“Increase our faith!”

27th Sunday in Ordinary Time (C) – October 2, 2022

St. Paul – Lyons, KS

Habakkuk 1:2-3, 2:2-4; Psalm 95:1-2, 6-9; 2 Timothy 1:6-8, 13-14; Luke 17:5-10

A Struggle With Faith

I have shared many times (maybe too many times) that I was raised in a very Catholic household. Super Catholic. Catholic to the max. We would go to Mass every Sunday. I can remember missing Mass on Sunday or a Holy Day once in my entire life. When Church of the Magdalen was built three miles from us we started going to daily Mass at 7:00am every day. I served Mass on the regular. Confession was a regular thing. We prayed the Rosary as a family every single night. During Lent we observed all of the fasting and abstinence, went to Stations of the Cross. We would volunteer at the Lord’s Diner in Wichita. My parents taught me—when I was in high school and had my high school job—they taught me about tithing. I did all of the youth group stuff at my parish. I went on retreats in high school and college.

And I tell you this not to make myself sound super holy or anything. I tell you this as a way of saying that my life was indistinguishable from my faith, and the faith was indistinguishable from my life. They were one and the same. And as with many young men in my position, it was in high school that I heard this call to be a priest. And so with a resume like mine, you would expect it to be a pretty easy decision to enter the seminary, to become a priest.

But what do you know—it wasn’t. Literally fought against that more than any other decision in my life. Why? I was a good kid! I was a server! I did all the Catholic stuff! Why was is so hard to go to seminary? To be a priest?

And I wish someone would have just told me. But it wasn’t until years into seminary, after I had begrudgingly gone to seminary, almost feeling forced to go—it wasn’t until much later that I discovered why it was so difficult. It was difficult because I had been doing everything backwards. I had started by trying to answer the question: Can I promise obedience to the bishop and never make my own “career decisions” again? Can I promise to live a life of celibacy and give up a wife and children? Can I do all the priest stuff and find joy in that? And those are some important questions! But those questions are secondary. They’re secondary. The primary question, the question I had never faced, the problem I was confronting—I had to first face the issue of faith. Faith. True faith. Faith as entrusting myself, my life to another. 

“Faith” up to this point was just “things that I did” in my life: Mass, Confession, Rosary, fasting, tithing, serving the poor, on and on and on. All good things! All important things! But I had not yet confronted the true question of faith. 

What do I mean? Usually we think of faith, our faith, “our religion,” like a country club membership or a gym membership, “Oh, I belong to the Catholic Church.” This is just one more thing. But “faith”—at its foundation, at its core—faith is entrusting, surrendering. Think of it this way. Would you trust just anyone to watch your kids? Would you drop them off, surrender them into the care of someone you didn’t know? Would you let them get into a creepy van? No! Duh! Would you trust just anyone with your money? Would you surrender your credit card to a random person? No! Would you give anyone your time? Just let anyone and everyone tell you what to do and where to be and on and on? No! Of course not! Time is valuable! Would you marry a total stranger? No. Ok, so what would you do first? What would you do without even thinking about it? You would gauge their worthiness, you would inquire whether they are trustworthy, whether you can trust them with your kids or your money or your time or your life. That’s the question of “faith.”

And this is the question I had not faced! The “Catholic thing,” discipleship, following Jesus—this was all fine and good, until the “Catholic thing” all of a sudden required my whole life. When I felt this call to be a priest, everything became difficult because it required me to entrust my life, my whole life to God in faith. Following Christ is easy when it doesn’t cost me anything. Calling myself Catholic is easy when it doesn’t require anything of me. But when it does? When all of a sudden I have to entrust my life, my whole life, every part of my life?? That’s a whole different game. And in order to do that, the primary issue, question number one—it’s faith.

The More Involved One Gets, the More Trust Is Necessary

This Gospel passage we have today comes toward the very end of a long section of the Gospel of Luke, a section called the travel narrative. Remember, this is the section where Jesus “resolutely determines” to go to Jerusalem, and along the way he starts laying down for the disciples what it really means to follow him. Not once along the path does he say, “Just be a good person.” No, the whole time he is talking about the great cost of discipleship, of being a disciple, being what we call a Christian, a Catholic. Things are starting to get very serious. Deathly serious—literally.

And the disciples notice! They notice that what Jesus is calling them to is not going to be easy. And so what do they ask? What do they realize they need? “Increase our faith!” They get it! If they’re going to live what Jesus is talking about—if they’re going to live this call, they don’t need to decide if they can do it, they need more faith, they need greater confidence in Jesus, in the fact that Jesus is who he says he is, and that they can give their whole lives to him (literally their whole lives)—that Jesus can sustain them even if they give him everything in their life.

Does that make sense? It’s easy to say, “I believe in God. I’m a Catholic. I’m a Christian.” But a life of faith, living faith—it means entrusting something which is very valuable to you, entrusting that to God. In this case, entrusting your life, your heart, you mind, everything to Him. That’s what the disciples realize Jesus is driving at. And that’s why they ask him to increase their faith.

