Faith Is Not a Feeling (27st Sunday in Ordinary Time, year C, 2022-10-02)

Fr. Mikael Schink S.J.
27st Sunday in Ordinary Time (2022-10-02)
St. Eugenia Catholic Church
Luke 17:5–10

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

the theme of today’s readings is faith. In the first reading, we read the prophetic passage so central to the Apostle Paul (Rom. 1:17, Gal. 3:11, Heb. 10:38): ‘The just man shall live by faith’ (Hab. 2:4). This phrase signifies exactly what it says: through faith, we begin a new, supernatural life with God. Thus, John in the first chapter of his Gospel says that “to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God; who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” (John 1:12–13).

John speaks about the mystical rebirth by which we become children of God. Now, this takes place through faith and baptism as the sacrament of faith. The Christian life does not signify a bodily, material or corporal change: it is a change which takes place when we start to believe in Jesus Christ.

But what is faith? Unfortunately, an erroneous doctrine has become very common also in Catholic proclamation, namely that faith is nothing but a kind of trust in God, ultimately a religious feeling without any cognitive content. Such a doctrine is very practical if one wishes to bypass all controversial Christian teaching, because if faith is ultimately about trust, it doesn’t matter if I believe or not. The only important thing is that I have trust in God.

The second reading shows us the falsity of such a teaching is. Just to quote the second part of the text, Saint Paul writes: “Keep as your pattern the sound teaching you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. You have been trusted to look after something precious; guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us.” (2 Tim. 1:13–14)

Faith is not only about trusting God, it also has a distinct cognitive content, namely “the sound teaching” about Jesus Christ. We are to guard this teaching as something precious. If we want to be divinized, if we want to be united with God, we must therefore keep and live by the teaching of Christ, who continues to teach us even today through his body, the Catholic Church.

Considering the fact that faith is the beginning of the Christian life it is not surprising that we can hear the apostles ask the Lord in today’s Gospel “increase our faith” (Luke 17:5). This is a very common question also today. How many times does one as a priest not hear questions like: “How can I improve my prayer life?”, “How can come closer to God?”, “How can I advance in the spiritual life?”

The Lord begins his answer by the comparison of faith to the mustard seed. The point of the image is not only that faith produces the “miracle” of raising us to a divine state but perhaps more properly the fact that the mulberry tree, if the apostles would say :”Be uprooted and planted in the sea,” it would actually “obey” them. (Luke 17:6)

Faith is not only the beginning of eternal life in the sense that it makes us “partakers of the divine nature” as Saint Peter says in his second letter (2 Pet. 1:4), it is also the beginning of justification. And so, for the one who believes in God, all his lower faculties will obey him and: his will and his passions will be ordered to God as the ultimate end.

But this is only possible on the basis of another obedience. The just man shall live by faith, but only if he submits to another kind of obedience, namely the obedience of Christ. So he says to us: “When you have done all you have been told to do, say, ‘We are merely servants: we have done no more than our duty.’”

Jesus doesn’t avoid the question of the apostles – how can we increase our faith – by speaking about obedience: rather, his point is that it is by being obedient and following him and his teaching that we will grow in faith. As it says in another place in the Gospel of Saint John: “He that follows me, does not walk in darkness”.

Let us therefore make it our chief aim in life to be obedient to God and to follow Christ so that we may grow in faith. Let us join the apostles and together with them pray: “Lord, increase our faith”. And let us look to the holy virgin Mary as an example, she who believed the angel and thereby received Christ not only through her faith but also to carry him in her own body. + Amen

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