By Fr Edward Hopkins
This week the Church begins the “Year of Faith” called by Pope Benedict. October 11 marks the 50th anniversary of the 2nd Vatican Council. Why a year of Faith?
The Pope reminds us that we need to rediscover our journey of faith, which includes rediscovering a taste for feeding ourselves on the word of God. In his words:
“Whereas in the past it was possible to recognize a unitary cultural matrix, broadly accepted in its appeal to the content of the faith and the values inspired by it, today this no longer seems to be the case in large swathes of society, because of a profound crisis of faith that has affected many people.”
It causes me to think that all of us will admit that one thing Jesus repeated many, many times during his public life and is born witness to throughout the New Testament: it is necessary for us to have Faith in order to be saved. Accepting Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior is the most basic condition for our salvation. If this is true, would it not be worthwhile for us to reexamine our attitude toward faith?
A good start is to ask ourselves: “How do I approach Jesus?”
Our Gospel gives us 3 distinct approaches
First, we have the Pharisees who seem to lack sincerity in their questioning Jesus. Theirs is a question to test him, rather than sincerely looking for an answer. They seem already to know the answer. Yet they look to trip up the Teacher. They must have sensed that Jesus taught something different or rather something more than Moses. They come with a defensive attitude, jealously guarding their own position, their own ways, their own attachments, their own comfort zone. They are closed in on themselves.
But Jesus in turn hints at their flawed approach. He likens them to their ancestors who were “hard of heart”. They were not open but came with an attitude. How do we approach Jesus? Do we do so as if we were on the same level with him, as though we know better, as though he needs to prove himself? Are we afraid that we will have to change, give-in or lose some security or distraction that pretends to fill us? All this hardens the heart.
A hard heart is not open to be molded or formed by God. It clings with great insecurity to the things and people of this world. A hard heart is overprotective and finds it difficult to trust.
I think most of us are unsure how hard out heart is, a little like not knowing how much your own arteries may be clogging with cholesterol… One indicator might be to look at your prayer life. If you do not pray much or if when you pray you only mumble memorized words; if when you pray you have little sense of who you are speaking to; if you find it hard to really look the Lord in the eye as you speak to him; if you are more afraid of what he’ll ask rather than how much he loves you; if you seldom turn to him for guidance in your important life decisions or avoid quietly listening for an answer… These are all sign of a hardening heart.
The second approach is that of the disciples. They wait until they are safely inside alone with Our Lord to ask him about this challenging teaching. His answer reveals something of their attitudes. They are more open but they are looking at this question from a purely human angle. They don’t believe that most people can live together for a lifetime. And in a sense they are right. But Jesus points to God’s plan and to God’s love as the source of this law, of the nature of love and marriage. Love is by its nature unconditional.
Unconditional means indissoluble or an unbreakable covenant. But what is difficult and practically impossible for men is not impossible for God. What they miss is the role of God, of his grace in marriage and in life. Their faith is weak for while not resisting or defensive they lack a certain trust or surrender in their faith. We need to let God work in our lives and fill our weakness with his strength. So St Paul can say “when I am weak, I am strong.” His faith allows God to work when he can do no more.
Finally, we have a third approach presented by Jesus in a very deliberate fashion, after the first two imperfect faith attitudes are witnessed. He brings out a child and places it before them to make a point. Faith needs to be as simple and trusting as the attitude of a child. How many of us look to the Lord with this attitude?
I am sure some parents here today have a hard time understanding their own children’s lack of trust when they ask them to do what they know is best for them. They shake their heads, “don’t they know we love them and want the best for them?” Their resistance seems to come either from distrust or (at least with teens) a confidence that they know better. In either case, the distrust of fear seen in the disciples or the pride of knowing better seen in the Pharisees, there is little faith.
Jesus wants us to trust him. In fact, he knows we need strong faith to weather the storms and live life to the full. To this effect, he goes even further: “Whoever does not accept the Kingdom of Heaven like a child will not enter it.”
Marriage is a foretaste of heaven and a doorway to the Kingdom. We need the faith of a child to enter this Kingdom of love and persevere in love. WE need this faith to build Christ’s Kingdom in all the dimensions of our lives. Let’s take seriously our Lord’s challenge and give our faith more attention in this year of faith that begins. Let’s soften our hardened hearts and learn to live with a child’s trust, love and faith.