Tag Archives: faith

The Faith of Abraham

Abraham and Isaac
Roman catacombs, 3rd century

What does it mean to believe? Abraham is “our father in faith.” We read his story from the Book of Genesis at the Easter Vigil, where it appears as a key reading, and in odd years from Monday of the 12th week of the year to Thursday of the 13th week of the year.

First, faith is a gift by which God invites us to a life far beyond what we have now. “The Lord said to Abram: ‘Go forth from the land of your kinsfolk and from your father’s house to a land I will show you.’” It’s not a land we discover, but a land God shows us. We must leave a land we know and enter a land unknown.

Faith’s a gift, but also a challenge. Genesis 22,1-19 begins: “God put Abraham to the test.” There would be no greater test for Abraham than to take his son, Isaac, “your only one, whom you love,” and go up a high mountain and “offer him up as a burnt offering.”

Intimations of the Passion of Jesus are here: “the high mountain… the only son, whom you love.” Approaching the mountain, Abraham takes “the wood for the burnt offering and laid it on his son Isaac’s shoulders.” “God will provide the sheep.” Abraham tells Isaac. He builds an altar and arranges the wood. “Next he ties up his son Isaac, and put him on top of the wood on the altar.” All suggesting the Passion of Jesus.

But when Abraham takes his knife, God stops him. “I know how devoted you are. You did not withhold from me your beloved son.” And God blesses him. “I will bless you abundantly and make your descendants as the stars of the sky and the sands of the sea.”

The Letter to the Hebrews says, “By faith Abraham, when put to the test, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was ready to offer his only son of whom it was said, ‘Through Isaac descendants shall bear your name.’ He reasoned that God was able to raise even from the dead and he received Isaac back as a symbol.” (Hebrews 11,18-19)

“He reasoned that God was able to raise even from the dead.” He faces sadness and cruelty. He’s not a dumb executioner, immune to what he was to do, but “he reasoned,” he believed deep within that God was a God of life. Like Jesus, Abraham faced an absurd death like this, and he believed in a God of love and promise. Like Jesus, his answer was “Not my will, but yours be done.”

The commentator in the New American Bible describes Abraham’s test. “… after the successful completion of the test, he has only to buy a burial site for Sarah and find a wife for Isaac. The story is widely recognized as a literary masterpiece, depicting in a few lines God as the absolute Lord, inscrutable yet ultimately gracious, and Abraham, acting in moral grandeur as the great ancestor of Israel. Abraham speaks simply, with none of the wordy evasions of chapters 12 and 21.  The style is laconic; motivations and thoughts are not explained, and the reader cannot but wonder at the scene.

We ask for Abraham’s faith.

Abraham’s sacrifice is portrayed frequently in the Christian catacombs of Rome, where believers also faced the mystery of death. (above)

A medieval book for artists, “Speculum humanae salvationis,” the prime resource medieval artists used for comparing New Testament stories with the Old Testament, pairs the story of Abraham bringing Isaac to be sacrificed with the story of Jesus carrying his cross to Calvary, as shown in the example below:

abraham Passion

Going to God through Questions

Thomas

Today, July 3rd, we remember Thomas, the apostle. We’re tempted to think that belief does away with troublesome questions and protects us from an unbelieving world. Does belief make our way to God smooth and undisturbed? Not so, Thomas reminds us; he found faith through his questions and placing his finger into the wounds of Christ.

Gregory the Great reminds us today of the importance of Thomas the Apostle.

“In a marvellous way God’s mercy arranged that the disbelieving disciple, in touching the wounds of his master’s body, should heal our wounds of disbelief. The disbelief of Thomas has done more for our faith than the faith of the other disciples. As he touches Christ and is won over to belief, every doubt is cast aside and our faith is strengthened. So the disciple who doubted, then felt Christ’s wounds, becomes a witness to the reality of the resurrection.”

That’s an interesting statement, isn’t it? “The disbelief of Thomas has done more for our faith than the faith of the other disciples.”

We go to God through questions, and some troubles too. We’re healed by touching the wounds of Christ.

Grant, almighty God,
that we may glory in the Feast of the blessed apostle Thomas, so that we may always be sustained by his intercession
and, believing, may have life
in the name of Jesus Christ your son,
whom Thomas acknowledged as the lord.
Who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the holy spirit, one God, for ever and ever.

Abraham, The Unwavering Nomad

We call Abraham “Our father in faith” in our 1st Eucharistic Prayer. That’s because Abraham believed when God called him to leave his own land and go to a land he did not know. He believed in God’s call.

A pastoral nomad, sometimes settling down but then moving on. Abraham was on the move, on the way to a permanent home. That’s us too. Abraham trusted in God rather than in himself. As an old man, he believed God who said he would generate a child.

The great patriarch was tested. Faith grows through testing. Abraham’s greatest test came when God asked him to sacrifice his only son Isaac.

