My hat goes off to Rev. Peter John Cameron, O.P. Another great meditation from the Magnificat.
WE LIVE OUR LENT LIKE THE APOSTLES who beg Jesus, “Increase our faith” (Lk 17: 5). Christ makes clear that the amount of their faith does not matter. For with “faith the size of a mustard seed” they can carry out the most astonishing miracles. What the Lord reveals is that the “quantity” of our faith is not as important as actually living by faith.
The way faith works
So what does the request “increase our faith” really signify? It means that the apostles, through their encounter with Jesus Christ, have come to recognize there is something lacking in their lives for which Jesus is the Answer. This is the way faith works. Faith does not start inside us; it starts outside us. It starts from something that gets our attention and engages our reason, our heart, our freedom. These Twelve have been with the Lord as he cured the sick (Lk 7: 1-10), raised the dead (Lk 7: 11-17; Lk 8: 49-56), forgave sins (Lk 7: 36-50), calmed storms on the sea (Lk 8: 22-25), cast out demons (Lk 8: 26-39; Lk 9: 37-43), multiplied loaves for the multitudes (Lk 9: 10-17), and taught in powerful parables. “The essence of faith,” writes Pope Benedict XVI, “is not that I meet with something that has been thought up, but that here something meets me that is greater than anything we can think of for ourselves.”
Witnessing the countless wondrous works of Jesus Christ brings the apostles to a realization of their own powerlessness. They see in Jesus something that they do not possess in themselves. And they want to possess it. Even more, they want to be totally possessed by the Author of such wonders. Along with the apostles, we come to see that we do not simply have needs; we are need. To be human is to be boundless, expectant awaiting for the Infinite to come close to our life and to claim it. That is what the miracles of Jesus mean. That is what they promise. The need in our life does not invent this Exceptional Presence, but rather it enables us to acknowledge it. Those who do not perceive need to this degree do not feel the urge to reach faith.
Living by faith
The cry “increase our faith,” then, is really a plea that we be able to experience our need more deeply, sincerely, completely. It is a prayer that asks: When faced with my need – with the need that I am – do not let me be embarrassed by it, or make excuses for it, or deny it, or turn to self-reliance to try to deal with it. May my awareness of my neediness simply move me to confide myself to You with humility and trust. For “confidence” means “with faith.”
Our request for greater faith is an appeal to learn how to use whatever faith we have to its greatest advantage. Thus, to live by faith is to give up living by things that “we can think up for ourselves.” It means that we no longer want to live according to our own ideas, our emotions, or our preconceptions. If I am serious about living by faith, then I am resolved not to live by my anger, my whims, or my urges. I am not going to live impulsively or impetuously. I am not going to be ruled by self-assertiveness, but rather I am going to live according to the will of Another: “For me to live is Christ” (Phil 1: 21). “Faith,” Pope Benedict XVI tells us, “demands our whole existence, understanding, our will, our feelings, our love. It requires letting go of ourselves. It affects every domain of our existence, our whole self.” In this way, “faith is a perishing of the mere self and a resurrection of the true self.”
I still remember a story a seminarian told in a preaching class I taught several years ago. There was a prolonged drought in the Midwest, and the local priest asked his people to pray hard all week for rain. At the end of the week, they were to gather in a field near the church to thank God for hearing their prayers. The priest asked the people to bring with them items that represented their faith in God. The parishioners brought Bibles, statues of saints, rosaries, and crucifixes. But one little girl showed that she had the most faith of all. She brought an umbrella.
Rev. Peter John Cameron, O.P.