Happy the person who does not lose faith in me

Third Sunday of Advent (A)

There always remains an element of mystery about the presence and work of Christ in us and in the world.

Even John the Baptist who so clearly proclaimed that the Messiah was nigh and who readily pointed out Jesus of Nazareth to his disciples saying, “there is the lamb of God”, seems to have had a moment of doubt as he languished in prison.

St Matthew tells us that while imprisoned by Herod he heard of what Jesus was doing and sent his disciples to ask, “Are you the one who is to come, or have we to wait for someone else?”.

This seems an extraordinary moment of uncertainty on the part of John the Baptist. We can only wonder as to what led to the crisis in confidence. His whole life had been oriented towards preparing the hearts of the people to accept their saviour when he arrived.

However, it does reveal something important about the nature of faith. Faith, like all virtues, is fragile. We can know moments of great confidence inspired by our faith.

We feel on top of a mountain and can see all things clearly because of our faith. However, we can also know moments of doubt, of uncertainty, of confusion. It is as though a cloud has come over us and we can no longer see clearly.

There are clear days on the top of Mount Wellington and all is clear to see below. Then other days at the pinnacle all is lost in cloud.

We understand that faith as a supernatural virtue is a gift. It is a gift of God. It is a work of the Spirit in us. St Paul said that we cannot even say that Jesus is Lord without the prompting of the Holy Spirit. Faith is a spiritual as against a natural virtue.

The Catholic Catechism teaches, “When St Peter confessed that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God, Jesus declared to him that this revelation did not come ‘from flesh and blood’, but from ‘my Father who is in heaven’”. It adds, “Faith is a gift of God, a supernatural virtue infused by him” (CCC 153).

Faith is born in us by the Holy Spirit, but it is subject to our own response. We live amidst a culture that throws up all sorts of varying messages. We are exposed to 24/7 news cycles.

We are saturated by social media commentary. We are enticed by all sorts of advertising and promotion of ideologies. Our culture is shifting from its foundations in Christianity and all sorts of alternative views on life are imposed on us.

Having a simple and trusting faith is not that easy. The Church, through the Catholic Catechism, understands that faith is deeply human. It flows though our entire being.

It says, “believing is an authentically human act. Trusting in God and cleaving to the truths he has revealed is contrary neither to human freedom nor to human reason” (CCC 154). Thus, we must make our own personal assent to faith. It may, at times, mean that we affirm our faith even when everything seems to discount what we believe.

In the case of the question posed by the disciples of John the Baptist Jesus responds by urging them to report back to him what they witness about his ministry – the blind see, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised. The Lord then adds, “Happy is the man who does not lose faith in me”.

At Christmas we celebrate the birth of Jesus whom we believe to be both Son of God and son of Mary. We believe God has become incarnate in the person of Jesus Christ. It is both a wondrous truth and a daring act of faith.

We declare our belief before a sceptical world which is moving more and more into the shadows of unbelief. There are now large cohorts of people who would say that they do not believe in God, and who would reject our claims about Jesus.

Faith is a beautiful gift. It brings joy and consolation to human life. It does require a certain humility and trust so that it grows within us and washes over our souls. The Lord commented that faith is often denied to the learned and clever and given to those who have a childlike disposition of heart (see Mt 11:25).

In a few weeks we will be invited to gaze upon the crib, a scene of a stable revealing a mother and child, with St Joseph standing quietly in the background. Shepherds have come down from the hills nearby. The proclamation of the angels to shepherds rings out, “Glory to God in the highest, and peace to those of goodwill”.

It is indeed the revelation of the wonder of God’s love and mercy towards humanity. It is the promise that peace will come to those of goodwill who embrace this wondrous event.

Standing before a crib is a moment in which we can make our act of faith. We can declare quietly in our hearts that we believe that this child is the Son of God. In such a moment we embrace all that his birth means to us and to humanity whether it knows it or not.

In making this fresh affirmation of our faith, we are renewing our intention of living by that faith, of making it central to the conduct of our lives, of intending to be faithful disciples, and of being witnesses to the wonderful works of God to an unbelieving world.

And the Lord will say to us: Happy are you for not losing faith in me.

Archbishop Julian Porteous

Sunday, 11 December 2022

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