“Empowered by faith.” That is how Paul describes Abraham in today’s first reading. That is the idea that moves all of Paul’s writings.
Faith is also the motivator in today’s Responsorial Psalm from Luke: “Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel; he has come to his people and set them free.”
And Faith is what Jesus is talking about in today’s Gospel parable, that faith in things, the things of this world, is death, while faith in what matters to God is life.
Today is the memorial of the North American Martyrs, St. René Goupil (1642), St. Isaac Jogues (1646), St. Jean de Lalande (1646), St. Antoine Daniel (1648), St. Jean de Brébeuf (1649), St. Noël Chabanel (1649), St. Charles Garnier (1649), and St. Gabriel Lalemant (1649) who were Jesuit missionaries working among the Wendats on the northern shore of Lake Ontario and Georgian Bay.
One question I always think about on martyr’s memorial days is what kind of faith did they have that allowed them willingly to sacrifice themselves in the face of death and dismemberment? St. John de Brébeuf wrote, “On receiving the blow of death, I shall accept it from your hands with the fullest delight and joy of spirit. For this reason, my beloved Jesus, and because of the surging joy which moves me, here and now I offer my blood and body and life.” Surely St. John knew very well the vicious and prolonged tortures inflicted by the northern indigenous peoples on their captives. And yet, he is willing to undergo these tortures for the sake of his Lord.
And St. Isaac Jogues, who was brutally tortured and then ransomed, willingly returned from France to Canada to work among his people…and to undergo torture again and then death.
And Paul says, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” He saw his voyage to Rome in chains as a triumphant journey.
Where do they get that kind of faith? Do I have it? How can I get it? These questions have gone through all of our minds at one time or another. But as we hear from our prior and our brothers and sisters in the Order, we must not compare.
But how can we not compare in the face of such faith and bravery?
Let me, struggling with this as I am, go back to today’s Gospel.
“Take care to guard against all greed,
for though one may be rich,
one’s life does not consist of possessions.”
Now I acknowledge that I can willingly forgo greed, am not rich, and do not desire a cornucopia of worldly possessions. But am I storing up the riches that matter to God?
That is what Jesus is talking about…what matters to God. And isn’t he saying that what matters to God is faith and love? And don’t all of today’s readings indicate that faith is what really matters and motivates us when we accept it?
So if we have that kind of faith, and love of God, then why would we need to cling to our “stuff” and our lives? Essentially, today’s messages are, in my opinion, closest to what the Buddha spoke of when he preached “detachment.” A willingness to give up our need for earthly things and comforts, and the faith to acknowledge that this life we lead is a way-station and not the final destination.
Zechariah is praying this at the Visitation: “he has set us…free to worship him without fear, holy and righteous in his sight all the days of our life.”
When we have faith like this we are free…not from pain, nor troubles, nor joys, nor wealth…but free from our attachment to that which does not point us to God, that which distracts us from God. It is a comforting, still place in our souls when we experience it. And we all have, if only fleetingly, so we know it exists. We know in our hearts that it is home. And we who seek this faith, and who profess this faith, also know that it is a seed which, watered by contemplation and prayer, continues to grow within us and around us.
Lord, help us to remember that nothing is going to happen to us today that you and we, together, cannot handle. Amen.