07Aug 07 August. Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

As we admire our ancestors in the faith, we hope to share their faith in God’s direction of our own lives.

1st Reading: Wisdom 18:6-9

A lesson from the Exodus: whoever trusts in the Lord will not be disappointed

That night was made known beforehand to our ancestors, so that they might rejoice in sure knowledge of the oaths in which they trusted. The deliverance of the righteous and the destruction of their enemies were expected by your people. For by the same means by which you punished our enemies, you called us to yourself and glorified us. For in secret the holy children of good people offered sacrifices, and with one accord agreed to the divine law, so that the saints would share alike the same things, both blessings and dangers; and already they were singing the praises of the ancestors.

Second Reading: Hebrews 11:1-2, 8-19

In praise of faith, and of Abraham, our father in faith

(or, shorter version: 11:1-2. 8-12)

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. Indeed, by faith our ancestors received approval. By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to set out for a place that he was to receive as an inheritance; and he set out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he stayed for a time in the land he had been promised, as in a foreign land, living in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. For he looked forward to the city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God. By faith he received power of procreation, even though he was too old-and Sarah herself was barren ?” because he considered him faithful who had promised.

Therefore from one person, and this one as good as dead, descendants were born, “as many as the stars of heaven and as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore.” All of these died in faith without having received the promises, but from a distance they saw and greeted them. They confessed that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth, for people who speak in this way make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of the land that they had left behind, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one.

Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; indeed, he has prepared a city for them. By faith Abraham, when put to the test, offered up Isaac. He who had received the promises was ready to offer up his only son, of whom he had been told, “It is through Isaac that descendants shall be named for you.” He considered the fact that God is able even to raise someone from the dead-and figuratively speaking, he did receive him back.

Gospel: Luke 12:32-48

Fear not, little flock. But be vigilant, faithful

or, shorter version: 12:35-40

“Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit; be like those who are waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet, so that they may open the door for him as soon as he comes and knocks. Blessed are those slaves whom the master finds alert when he comes; truly I tell you, he will fasten his belt and have them sit down to eat, and he will come and serve them. If he comes during the middle of the night, or near dawn, and finds them so, blessed are those slaves. But know this: if the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.”

Peter said, “Lord, are you telling this parable for us or for everyone?” And the Lord said, “Who then is the faithful and prudent manager whom his master will put in charge of his slaves, to give them their allowance of food at the proper time? Blessed is that slave whom his master will find at work when he arrives. Truly I tell you,he will put that one in charge of all his possessions. But if that slave says to himself, ‘My master is delayed in coming,’ and if he begins to beat the other slaves, men and women, and to eat and drink and get drunk, the master of that slave will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour that he does not know, and will cut him in pieces, and put him with the unfaithful. That slave who knew what his master wanted, but did not prepare himself or do what was wanted, will receive a severe beating. But the one who did not know and did what deserved a beating will receive a light beating. From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required; and from the one o whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded.


A faith that is active

There is fairly widespread evidence of a crisis in the life of faith of many Catholics, even in what once was too complacently called “Holy Ireland.” It can be sparked off by different things, like the past cruelties of an unjust system, a disastrous love-relationship, family tensions, the tragic injury or death of friends. Sometimes religious feeling can wither as financial prosperity grows, and our need for God is stifled by feelings of self-sufficiency. Or new friendships that we make with nice people who hold no religious beliefs can make us feel that God really does not matter after all. On school retreats we used to hear that going through a questioning phase does not mean we have lost the faith. Questioning of faith can also be a growth point. A faith which is challenged can emerge as fuller and more genuine. It can mark the change from the comfort of childhood certainties to new horizons, when the young adult is searching for a deeper experience.

Faith is neither a purely intellectual nor a purely emotional attitude. It has an intellectual side, professing what we judge to be true; and in part it is a matter of responding to feelings; but these are a gift of the Spirit which moves us to give ourselves over to One greater than ourselves. If we hand ourselves over to this sense of God and let go of the illusion of being only for ourselves, it can bring us inner, spiritual growth.

