“Your faith has saved you.”

28th Sunday in Ordinary Time (C) – October 9, 2022

St. Paul – Lyons, KS

2 Kings 5:14-17; Psalm 98:1-4;  2 Timothy 2:8-13; Luke 17:11-19

“Do you believe it is the Father who will fulfill you?”

A few weeks ago, right after Masses on Labor Day Weekend, I headed up to Conception, Missouri, to Conception Seminary College, my alma mater, to give the seminarians a day of recollection. While everyone else was at a lake or something for Labor Day, the seminarians were in silence—praying and stuck listening to me.

And during that retreat I was giving a lot of the same spiels that you hear me give (I mean, there are only so many hours in a day, so I had to recycle a little material, sue me). I centered a lot of my talks on Faith, what Faith truly is, how “the Faith” and our “real life” have to be connected, how that takes some very real, very intentional work. And my first talk was very much like the homily I gave last Sunday: Faith—before it is all of the things we believe, all of the things that we do—faith is entrusting yourself to a person, surrendering your life into the hands of an other. Most of us (and I can say this about myself first and foremost!)—most of us have faith only in ourselves. Sure, we go to Mass, we say some prayers, we try to avoid sin! But, we are still trying to follow our own path, live our life according to our own design, our own plans…and then tack on “the Faith stuff” to our plans, our design, our life.

So I spoke on this to the seminarians. And between talks they would have individual meetings with me. And over and over and over, they would tell me a different version of the same story: “How can I do this, how can I be a good Catholic, good seminarian, good priest—how can I do this without having to entrust my entire life to God?” They wouldn’t say that! But over and over, it kept boiling down to that.

And so at the last conference I gave, I ditched the beautifully crafted talk I had planned on giving them, and instead I proposed one simple question to them and spent my time exploring this question: “Do you believe it is the Father who will fulfill you?” That’s it. That simple. It boils down to that. “Do you believe, do you trust, do you have faith that it is the Father who will fulfill you?”

As I have said about every week for the past four weeks, and as Luke throws in our face yet again, just in case we forgot, “Jesus continued his journey to Jerusalem.” All of these Gospel readings are colored by Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem. Jesus’ path, his design for his life, his plan for his life—Jesus’ path is the one given to him by the Father. Jesus’ entire life, everything he does, every action is not his own, not his plan—it is his Father’s. Even though he knows that his Father’s plan is for him to “suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed”—even though this is the path, the design, the plan of the Father for him, he willingly, and completely, and totally entrusts himself to it. Why? Because he believes it is the Father who will fulfill. It is the Father. At the end of the day we either trust in ourselves and our own designs and plans, or we trust in God. We either believe fulfillment comes from us, or the Father. There is no “both.” “Do you believe it is the Father who will fulfill you? OR do you believe that your fulfillment can only come from yourself, what you can do for yourself, what you can give yourself?”

Does Faith “Impose” or “Save”?

As with so many of us, though, if we answered that question honestly, based off of our experience, we would have to say, “Well, it seems like if anything is going to happen in my life I have to do it. I’ve had to work for everything I have. God seems pretty uninvolved.” Fair enough. And when this is our experience, this “faith” business takes on a very specific flavor, and it’s often people’s first (and lasting) impression of “faith”: there are just so many rules. That’s it: there are so many rules, and there are so many things I have to do, and it is a huge imposition. An imposition. That’s all “faith” is: an imposition on my life and plans and design.

Again, I’m the first one to admit to struggling with this! I’m not going to rehearse my story for you again. But this is the struggle! Faith can seem like an imposition. We have our plans and designs and paths laid out, and then along comes “the faith” imposing on this. It tells us to make time every Sunday to go to Mass…but I have things to do on Sunday, groceries to buy, sports to take my kids to, football to watch, Facebook to scroll. It tells us about marriage and sexuality…but who is the Church to tell me how to plan my family, to tell me that we can’t use contraception, and I don’t want to be taking care of kids after 40, and kids are expensive and I was hoping to buy a new truck. It tells us about our money…but I worked hard for that, and I have a house payment I can barely afford, and am paying for a vacation, and on and on. “Faith is just imposing on us. Can’t I just be a good person and love Jesus?”

But that’s not faith. Faith is entrusting yourself to an other. Entrusting yourself to them because you have faith, you trust that they or what they’re saying can give you this newness and life you cannot give yourself. This is why people go to Jesus: they are sick, something is wrong and they recognize they can’t fix themselves. There is that beautiful story in our first reading about Naaman. Naaman is a general in the Assyrian army, but he gets diagnosed with leprosy. And so his servant girl, who is an Israelite, tells him to go speak to the prophet Elisha. So he does. And what Elisha does is tell Naaman to go wash in the Jordan river and he will be cured. And Naaman immediately objects! Why? “I thought that he would surely come out to me and stand there to call on the name of the LORD his God, and would move his hand over the place, and thus cure the leprous spot. Are not the rivers [in my country] better than all the waters of Israel? Could I not wash in them and be cleansed?” (1 Kings 5:11-12). What’s Naaman’s issue? He has his own plan for how things will be cured, his own design: Elisha needs to call on theLORD and then move his hand over the spot. That’s his plan. Go and wash in the dirty Jordan? No. But they convince him to entrust himself to this plan, this design—and when he does, “His flesh became again like the flesh of a little child, and he was clean of his leprosy” (1 Kings 5:14). Faith was viewed as an imposition, it was viewed as a dumb plan. But when he did it, when Naaman entrusted himself to the words of Elisha? He was cured, he was saved. What does Jesus say to the leper in the Gospel, “Faith is now a great imposition on you?” No. “Your faith has saved you. Because you entrusted yourself to me, the newness of life, this cure, this ‘salvation’ you sought…it is yours.”

