19th Sunday in Ordinary Time (What is Faith)

Do you have faith?

I suspect that most of us would say we do—perhaps without even thinking about it. But what exactly do we mean, when we say we have faith?

Today’s reading from the Letter to the Hebrews offers a definition: it says, “Faith is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen.” In this way, faith is unlike what we tend to associate with science, which is generally thought of as being built only upon things that are experienced or measurable. But let’s be clear, science makes its own assumptions on the permanence and uniformity of laws of nature. Even science takes a leap of faith on matters that it can’t prove.

And so the basis of our faith—that there is a God who always was, who made us in His image, who loves us, is with us, and has a beautiful plan for us—none of it can be proven or disproven scientifically.

Again, “Faith is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen.” We can understand that also to mean that we continue to believe in God’s promises for good things, even when we don’t see them brought to fulfillment. I think of so many saints who were faithful to what God was calling them to do, even if they never came to experience the fruits of their faithfulness in their lifetime. That’s faith. 

But another way I like to answer question of ‘What is faith?’ is by using the two-fold answer our catechism provides: it says faith is a gift, and a response (CCC, Glossary).

As St. Paul once said, “By grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not from you; it is the gift of God” (Eph 2:8). I remember an acquaintance once saying to me, “I wasn’t given the gift of faith”. I don’t agree with that. We’ve all received the gift, it’s just that some don’t bother to open it, perhaps because they’ve got too much other stuff that satisfies.

Or there are those who realize that the gift of faith requires work to understand it. It’s as though they unwrap the gift partially, not wanting to put the work into exploring it. Perhaps it would be like giving you a puzzle, that if you took the time to put it together, it would tell you I love you and why I do. Too many of us don’t bother opening the gift and thus we never advance beyond a First Communion level of understanding the faith: which tends to be shallow and lacking in meaning to us when we move into adulthood.

But our catechism says it’s also a response. Specifically, it says that the response involves the assent of one’s will and giving one’s self over to that mysterious and demanding gift. That’s why the Letter to the Hebrews speaks of Abraham. At some point, out of thin-air, God, previously unknown to him, spoke to him, and told him leave his home, to follow God’s promptings, and to trust that something good would come from it. That’s faith as a response.

Perhaps it can be said that one’s unwillingness to even unwrap the gift faith and to understand it, is itself a response. I think of faith as like a muscle: if you don’t use a muscle or feed it with nutrients, it will atrophy, it wastes away. So how do we strengthen faith, utilize it, and feed it? I’ll suggest five ways:

First, through prayer. Prayer is the way we connect with the One who is the source of our faith. Spend a few minutes talking to God every day. Make a holy hour each week. I have a hard time believing there is anyone here who can’t give an hour every week to come sit in the church and simply read, pray and be present with our Lord.

Secondly, feed your faith through the grace of the sacraments: particularly confession and the Eucharist. Come to daily Mass once a week. And make a sacramental confession at least quarterly throughout the year. Don’t let pride and fear keep you from the beautiful graces that will feed your faith.

Third, feed your faith through your consciousness. We can’t live on a diet of only what TV, YouTube and Instagram offer. Spend at least a few minutes every day either with spiritual reading or maybe listening to something that helps us you to better understand your faith: Sacred Heart radio, Formed.org, etc.

Fourth, have at least one person in your life regularly who models faithfulness or helps you to become a better Christian. Stay close to and keep before you, holy people.

Fifth, live like Jesus in the way you can. Bringing love and healing to the brokenness around you. Seek the Father’s will and live it out courageously, in humility, in simplicity.

Brothers and sisters, all these things are available to you at no cost. So, will you feed your faith or will it simply remain stuck or even worse, waste away? We are body and soul, so, while you may be physically healthy, you may be dying spiritually.

Faith is a gift to you, but it demands a response. In just a moment, as our God becomes present to us from this altar, it’s up to us to respond from within. Come forward as a true act of faith; respond and desire to receive the grace to strengthen that faith.