Faith is a special form of knowing, as when we know a friend. It touches an awareness deep within us, an awareness of God’s presence guiding and helping us. It is the experience described about Abraham, Jesus and other great figures in the Bible. Faith is an on-going process, growing as we grow, changing as we change, maturing and we mature. Our childhood faith cannot sustain us in adulthood, though it can develope into one that stays with us through life.

Experiences of faith will be sporadic, and cannot be precisely programmed. We must be grateful if, at priveleged moments we feel God’s special presence, but at other times life will be confusing, full of darkness and doubt, with God silent and seemingly absent. And yet, even in times of confusion and loneliness, God really is there. This world is God’s and God really does know what is going on in it; other people are God’s people and when we dig deep enough, we can find God in them.

We need commitment more than ever

[José Antonio Pagola]

The first generations of Christians soon needed to ask themselves a decisive question. The return of the Risen Christ was delayed more than they had expectet at the beginning. The wait got long. How to keep their hope alive? How to not fall into frustration, weariness or discouragement?

In the Gospels we find various exhortations, parables and calls that have just one objective: keeping alive the sense of commitment among the Christian communities. One of the best known calls says it thus: «See that you have your belts done up and your lamps lit». What meaning can these words have for us, after 20 centuries of Christianity? The two images are very expressive. They indicate the attitude that the servants should have as they await the return of their master during the night, in order to open the door of the house at his call. They need to be there «with their belts done up», that is, with their sleeves rolled up to be able to move around and act with agility. They need to be there with «their lamps lit» in order to have the house lit up and to keep themselves awake.

Jesus’ words today are a call to live lucidly and responsibly, not falling into passivity or lethargy. In the Church’s history there are times when it gets dark. However that isn’t when we should turn off the lights and go to sleep. It’s the time to act once again, awaken our faith and keep walking toward the future, even in an old and tired Church. One of the most important obstacles in the way of pushing the transformation our Church needs today is the generalized passivity of Christians. Unfortunately, for many centuries now we have been taught, above all, to submit and be passive. Even today, sometimes it seems that we don’t see the need to think, project and promote new paths of faithfulness to Jesus.

That’s why we need to value and promote the awakening of a new conscience in many laity who today live out their adhesion to Christ and their belonging to the Church lucidly and responsibly. This is, without doubt, one of the strongest fruits of Vatican II, the first council that was concerned directly and explicitly about them. These believers today can be the leaven of our parishes and communities that are being renewed around the following of Jesus. They are the greatest potential for Christianity. We need them more than ever to build a Church that is both open to the problems of today’s world and that is close to actual men and women.

Obedient Faith

The story of Abraham proposes that faith in God can give our life serenity, security and deep joy. The great patriarch had such trust in God’s promise that it kept him going through life. We are impressed at how Abraham obeyed when God asked him to leave the past behind and launch out into an unknown future.

The Gospel reaffirms that a whoever belongs to Jesus need have no fear. People who makes God their treasure, and commit to Christ as our guide to living, see life as a journey leading to our true home where a loving Father is there to welcome us. If we can keep our eyes fixed on the vision that God has promised and attune our ears to the voice of God in the scriptures and in the events of daily life, we can live with confidence in his presence.

The same Gospel suggests that God also makes demands of us. If the saints in Scripture had many proofs of God’s love, they also experienced suffering both as individuals and as a race. Often their faith was seriously put to the test, like that of Abraham and his wife Sarah, when it seemed that the promise of children could never be realized. The spirituality of Abraham ruggedly trying out to follow God’s call in the obscurity of faith remains a template for Christian faith.

We don’t know in advance how God’s demanding love may make demands will clash with our selfish plans. We cannot know when personal illness, bereavement or some other trying experience will put us to the test. But we do know that our life will be a success if we set our hearts on values that go beyond all the transitory goods of this world. Our faith, like Abraham’s, is leading us onward, always pointing to something still to come, and at the end of our pilgrimage, like his, all God’s promises will be fulfilled.

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