During the last sixty or seventy years there has been among us a tremendous loss in our willingness to trust others. Beginning with the Vietnam War and immediately thereafter with Watergate, our confidence and faith in our governmental leaders has demonstrably diminished. The huge increases in divorce are symptomatic of our general loss of trust in others. It was once believed that science and technology would make our world a better place, and education was supposed to be the key to making us better people. Education was supposed to cause us to respect others and treat others better than had been the case in past human history. But they all have failed us; we don’t trust them much any more to improve our human lot.
Presently we find ourselves with diminishing faith in our political institutions. Both the Congress and the Presidency are at all-time lows in terms of polls measuring the confidence that American voters have in them. In recent years there has been a crisis of faith in our Church leaders although that seems to be turning around due to the leadership of Pope Francis. Everywhere we hear of elevating hopes because of Pope Francis and his vision. Truly he is a good father figure for all Catholics… and some non-Catholics as well.
Then there is the faith required for successful human relations. Our everyday dealings with others depend on trust. Unfortunately, people betray that trust, either by momentary weakness, or by premeditated deception, or when they run hidden agendas on us. The corporate scandals of recent years show us that humans can deceive in monstrous ways. Because of such sad experiences, as we grow older, we become more circumspect and tend to have only a few really close friends. If we are not to wind up completely isolated we need to deliberately cultivate trust and refuse to abandon faith in others and have greater faith in God’s providence.
The prophet Habakkuk lived about 600 years before Christ, around the time of the Babylonian capture of Jerusalem. The Jews were in desperate shape, threatened by their enemies and falling apart internally. Their moral fiber was unraveling. Corruption beset them. Their religious practices had diminished to the point where they were only empty and formal rites which they merely externally observed. Spiritually they were in near collapse.
Habakkuk (1:2-3; 2:2-4) had the temerity to call God into an accounting, crying out:
How long, Lord, must I call for help, but you do not listen?
Or cry out to you, “Violence!” but you do not save?
Why do you make me look at injustice?
Why do you tolerate wrongdoing?
Destruction and violence are before me; there is strife, and conflict abounds.
Therefore the law is paralyzed, and justice never prevails.
The wicked hem in the righteous, so that justice is perverted.
How many of us have heard those words in our own day? How many of us have heard them whispered in our own hearts and souls?
If we mature enough spiritually to cast cynicism aside, if we reject constant mistrust of others, and if we throw away our perpetual attitudes of disbelief, life will quickly change for us. We will begin to see others, reality and life in a whole new way. Light will enter into our dark world. We will have moved mountains, the mountains of darkness that smother our hearts and souls.
One of the wonderful gifts that comes with being a priest is the continual encounters we priests have with people of faith. Many times I go into a home or into a hospital room where a person is dying. You might think that this would be a terrible scene, something very difficult to do. Usually, however, it is not. People of faith, in the midst of tears, are most often ready to let go and trust God to care for their loved ones. Many times the dying person himself or herself has such a deep faith that he or she radiates a peace in what would otherwise be empty despair and paralyzing fear of death. Many a priest realizes that he is among people whose service to the Lord is so strong that they serve the Lord even in crises, particularly in their own personal sufferings and crises. So often I realize that these same people have spent their lives saying their prayers, performing acts of Christian charity, coming to Mass, and receiving the Sacraments and living beautiful lives in their confidence and their faith in God. Their faith life is so strong in their daily lives that it is their sure support in all of their times of crises.
Let’s you and I now stand in the shoes of the apostles who in the Gospel of Luke (17:5-10) said to the Lord, “Increase our faith.” And let’s also hear Him say to us “If your faith the size of a mustard seed you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.” In other words Jesus is telling them, “Don’t let yourselves off the hook! You have plenty of faith to accomplish all I ask.” This text is often misinterpreted as meaning, “O ye of little faith!” as a put-down of the disciples for not even having the faith of a tiny seed. On the contrary! The disciples are suggesting that God needs to give them more faith. Jesus tells them that they have plenty of faith already. The text of the original Greek is clear that the sense of the “if” clause is the one that implies that the situation is already true. “If you have faith – and you DO!” is its meaning. It takes a faith just the size of the teensiest mustard seen to move aside mountains of cynicism and despair. Jesus is telling us, “You have plenty of faith to accomplish all I ask, so stop making excuses for yourselves.”
Today we need to take hold of the truth that we do have faith and that if we dare to use it we can change our lives. He’s telling us that we really don’t need more faith, we simply have it; it’s God’s gift to us and we should rely on it. If we do, we will be useful and productive.
If Republicans and Democrats recover faith in each other’s best intentions and if the President and the Congress do likewise, then there are no limits to the mountains they can move and to what they can accomplish. Do we believe in ourselves and in God, or do we rely only on our own power and our own politics?