Seminarians Had Little Experience With Faith

Each and every one of us, whether we have recognized it yet or not—each and every one of us is looking for healing, for a cure, for salvation. And I don’t like using those words because it sounds too religious or clinical or churchy. So let’s use the word “newness.” That’s a good word to use for all of this. Every one of us is looking for newness, a newness to life, something that isn’t the same ol’ same ol’ that doesn’t seem to change anything. We want something that gives life a newness—just like being cured of leprosy, or being blind and then being able to see, or being paralyzed and then being able to walk would give newness to life. We want a newness to life that is impossible to get anywhere else!

And this newness is available! But only in Christ. Only through entrusting yourself, your life, every part of your life to him.

The seminarians I was speaking to (and really, myself, I was just speaking to my twenty year-old self)—the seminarians struggle, I struggled because I had not yet entrusted myself to the plans and designs of an other. Even for those of us raised in a very Catholic environment, a very Christian environment—faith can seem like nothing more than an imposition on our real life, because the entire world (and even our parents and priests and godparents and the “good Catholics” we look up to)—everything tells us, “You have to trust in yourself.”

But what if we entrusted our life to an Other? “Do you believe it is the Father who will fulfill you?”

When I was speaking to the seminarians I shared with them many of the stories I have shared with y’all. Stories of the incredible fulfillment and joy I have experienced because I have entrusted my life to Him. Stories of how others have experienced intense joy and newness of life when they have, intense dissatisfaction and despair when they haven’t. And I can tell these stories all day…but truly, the only way to know this, to experience this is by doing it yourself. I cannot magically impart what entrusting my life to Him has done.

Newness Comes by Faith

In a certain sense, I know that I have it easy. Entrusting my life comes with a job description and clothes and structure. There is a lot of social pressure for me to maintain my surrender to him. People expect me to live a certain way. I mean, if I missed Mass on Sunday—just skipped Mass today because I wanted to go the Chiefs game, and y’all show up and there is no priest and you heard I was at a Chiefs game…there would be some serious backlash! So yeah for me there is a lot of social pressure to continue to entrust my life to Christ.

And that’s why I don’t envy you! Because even though there is a job description that comes with your Baptism and Confirmation…I doubt many of us are aware of what that is. And even if we are aware of it, there is very little to no social pressure to live that. You’re married? Well at your wedding you took some very serious vows, a new job description…but the only one that society expects you to do is be faithful to your spouse…and really, not even that one. You have kids? Well, when you got married you made some very serious promises about kids, and at their baptism you made some more…but there is very little to no pressure to live that. Again, I don’t envy you! I’m weak, the social pressure is good for me! But for you? You’re incentivized not to live any of it. Again, you are taught and even encouraged by parents and friends and society itself not to take any of it seriously.

And instead? You’re told to entrust yourself to what you think will give you the newness you seek. And so we do. We entrust ourselves to all of the things we think will fulfill us, give us the newness and satisfaction we seek: sports, our kids’ momentary happiness, our job and career, leisure, entertainment, you name it.

And when someone comes along and tells us things that only sound like an imposition on this plan? We dismiss it. We tell them, “Stop telling me what to do.” And we continue to trust only in ourselves. But all these things will fail. Sooner or later they will fail. Even if things go great our whole life, they will fail. I was teaching the middle schoolers this week and little Juan Rodriguez pointed out the problem, “We will die.” Simple as that: we will die.

What brings the newness we seek? What did Naaman discover? What gave newness to the lepers? They entrusted their life to the plans and the designs of an other—to God, to Christ. It’s scary, it involves some serious courage…but Jesus takes even the smallest step towards him and rewards it 100 fold.

Our Response

And when we take that step, when we discover the newness he gives to us when we entrust ourselves to him in faith? When we recognize that every good thing in life comes from him? Then we return to him in gratitude (just like the leper), we offer great sacrifices for him (just like Naaman) even to the point of sacrificing all of our plans and designs for him, our whole life.

Really, it boils down to our answer to the question: “Do you believe it is the Father who will fulfill you?” Or do you believe you have to fulfill yourself?

Today we come to the Mass not as another imposition our time but as a time to renew the covenant we made with the Lord in our Baptism, the mission we were given at Confirmation, the vows we took on our wedding day and the day we baptized our children. Here in this Eucharist, we are united to Christ crucified—Christ’s total act of entrusting himself to the Father. Through him, with him and in him, we entrust our entire life to the Father and his designs and plans. We come in gratitude for all he has done, grateful in advance for all he will do.

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