An ever vigilant faith

Al Cariño, OMI
Editor: Mindanao Cross
Reproduced with Permission

19th Sunday in ordinary times

In 1974 I was hospitalized for several months due to a spinal injury I suffered in a vehicular accident which rendered me permanently paralyzed from the waist down. When I felt better, I said Mass on wheelchair every night in one of the bigger wards of the hospital. After Mass, I brought Communion to other patients in their wards and rooms.

During one of those Masses, I noticed that one of the patients — a beautiful girl of about 15 — was crying. She had cancer of the bones. After Mass, I went to her bedside to talk with her. When I asked why she was crying, she told me that she was in great pain even though she was just injected with a pain killer. To distract her, I teased her about her crying. I even quoted to her the saying that it took sixty muscles to frown but only ten to smile. She was a bright girl. She got my point right away. Shortly thereafter, she smiled through her tears. Never in my life had I seen a more beautiful smile!

But despite all her medicines and the loving care given her by her family, she got worse. Eventually, she was brought home. I was informed that she died a short time thereafter.

In the short time I knew her, I found out that she was a lively and courageous girl. She often had that sweet smile on her face. She hardly talked about her pains. Instead, she talked about the time she would get well, return home and resume her studies. What was the secret of her courage?

Having come from a very devout family, she took to heart, perhaps even without being conscious of it, what Jesus said in the gospel reading (Lk. 12: 32–48): “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be.” In practical terms, Jesus was telling her and us that if we want to know what is in our heart, all we have to do is look into our treasure boxes. It would not be difficult to discover what the little girl's treasure box contains: “Do not be afraid... for your Father is pleased to give you the kingdom... that no thief can reach nor moth destroy.” Her heart was set only on the Father and His gift of the Kingdom and nothing, not her pains, could separate her from Him. From her sick bed, I could sense the message she was sending: “I am not waiting for death but for life.” Having overcome the fear of death, she was looking forward to be with Jesus, the Giver of true life.

St John of the Cross once wrote: “You possess God to the extent that you desire Him.” This was also the message of St. Paul centuries back as we see in the second reading (Heb. 11:1–2.8–19): “Desire a homeland, a heavenly one.” The beginning of any spiritual journey is the desire to possess Christ which inevitably leads to participation in His mission. Then only will the “homeland, a heavenly one” — Jesus' promised Kingdom — become ours. Jesus blesses those who live with this desire: “Blessed are those servants whom the master finds vigilant on his arrival.”

As Christians, we have been gifted with faith. To have faith is to learn that life is more than what we can make of it; it is more than fulfilling our potentials and abilities. Faith is learning to live the life we received from the hand of the One Whom Jesus taught us to call “Father.”

Faith is inseparably linked with vigilance. One who is in the state of vigilance stands ready for the unexpected. A vigilant faith has nothing to do with passive waiting. Rather, it demands great attention to what may happen, to what is coming, and an immediate readiness “to open the door as soon as the master comes and knocks.”

Understanding vigilant faith thus, there is no doubt that our sweet little girl had it. For as Jesus said, “By their fruits you shall them.”

It is not easy to be vigilant, to be open to the unexpected, to have all our senses always active and sharp in expectation for the coming of the Master. It is not easy to stand up to the social pressure of doing what is “in.” It is not easy to be unaffected by the media barrage that promotes the Epicurean but unchristian message of “pleasure now” as the only thing that counts in life — the easy life, a life of giving in to the desires of our senses as epitomized by the ad, “Respect your thirst.” To be vigilant is to take our faith seriously and live it daily.

Knowing our human weakness, it is not easy to be always vigilant, to live one's faith day in and day out — at home, in school, or in our workplaces — in eager anticipation for the return of the Master. But we can overcome this human tendency if we take to heart what Jesus said: “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

Just like the sick young girl in our story, let us always set our heart on Jesus and on the Kingdom He has gifted us with and which is in store for those of us whose faith is ever vigilant.