“5 Precepts” Catholic vs. “On Fire” Catholic

Does anyone here know who Rohan Davey is? Rohan Davey was an NFL quarterback. Won two Super Bowls: 2004 and 2005. (That’s one more Super Bowl than ol’ Pat Mahomes.) Rohan won two Super Bowls with the New England Patriots. Rohan was Tom Brady’s backup. Played in four games in 2004, none in 2005. Completed four passes in those four games. We’ve never heard of this guy! Why? Because we were all paying attention to Tom Brady! Tom was the hero. Tom was making the plays. Tom was the great! But, to be sure, Rohan was no scrub; he made it to the NFL as a quarterback after all! That makes him top 1% of all football players. And yet, we look at him like a scrub, bottom of the barrel. No one was wearing his jersey number. No one was like, “I want to be like Rohan when I grow up.” He was great, but he was considered the bare minimum of an NFL player. Bare minimum. We hear he has two Super Bowl rings and we think, “Well, I mean he has them, but he doesn’t deserve them.” Bare minimum in the NFL is still great, but none of us would aspire to be the bare minimum.

If you went to the hospital for surgery and the doctor walks in and says, “Hey? What do you call a doctor who got all C’s in medical school? Doctor. Nice to meet you!” Would that make you feel comfortable? No! When your kids are fighting in the back seat and you tell them to stop touching each other, and then they hold their finger one inch away from each other’s face—is that what you meant? They’re doing the bare minimum! Aren’t you happy? No! If your husband is being a total lazy bones, and you’re getting upset with him, and then he says, “Hey! I’m not cheating on you. What else do you want from me?” Is that all it takes? No! The bare minimum is a good start! To be sure! But we need more. We want more. We aspire to more!

In terms of being Catholic, there are what we call the five precepts of the Church. These are the five “bare minimums” of being a Catholic, the “indispensable” minimum for life. The Church is saying that if these five things aren’t there—then life with Jesus, the life of grace and salvation, it’s not there. Does anyone know them? First precept is attending Mass every Sunday and Holy Day of Obligation. So every single Sunday, a practicing Catholic has to go to Mass. Number two is to go to Confession at least once a year. Number three: receive Holy Communion at least once every year, and that during the Easter season. (So, some people were staying away from receiving Communion. They committed sins, like missing Mass, and didn’t do to Confession. So the Church had to teach: you need to do this! Jesus wants to give himself to you! You need to get right with God, be literally in communion with him.) Number four is to observe the days of fasting and abstinence; so no meat on Fridays of Lent, and then fasting on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. And number five: support the material needs of the Church according to your ability. So this is tithing, giving a percentage of your income in order to support the Church and her mission. That’s the bare minimum! Notice: Is this a heroic life? No! This is the bare minimum. These “put you on the team,” so to speak. So these are big! Maybe some of us need to start right there. Maybe those are some very good, very concrete steps for us. Good! Go after it!

But is the bare minimum the goal? Do you think Rohan Davey’s goal was just to make the team so he could sit on the bench the whole time? Again, to be sure, that was an incredible achievement! Making it to the NFL! But do you think the bare minimum was super satisfying?

The question is: are you a “Five Precepts,” “bare minimum” kind of disciple, is that the goal? Or are you an “On Fire,” all in, 100% disciple? Do you entrust everything in your life to Jesus? Do you entrust your marriage to him? Your time? Your priorities? Your money? Your fertility? Your life choices? Your choice of entertainment? Everything? Complete surrender, entrusting everything to him…that’s what Jesus wants. Because that’s when he can give you everything in return.

How Can This Happen? Coming To Know Christ More Deeply

What I discovered over several years—in my struggle to entrust my life to Jesus, my whole life, all of my plans, all of my dreams, all of my time and energy—what I discovered is that even though I was following the precepts of the Church, even though I was a “good Catholic” and even tried to do extra…I discovered that I still had faith only in myself. Again, I did all of the Catholic things, believed 100% of the Catholic beliefs. But I did not entrust myself, my life to God in real and concrete ways. I had very little faith in Him, and a whole bunch of faith in myself. I had faith only in what I could do for myself, provide for myself. THIS is what needed to change! And when it did, everything changed for me.

The bare minimum is a place to start. Maybe for many of us, getting to a place where we go to Mass every Sunday and Holy Day of Obligation is a very real and very good goal for us. Great! Maybe we avoid Confession, and going to Confession at least once a year is what we need to do. Good! Do it. Maybe we need to fix things in our life so that we can receive communion. Awesome! Send me an email, give me a call and we can get that moving. Fasting and abstinence, supporting the Church financially by tithing—good! It’s like being Rohan Davey: we’re on the team, and that’s a big deal!

And all of these are good things! But still, even getting to a place to do those means having faith. And faith doesn’t happen by accident. Remember, you wouldn’t trust your kids, or your time or money to a stranger. It’s the same in our relationship with Jesus Christ. If we don’t know him, if he is nothing more than a figure from ancient history, if we have never encountered him or experienced him…well then even the five bare minimums would be too much.

The only way that any of this works? We have to come to know Christ. Christ: flesh and blood, real person, present here and now in my life. We have to come to know Christ in such a way that the sacrifice of our entire life can be upheld by him. Shameless plug: but this is why we are hosting the RESCUE, the retreat we have coming up in a few weeks on October 15. This day is meant for this: to come to encounter Jesus Christ in a real way, a way that can help us begin to take the steps toward faith. This is a day to encounter him. Please, I beg you, if you haven’t signed up, do it! This is going to be a life-changing day.

We can only entrust our lives to someone we know, someone we trust—giving my life, entrusting my life to Jesus Christ like we’ve been talking about—it’s only possible if I know him. And really, because I know him, I would do anything he asks of me, because I know it will bring me the greatest happiness and fulfillment. Sure, I sin. Sure, I’m not perfect at it. But little by little, I strive to give him everything. My prayer? “Increase my faith!” In simplicity of heart, I joyfully offer him everything. And he doesn’t fail me. Ever.

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