FAITH SEEKING UNDERSTANDING
SCRIPTURE READINGS: [Heb 11:1 -7; Ps 145:2-5, 10-11; Mk 9:2 -13 ]
In the first reading, the author of Hebrews in chapter 11 speaks on the theme of faith. Without faith, one cannot believe in God. “Only faith can guarantee the blessings that we hope for, or prove the existence of the realities that at present remain unseen. It was for faith that our ancestors were commended.” Faith is one of the three theological gifts. The author makes it clear that “it is impossible to please God without faith, since anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and rewards those who try to find him.” God only reveals Himself to those who have faith in Him. Consequently, faith in the existence of God cannot be proven. The creation of the world by the Word of God requires faith as there is “no apparent cause (that) can account for the things we can see.” Faith is to believe in things unseen.
The author highlights to us the faith of our Fathers, particularly that of Abel, Enoch and Noah. “It was because of his faith that Abel offered God a better sacrifice than Cain. It was because of his faith that Enoch was taken up and did not have to experience death. It was through his faith that Noah, when he had been warned by God of something that had never been seen before, felt a holy fear and built an ark to save his family.” All of them believed in God.
But faith is more than just trust. It is to act out what we believe. In the case of Abel, “he was declared to be righteous when God made acknowledgement of his offerings.” Similarly, Enoch “was not to be found because God had taken him. This was because before his assumption it is attested that he had pleased God.” As in the case of Noah, it was because of his faith that “the world was convicted, and he was able to claim the righteousness which is the reward of faith.” Faith therefore must be expressed in righteous living in truth and in love. It is not merely a sentimental trust in God. It is not enough to say I have faith in God. As St James says, “Someone will say, ‘You have faith and I have works.’ Show me your faith apart from your works, and I by my works will show you my faith. You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe – and shudder. Do you want to be shown, you senseless person, that faith apart from works is barren? Was not our ancestor Abraham justified by works when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was brought to completion by the works.” (Jms 2:18-22)
In the gospel, we have the story of the Transfiguration. There they saw our Lord transfigured. “His clothes became dazzlingly white, whiter than any earthly bleacher could make them. Elijah appeared to them with Moses; and they were talking with Jesus. And a cloud came, covering them in shadow; and there came a voice from the cloud, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved. Listen to him.'” It must have been a radical experience of their lifetime to encounter the Lord in His glory that He was yet to receive. So much so, they kept returning to this scene to sustain them in their faith. “For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we had been eyewitnesses of his majesty. For he received honor and glory from God the Father when that voice was conveyed to him by the Majestic Glory, saying, ‘This is my Son, my Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.’ We ourselves heard this voice come from heaven, while we were with him on the holy mountain. So we have the prophetic message more fully confirmed.” (2 Pt 1:16-19) To see Jesus in His glory and to hear the voice of the Father affirming Jesus as His beloved Son was a testimony that could not be rejected or doubted. It was so clear and they were in a state of mystification. The question that arises for us is that did not the apostles have faith? That they saw this event, does it mean that they were called to believe not by faith since they had seen? Then how can we say that without faith, one cannot please God?
Indeed, many of us have our own religious experiences and even spectacular encounters with the Lord through prayer, contemplation and miracles. But to see is not yet to believe. This was what the Lord said to Thomas. “‘Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.’ Thomas answered him, ‘My Lord and my God!’ Jesus said to him, ‘Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.'” (Jn 20:27-29) Thomas too needed faith because having seen the Lord with the stigmata did not mean that he carried out what he demanded, that was, to put his finger in the mark of the nails and his hand in His side. On the contrary, he immediately concluded in faith and made the profession of faith, “My Lord and my God.”
We must therefore move to the next level of faith. There is still another level of faith which is to deepen our understanding of God. Faith is to believe without seeing. Secondly, we said that faith is to be demonstrated in active charity. Otherwise, we cannot say that we have faith in Jesus or in God and yet fail to live the way He has taught us how to live. When we believe in someone, we believe in all His words and teachings; and we desire to live out the life that Jesus, who is the Way to the Truth has shown us.
Thirdly, faith must grow and deepen through study, reflection and contemplation. This is what the Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation says. “For there is a growth in the understanding of the realities and the words which have been handed down. This happens through the contemplation and study made by believers, who treasure these things in their hearts (see Luke, 2:19, 51) through a penetrating understanding of the spiritual realities which they experience, and through the preaching of those who have received through Episcopal succession the sure gift of truth. For as the centuries succeed one another, the Church constantly moves forward toward the fullness of divine truth until the words of God reach their complete fulfillment in her.” (Dei Verbum, 8)
This was what happened to the apostles after the Transfiguration event. Although they saw, it did not mean that they fully understood the meaning of what they saw. This was the case of the disciples after encountering the Lord at the Transfiguration. More questions were raised than resolved through the experience. Hence, as they came down from the Mountain, they were wondering among themselves discussing “what ‘rising from the dead’ could mean.” They sought Jesus for clarification and said, “‘Why do the scribes say that Elijah has to come first?’ ‘True,’ he said ‘Elijah is to come first and to see that everything is as it should be; yet how is it that the scriptures say about the Son of Man that he is to suffer grievously and be treated with contempt? However, I tell you that Elijah has come and they have treated him as they pleased, just as the scriptures say about him.'” But they were still lost and unable to understand because the time has not yet come.
Of course, this faith can grow only through the help of the Holy Spirit. This is what the Lord promised us when He told the disciples, “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.” (Jn 16:12f) The Constitution on Divine Revelation explains this growth in faith. “The ‘obedience of faith’ (Rom. 16:26; see 1:5; 2 Cor 10:5-6) is to be given to God who reveals, an obedience by which man commits his whole self freely to God, offering the full submission of intellect and will to God who reveals, and freely assenting to the truth revealed by Him. To make this act of faith, the grace of God and the interior help of the Holy Spirit must precede and assist, moving the heart and turning it to God, opening the eyes of the mind and giving joy and ease to everyone in assenting to the truth and believing it. To bring about an ever deeper understanding of revelation the same Holy Spirit constantly brings faith to completion by His gifts.” (Dei Verbum, 5) Hence, faith begins with an act of trust, then expressed in charity and action, followed by an ongoing deepening of faith daily.
Written by The Most Rev William Goh, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore © All Rights Reserved
Best Practices for Using the Daily Scripture Reflections
- Encounter God through the spirit of prayer and the scripture by reflecting and praying the Word of God daily. The purpose is to bring you to prayer and to a deeper union with the Lord on the level of the heart.
- Daily reflections when archived will lead many to accumulate all the reflections of the week and pray in one sitting. This will compromise your capacity to enter deeply into the Word of God, as the tendency is to read for knowledge rather than a prayerful reading of the Word for the purpose of developing a personal and affective relationship with the Lord.
- It is more important to pray deeply, not read widely. The current reflections of the day would be more than sufficient for anyone who wants to pray deeply and be led into an intimacy with the Lord.
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