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Fr Billy Swan

Dear friends. In a TV interview in the 1980’s, the late Cardinal Martini of Milan was once asked what his biggest fear was. Being the Cardinal Archbishop of one of the biggest dioceses in Europe, many expected him to speak of the financial burden, not enough clergy, the damaging effect of scandals or something similar. Instead, he answered with the haunting words of Jesus at the end of the Gospel this weekend: ‘When the Son of Man comes, will he find any faith on earth?’ This was his biggest fear – that people would no longer believe and that faith would fade away. We can all identify with this fear. Will the Church survive into the future? Yes, but only if she keeps faith. Here I would like to reflect on three features of the faith that is required today and that are contained within the Scripture readings of today’s Mass.

First, faith is a gift from God himself. We cannot come to faith on our own – ‘No one can come to me unless the Father draws them’ (John 6:44). We can lose faith on our own but cannot come to faith and remain believers without his grace. In the first reading, Israel is engaged in a fierce battle. Their success is determined by the intercession of Moses above them, armed with ‘the staff of God’. In order words, how they fared depended on a power great that their own. Faith today is fragile. It is challenged by many uncertainties in a world full of crises, anxieties and emergencies. But perhaps this is how it has always been. If faith is a struggle, then all the more reason to make our own the prayer of the man in Mark’s Gospel: ‘Lord, I believe, help my unbelief!’ Or the cry of Jesus from the cross: ‘My God my God, why have you forsaken me?’ Or to pray: ‘Lord, if you are there, show me signs that you exist and are at work. Hear my prayer as I present my needs before you’. If faith is taken for granted it will die. And even if we are on the point of giving up, our desire to believe is itself and act of faith.

Second, faith is engaging. It takes us forward to meet reality rather than removing us from it. Faith allows itself to be questioned and asks questions of its own. In the second reading today, Paul insists that faith is something to proclaim whether it is welcome or not. It is something that refutes falsehoods and corrects errors. It is also something that calls us back to what is really important in life and gives us perspective. Take the past week in Cresslough for example with the terrible tragedy that happened last friday. A light that stood out for me from the darkness of awful sadness was the leadership of Church to hold a struggling community together. Even The Irish Times acknowledged this with a headline ‘In the face of appalling suffering, secularism fades away and we turn toward a humble, loving Church for comfort’ (14th Oct. 2022). It’s not often that this paper captures the power of faith that gives birth to the hope we need.

Third, faith is persevering. It doesn’t give up at the first disappointment. Faith hangs in there and realizes that God’s ways and God’s timing are not like ours. The story that Jesus tells about the widow in today’s Gospel who persevered in her quest for justice is a warning to us that faith will change us, lead us and force us to wait. Faith expects that God will do something sometime if though we might not know how or when. Expectant faith is like that of Mary at Cana who instructed the stewards to ‘Do whatever he tells you’. She didn’t know what her son might do but she knew he would do something, which he did.

Friends, the quality of our faith determines the life of the Church more than anything else. History has shown that in the past when Christians relied on the power of faith then the Church was strongest and at her best. When she relied instead on privilege, worldly power or wealth then she was at her weakest despite giving the impression of the opposite. Faith can do great things but we can rightly fear with Cardinal Martini whether it will survive. May we pray for faith every day and never take it for granted; may it lead us deeper into the heart of living and even suffering; finally, may our expectant faith be purified by perseverance in the promises and love of him who will return as he said.


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