The Evangelical Faith of Our Fathers
“Faith is a passion for the impossible” ~ Søren Kierkegaard
Today’s Gospel (Matthew 8:5-11) features the story of the faithful centurion, who upon being told by Jesus himself that he would promptly come to his home and heal his ailing servant, had this to say: “Lord, I am not worthy to have you enter under my roof; only say the word and my servant will be healed.”
It was this man’s faith that astounded and amazed Jesus, not his lofty standing in Capernaum where he lived and worked. “In no one in Israel have I found such faith,” Jesus goes so far as to say, proclaiming “I say to you, many will come from the east and the west, and will recline with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob at the banquet in the Kingdom of heaven,” thus foreshadowing the inclusivity and all-encompassing message of salvation that his coming would mean for both Jew and Gentile alike. Herein lies the Advent Message in a nutshell.
In our 1st Reading (Isaiah 4:2-6), we are reminded of the power of God’s glory, wherein the great Advent Prophet likens it to “a smoking cloud by day and a light of flaming fire by night... a shelter and protection: shade from the parching heat of day, refuge and cover from storm and rain.” It’s a passage rooted in hope, a yearning for long-awaited justice for the beleaguered and persecuted believers. Again, the Advent Message captured concisely and perfectly.
Our Catholic Church today, 1.2 billion members strong, exists and thrives because of the actions of those who fought in defense of our faith over the last two thousand years. Without their courageous actions, many of which culminated in martyrdom, our faith traditions would have withered away many years ago. Imagine if they had acted the way that many of us do at times, caving to the secular world, obsessed with pleasing people over God, not defending the Catholic Church? Imagine what the world will look like a thousand years from now if there are none left who are willing to continue to compete well for the faith?
Tomorrow the Church will recognize the Feast Day of Saint Francis Xavier, a Navarrese Catholic Missionary and founding member of the Society of Jesus. Saint Francis Xavier was a companion of Saint Ignatius of Loyola, one of the first 7 Jesuits, taking the vows of both chastity and poverty. Of the evangelical work that was his passion, he once said “Many, many people hereabouts are not becoming Christians for one reason only: there is nobody to make them Christians.” He on the other hand never shrunk from an evangelical challenge. “I want to be where there are our and our pagans” was his mantra. In tomorrow’s Gospel (Luke 10:21-24), Jesus tells his disciples “Blessed are the eyes that see what you see. For I say to you, many prophets and kings desired to see what you see, but did not see it, and to hear what you hear, but did not hear it. That’s us.
We are those among the blessed to have heard what others have not. In less than 25 days, there will be many people attending our churches who don’t otherwise do so, or perhaps haven’t done so in a very long time. We cannot squander this opportunity; evangelical opportunities like that don’t present themselves very often these days.
Welcome, or welcome back as the case may be, those who are newcomers, remind them about programs at your church which perhaps cater to fallen away Catholics in a way that addresses the issues and concerns that led to their departure from the church in the first place. Encourage them to consider the Sacrament of Reconciliation. We need them to reassume their roles as vibrant members of Christ’s mystical body. For as long as there is even one fallen away Catholic, we are not complete.
“O God, who through the preaching of Saint Francis Xavier won many peoples to yourself, grant that the hearts of the faithful may burn with the same zeal for the faith and that the Catholic Church May everywhere rejoice in an abundance of offspring.” ~ Amen