Monday, 18 October 2010

Will he find faith on earth?

Allegory of Faith by Moretto da Brescia (c.1530s)

This homily was given on Sunday (XXIX per annum):

‘When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?’

This time last week, 33 men were trapped down a mineshaft in Chile. This week each of them was painstakingly lifted to safety to be reunited with their friends and families. After an astonishing length of time every single one of them has survived and is now recovering with nothing more than a few minor injuries.

In an interview following the rescue of the miners, a chaplain who had been involved with the pastoral care of the men said this:

“Many of the miners went down as atheists, unbelievers or semi-believers and they have come up to a man testifying that they were not 33 but that there were 34 down there - that Jesus was there with them and that they had a constant sense of his guidance and presence”.

Naturally the mainstream media have been somewhat sniffy about the role of God in the whole process. One certainly gets the sense that a good deal of Western, middle-class snobbery abounds in comments that couldn’t sound more patronizing if they tried. Any educated person from a proper country wouldn’t actually think that God could be involved – but isn’t it quaint?!

Well, dear friends, we know differently.

Christians believe that God is at work in each and every action, thought, word and deed. We believe that God is at the source and summit of every natural, supernatural and man-made act or event. We know this not through some sort of scientific experiment which produces a diagram to prove it but because we have been given the gift of Faith.

Faith is a twofold gift. It is, of course, a grace given by God so that we might more profoundly and deeply understand the unconditional love that the Father has for us, his children. But it is also an ‘obligation which flows from the first commandment of God’ to live in Charity (cf. CCC p. 879). This means that if we are to be people who profess our faith then we must be people who live by Faith.

It’s fairly obvious, I think you’ll agree, that a response to the gift of Faith is a fairly fundamental thing. If we have been given the ability to say ‘I believe’ with confidence, it makes sense for us to say ‘I believe’, just as the knowledge of God’s love for us forces us to thank him and to offer him worship: it’s the natural response.

The gift of Faith is given us at our baptism. But it is also at our baptism that we first receive the grace needed to respond to that gift.

In the sacraments—especially in baptism and the Eucharist—we are filled with the grace of God. At Confession, the absolution given through the priest renews that grace, just as at Ordination the grace of holy order is granted. Each of these sacramental actions portrays an outward and visible sign of an inward and invisible grace. These are actions of the Church.

Grace flows through the Church like a river, overflowing and spreading and flooding into every opening. Our communion with the Church ensures that grace is available to us and it is only through this that we are able to receive the gift of Faith and respond to it.

In other words: whilst our baptism is a guarantee of the gift of Faith, we need ongoing access to the sacraments—the ‘outlets’ of grace—in order to respond to it and to live out a full Christian life. We need the guarantee of the sacramental life of the Church to be Faith-full Christians.

What does this mean?

It means that we need an assurance that the sacraments we receive—the means of grace—are valid. This is what we call sacramental assurance. We need to know that when the priest says ‘The Body of Christ’, we can reply (in good conscience), ‘Amen’. That when the absolution is given in the confessional, we know that our sins are truly forgiven. That when the bishop lays hands on a candidate for holy orders, that the grace of God runs, unimpaired, into that man to 'consecrate him for his sacred duties'.

In the current mess in which the Church of England finds herself, it is vital that we continue to ask this question. Any compromise in the structure, the ecclesiology, the make-up of the Church is a compromise in the assurance that Christ communicates to us through the sacraments offered by it.

For us to know that we are receiving God’s grace in the sacraments of the Church is not a privilege or prize to be sought after, but an essential aspect of our faith as Christians.

Without the guarantee of the sacraments—without unimpaired access to the means of grace which flow through the Church—we cannot be truly people of Faith.

If our Faith is granted through the graces of sacramental actions, then it is through our participation in the sacraments that we must respond.

When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth? God willing, yes.

Will it be found amongst us as individuals and as a community? Let us continue to pray and work towards an unerring response by a faithful and determined resolution to seek out God’s grace and to cling to it as our life-blood and sustenance.

1 comment:

Fr. Simon said...

Good Homily. Thank you. Fr. S