Many of us are jaded in our faith. We could be attending daily mass, praying the Office and involved in Church activities, yet we feel that God is so far away. Quite often, we do not know whether He is real, whether He truly cares and loves us.
Why are we jaded? This happens when we become sterile in our faith. It could be due to our disappointment with God for not fulfilling His promises. Or it could be that we feel He does not care. For most of us, we have become ritualistic in the practice of the faith, fulfilling obligations out of fear or simply a duty that we must do. Routine practice of the faith kills our dynamic relationship with God. All of us are tempted to be contented with a perfunctory observance of the faith, whether in prayer or even when participating in the liturgy, Mass or Divine Office. Being jaded in the faith will also affect our interpersonal relationships.
In today’s first reading, Sarah was jaded too. She was losing patience with God, after waiting so long for a child, and had apparently lost hope of the promise ever being fulfilled. She became cynical that such a thing could happen at all. In a nutshell, she had lost faith in God. This was certainly the case with the Jewish religious leaders as well. Instead of actively searching for the arrival of the Messiah, they were more contented with preserving the institutions, especially the religious practices, rather than focusing on their relationship with God.
This was not the case with Abram however. He never lost faith in God. On the contrary, he was always alert to the visitation of the Lord. So when the Lord came in the form of three men, he immediately invited them to his house and gave them a warm hospitality, making them feel comfortable and providing them with a sumptuous meal. He recognized them as coming from the Lord. As a consequence, he was reassured by them that the Lord would fulfill His promise of posterity to by giving him a child borne of Sarah.
Similarly, the people during the time of Jesus, except the Jewish leaders ironically, saw Him as the visitation of God. In Jesus, they saw the love and compassion of the Father. He was one of compassion and mercy, reflecting the tender love of the Father as encountered by Moses when God revealed Himself as “The Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin.” (Exodus 34:6) In the healing ministry of Jesus, we read how Jesus welcomed and healed all the sick. Besides restoring Peter’s mother-in-law back to health, he “cast out the spirits with a word and cured all who were sick.” The evangelist considered the work of Jesus as the fulfillment of the prophecy of Isaiah, “He took our sicknesses away and carried our diseases for us. (cf. Isa 53:4)
However, none could match the faith of the Centurion who asked Jesus to heal his servant who was sick and most probably dying. Although a pagan and a non-Jew and someone with authority, he humbled himself to approach Jesus. So great was his faith in Jesus’ authority to heal that when Jesus wanted to go to his house to cure his servant, he told Jesus, “Sir, I am not worthy to have you under my roof; just give the word and my servant will be cured.” The centurion counted himself unworthy for a Jew, and especially for a prophet of God, to enter his house. He had such great confidence in Jesus’ healing power to heal merely by His word and command. In other words, he confessed in Jesus as being truly from God, since God’s word is always efficacious.
Yes, if we want to encounter the Lord, we must not under-estimate the power of the Lord and His mercy for us. The Lord is challenging us as He did with Sarah when she was cynical about the power of God. She was laughing at the prospect of her giving birth in her old age. Yes, throughout the scriptures, the Lord said the same thing over and over again. The Lord assured Moses of His assistance when they were fighting with their enemies. He said, “Is the Lord’s arm too short? You will now see whether or not what I say will come true for you.” (Nm 11:3) Similarly, Isaiah reassured his people, “Behold the hand of the Lord is not shortened that it cannot save, neither is his ear heavy that it cannot hear.” (Isa 50:2; 59:1) Truly, to those who have faith nothing is impossible!
Indeed, this is the kind of living faith that is required of us. Faith in Christ and recognition of Him as the visitation of God brings healing in us. With this faith, God will come to live in our hearts. Isn’t this our experience at Mass during the communion rite when we say, “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.”? How great is our God who not only wants to heal us but to live in us!
With faith too, we see the Lord visiting us in the doctors, friends and in the events of our daily life. God is always visiting us through our fellowmen. The real problem is that we fail to see God working in and through people whom we encounter each day. Everyone is a potential instrument of God’s visitation. And everyone is equally a recipient of His visit to us. But without faith, we cannot see the ordinary and sometimes even the extra-ordinary events in life when God comes to affirm us of His love and mercy for Him. So we must never think that God has not visited us each day; it is rather because we fail to recognize Him coming to us – as a friend who encourages and advises us; our family members and loved ones who give us His love and intimacy; our fellow colleagues who challenge us to grow and realize our potential; and even our enemies, including impersonal ones, such as illnesses, misfortunes and misunderstandings, to purify our love and strengthen our faith in Him.
Remember the story about the man who claimed to have faith in God but was unable to recognize Him when God came to save him? Caught in a flood, he prayed fervently to God to save him. God sent a boatman to rescue him, but he refused, saying that God would come to rescue him. Then as the level of the flood grew higher, he climbed to the top of his roof. This time God sent a helicopter to rescue him, but he declined, because he was waiting for God to rescue him. As a result, he drowned. Upon seeing God, he complained to Him that He did not save him. God reprimanded him instead for rejecting His help that came through the various people He sent to help him.
Indeed, the Lord comes to us in so many ways, through nature, persons, and events and in our daily activities. Do you have the eyes of faith to recognize His coming, the same eyes that enabled Abram, the prophets and the centurion to see Him? If we find our faith lacking, it is because we have a fixated mind, like the Jewish leaders who were simply too proud or too cowardly, to allow God to surprise us. So let us keep ourselves alert to the visitation of God by not simply reading the scriptures but to read it anew from different perspectives; and to keep ourselves connected with Jesus through our personal relationship with Him in prayer and worship.
Written by The Most Rev William Goh Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore
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