"Faith is the realization of what is hoped for"

Tom Bartolomeo
19th Sunday Ordinary C 2013
Wisdom 18, 6-9; Psalm 33;
Hebrews 11, 1-2, 8-19; Luke 12: 32-48
Reproduced with Permission

"Faith is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen." Did you find this statement from the author of the Book of Hebrews puzzling? (Hebrews 11, 1-2). When we hope for something we usually anticipate something in the future. How then can something hoped for become a "realization" and "evidence of things not seen"occurring now? Does this confirm that "seeing is believing." The very notion seems contradictory.

We read in the Book of Wisdom ( 18, 6-9) and the Gospel of Luke (12: 32-48) several examples of people who had 'realized' the benefits of faith, hope and charity in their lifetimes. Abraham and his son, Isaac, and his grandson, Jacob, for example, were each promised by God a life surpassing any other that they could not have imagined while what was promised them was not 'realized' for hundreds of years and what Saint Paul in one his letters had described " What eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor the man's heart imagined what God has prepared for those who love him". (1 Corinthians 2, 9). It is not as far fetched as we would imagine. A man or woman engaged to be married with enough faith, hope and love for one another can anticipate their new life so intensely that the effect becomes one and the same with the event of their marriage later on. It is more than allegory or prophesy for the person but a present reality.

Even in circumstances of pain it is possible as the woman who was in labor, Jesus spoke of, and was filled with joy anticipating a child who had not been born. Such is the power of deep faith, hope and love shared with others as Jesus himself did among us sharing his life for our redemption with his and our Father. Do we believe? Only fear and ignorance prevents its "realization". Some would say, Father, I believe but it doesn't feel real. I would say, ignore your feelings. They do not come from your spirit but from your body which is always at war with your spirit. Don't choose your dying body as your ally. What a terrible and fruitless mistake that would make. Once we orient our GPS to things above, our journey here below with all its detours and endless obstructions will be lightened. "Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light," said Jesus. (Matthew 11: 29-30).

Putting some flesh and bone on these matters let me share with you a recent experience. Yesterday, I was invited to give a forty five minute talk to the "Catholic Citizens of Illinois" in Chicago. Now don't be nervous, my homily will not be that long. It was truly an uplifting experience gathering with other Catholics imbued with a lively faith, hope and charity, the theological virtues which unite us with God. The gathering included two other priests, a religious sister and some sixty lay people. I realized that my reception didn't depend upon any eloquence of mine. For that they could have had many other speakers. I wouldn't call it a 'lovefest' but a gathering of people of one heart, mind and soul. Once, when Jesus was speaking to a crowd someone said, "Your mother and relatives are outside, asking for you, [then Jesus replied] 'Who are my mother and relatives?' And looking around on those who sat about him, he said, 'Here are my mother and my brethren! Whoever does the will of God is my brother, and sister, and mother'." (Mark 3, 31-35).

Although meeting for the first time we knew each other by our shared faith, hope and charity more profoundly than any blood ties. I had no sense of foreboding and neither did any of the others in attendance. Everyone at the meeting chose to be there, freely they had received God's favor and freely they shared it. The discussion which followed was animated and revealing. I became one inside the conversation of many gathering there. That doesn't often happen in a gathering of Catholics. How well do we know each other here, for instance? At what level does our faith, hope and charity complement each of us? During my talk I confessed that often I would rather have a conversation with a child than an adult. When you speak to a child, respectfully, he or she will listen attentively. That is not always the case with an adult who may have other things on his or her mind while they seem to listen which explains why children were Jesus' favorite people. "Let the children come to me [Jesus said], do not hinder them; for to such belongs the kingdom of God. . . . whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it. And he took them in his arms and blessed them . . . laying his hands upon them." (Mark 10, 14-16).

Small children readily adopt the faith of their parents and teachers until they observe their behavior later. They have an uncanny sense of authenticity, and can spot hypocrisy, instantaneously. In our gathering there was no distinction of persons by class or profession. We all really wanted to be there - not out of some servile sense of duty or exterior motive. We were open to each other sharing God's gifts of faith, hope and love without discussing the mundane matters of existence but the life we shared by virtue of God's presence among us.

The history of Abraham, our father in faith, recounted in the Book of Wisdom is a testament to God's favor for a people of faith, hope and charity. Over the course of human history many tribes and people have been absorbed by other people and nations which would have been the case with the Jews who out of desperation had to move to Egypt during a period of famine. Jacob, the grandson of Abraham entered Egypt with his small tribe of seventy souls, and four centuries later exited Egypt numbering more than two million people, four percent of the world's population at the time and united in one faith, hope and charity not just blood lines. Faith abounds where grace exists and with it hope and love. The oaths and covenants they had with God bound them together in a code of conduct. It became the foundation of the Ten Commandments and the law of Moses which united the Jews as a people and a nation.

Today when someone tells me he or she is Catholic I am not sure what he or she believes, hopes for and loves. For the Jews mandatory circumcision was the obligatory sign of their faith, ours are the promises we make at baptism. In Jesus' time the Jews always referred to themselves as sons and daughters of the God of Abraham and the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob not simply relatives of a human family. So much of Catholic teaching today is considered controversial by Catholics. I do not know how much of what I say in my homilies is acceptable to other Catholics especially in matters of pride and humility, worldliness and meekness, sensuality and "freedom of choice", marriage and divorce.

In the "Apostles' Creed" we proclaim our belief in a "communion of saints". Are they only individuals formally canonized by the Church? The Apostle Paul in his letters referred to his people thirty nine times as "saints", brothers and sisters in the faith who were made holy as God is holy. People who live in virtue of faith, hope and charity are not bricks or rafters in a church but "living stones" as Saint Peter described, people who live their lives consciously in a communion of saints within a Church of living stones. (1 Peter 2,5).