My favorite reflection on Abraham is Jessica Power’s beautiful poem:

“I love Abraham, that old weather-beaten
unwavering nomad; when God called to him
no tender hand wedged time into his stay.
His faith erupted him into a way
far-off and strange. How many miles are there
from Ur to Haran? Where does Canaan lie,
or slow mysterious Egypt sit and wait?
How could he think his ancient thigh would bear
nations, or how consent that Isaac die,
with never an outcry nor an anguished prayer?

I think, alas, how I manipulate
dates and decisions, pull apart the dark
dally with doubts here and with counsel there,
take out old maps and stare.
Was there a call after all, my fears remark.
I cry out: Abraham, old nomad you,
are you my father? Come to me in pity.
Mine is a far and lonely journey, too.

The Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Visitation
Faith gives life and sends us on a mission. That’s what it did for Mary, Luke’s gospel says.

Mary believes the angel who announces in Nazareth the coming of Jesus, and she’s empowered by the message. So,  she sets out “in haste” for the hill country of Judea to visit Elizabeth, the wife of Zechariah, who also was with child. It’s not an ordinary visit. She goes “in haste” because she’s filled with a sense of mission. She hurries to Judea to announce good news to her relatives serving in the temple of God.

Faith is not a burden; it empowers us. It does not cripple us, it enables.

 “Blessed are you who believed,” Elizabeth says to Mary.

“You too, my people, are blessed,” comments St. Ambrose, “ you who have heard and who believe. Every soul that believes — that soul both conceives and gives birth to the Word of God and recognizes his works.

“Let the soul of Mary be in each one of you, to proclaim the greatness of the Lord. Let the spirit of Mary be in each one of you, to rejoice in God. According to the flesh only one woman can be the mother of Christ, but in the world of faith Christ is the fruit of all of us.”

As with Mary so with us, faith gives life and sends us on a mission..

A year ago today we blessed our Mary Garden here. We will pray there after the 11 AM Mass.

The Easter Season: a School of Faith

Nicodemus

Nicodemus reminds us that faith doesn’t depend on how sharp our minds are or how many books we’ve read. Faith is God’s gift to us. We are all still in the school of faith.

On Friday of the Second Week of Easter we begin reading from John’s gospel about Jesus multiplying the loaves and fish near the Sea of Galilee. (John 6) There’s a lot of unbelief in the crowd that Jesus feeds, according to John. “Many of his disciples drew back and no longer went about with him,” . Besides those who radically reject Jesus’ claim to be the bread come down from heaven,  others appear to have little appreciation for this great sign. Commentators suspect this this section of John’s gospel may indicate there were troubles over the Eucharist and over the identity of Jesus in the churches John is writing for.

Most of the gospel readings for the last weeks of the Easter season are taken from the Farewell Discourse in John’s gospel. There too the disciples seem far from perfect. They’re fearful, they seem to understand Jesus so little. He calls them “little children,”  not far removed from the children making their Communion this season.

There are no perfect believers  in the gospels of our Easter season. Plenty of imperfect believers, like us, which tells us that faith is something to pray and struggle for. More importantly, they reveal the goodness of Jesus, who showed the wounds in his hands and his side to Thomas, who never dismissed Nicodemus to the night, who came to table with his disciples and fed them again, who called them “his own” and prayed that they would not fail.

We’re in a school of faith in the Easter season where the Risen Christ speaks to us in signs like water, bread and wine, words that promise a world beyond ours and teach us how to live in our world today.  He is our Teacher and Lord.

Wednesday, 5th Week of Lent

Lent 1
Readings
Those listening to Jesus teaching in the temple area claim that they’re “descendants of Abraham.”(John 8,31-42) As they look at the splendid buildings of the temple, its well-ordered worship, the structures of ancient tradition they know so well, they probably ask: “Why listen to this man? We have everything God promised to Abraham; they’re automatically ours”.

But God’s promises are not automatic, Jesus says. “If you were the children of Abraham you would be doing the works of Abraham.” The great patriarch, a nomad, found the truth as it was revealed from place to place. He discovered the works of God in time.

John’s gospel was written well after the temple and Jerusalem itself had been destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD. At that time were “descendants of Abraham”– Jews and Jewish-Christians– longing for the restoration and comfort of those ancient structures now gone? Does this gospel remind them that Abraham, “our father in faith,” ventured onto paths unknown. One greater than Abraham leads all of us now.

In fast moving times like ours, this gospel offers the same lesson. We’re called to have Abraham’s faith, a mystic faith that seeks for light within? Two centuries ago, St. Paul of the Cross faced changing times by strongly urging those who sought his advice to center themselves in the unchanging One we meet “in spirit and truth.” God within is our teacher.

“Jesus will teach you. I don’t want you to indulge in vain imagery over this. Leave yourself free to take flight and rest in the Supreme Good, all consumed by fire, absorbed, beside itself and in admiration of the divine perfections, especially at the Infinite Goodness which made itself so small within our humanity.” (Letter 18)

O God, you are my God,
For you I long.
My body pines for you,
Like a dry, weary land without water. (Ps 63)

You guide my steps into the unknown. Lead me on.