion.  It is like the Catholics in Japan who remained faithful for 250 years with no priests to offer the Mass or bring them the Sacraments.  They baptized their children, taught them the Faith, and lived their Faith in a hidden manner in the midst of a culture in which being Catholic was persecuted. 

Today, even with the availability of priests and all the Sacraments, we are witnessing the tragedy of people walking away from the Lord.  Some will point to the scandals, but most are conforming themselves to the norms of our society that has rejected God.  Those who choose to remain faithful will not only be countercultural, they can be assured that they will be persecuted.  Perhaps being persecuted and living a heroic faith as a minority in society will strengthen our faith as it for the Israelites in Egypt or the Catholics in Japan.  After all, in the Gospel, Jesus did refer to His followers as a “little flock.” 

In a society that is anti-Christian, it is easy to fall away completely.  However, in a society that is predominantly Christian, even though it is easier to practice the Faith because it is not being persecuted, it is also easier for those who remain faithful to become complacent, to compromise.  When the Faith is under attack, the faithful must make an intentional choice to embrace the Faith and put it into practice or it will be lost; so, persecution keeps the faithful sharp and vigilant.

In the Gospel, Jesus alluded to this when He spoke of the master being delayed in returning from a wedding.  Some servants will take advantage of this situation by either becoming complacent or, far worse, by not living according to the teachings of the Faith.  In the parable Jesus gives, these servants begin to beat the other servants, to eat and drink, and get drunk.  In other words, they are not following the rules of the house and are doing harm to themselves and others.  This sounds like the situation in which we are living today.  Jesus has not returned; many, including those servants given positions of leadership, are abusing the other servants and violating the rules of the Master’s house. 

Jesus tells us He will deal with those servants who are unfaithful.  What is necessary for us is to remain faithful.  As tragic as our circumstances are right now, and they will become much worse, we need to be vigilant and always prepared for the Master’s arrival.

Fr. Altier’s column appears regularly in The Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly published in St. Paul, Minn. For information about subscribing to The Wanderer, please visit www.thewandererpress.com.

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