A Better Way to Live


Twenty-seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time

“How long, O Lord? I cry for help but you do not listen!” We certainly can relate to the prophet’s sentiments. We all have known times of difficulty and challenge in our lives; and we understand that difficulties and challenges are very much a part of life. But there may be some among us who feel so overwhelmed sometimes, it seems all we do is bounce from one crisis to the next, barely getting a moment’s rest to even enjoy some normalcy. We know this is not a healthy way to live. If it keeps up, we might just reach that tipping point and come unhinged, and end up in some place dark and scary. And if we’ve been there before, we know it is not a place we would choose to visit.

When we live our lives virtually bouncing from one crisis to the next, it becomes extremely difficult to see past any present challenge to future possibilities and even success. The best we can hope for is whatever relief we can get when the crisis is past. Sometimes when we can actually schedule time off, we find ourselves living just to get to the next break. We don’t ever really relax. We are often always on edge. And we find ourselves exhausted, frustrated, disillusioned, and extremely vulnerable to all manner of strange and risky suggestions. “Lord, I cry out to you, ‘Violence!’ but you do not intervene. Why do you let me see ruin; why must I look at misery? Destruction and violence are before me; there is strife, and clamorous discord.”

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With the  federal government shutdown crisis under way and the debt ceiling crisis threatening over the horizon, it looks like we are in for more turmoil and uncertainty. It has become quite clear to expert political observers for some time now, and it is becoming clearer for everyone else, that our national leaders have fallen into an unhealthy pattern of governing from crisis to crisis. Each time another crisis rears its ugly head, we go into some kind of automatic disaster mode that further exacerbates our exhaustion, frustration, disillusionment, and vulnerability to further turmoil. What is the alternative to this pattern of living? Or are we doomed to reach a collective breaking point, at which time the only option is our own destruction? Even scarier still is that there are people who know it, and do all in their power to get us there sooner.

Perhaps we know what Jesus’ apostles felt when they asked him for an increase of faith. We imagine people with greater faith are capable of greater deeds. We look to the heroes we read about in sacred scripture—the patriarchs Abraham and Sarah, Isaac, and Jacob; Moses, Aaron, and Joshua; the judges Deborah, Gideon, and Samson; the prophets Samuel, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel; the kings David, and Solomon. We look to people of great faith in our time—Martin Luther King Jr., Pope John XXIII, Mother Teresa, Dorothy Day, Pope John Paul II. So if we see our lives as uninspired and unfocused, perhaps a little more faith will put that much needed spring in our step. And we cry out, “Lord, increase our faith.”

But what Jesus offers us is not something we can easily measure, not something we can know with certainty through our senses. It is no magic formula to dispel all doubt. It is no healing salve to calm our troubled spirits. “If you had faith the size of a mustard seed” … essentially, if you had just a little faith, it is all you will need. So how does just a little faith put our lives back in proper balance and perspective?

God tells the prophet Habakkuk to write down clearly the vision he is given, so that it can be easily read. The vision is plainly the opposite of the turmoil and strife that he and his people are presently experiencing. It is a vision of peace and stability, of harmony and prosperity. And despite seeming delay upon delay, God assures them and us that there is yet time for the vision to be fulfilled. It will surely come. It will not disappoint. It will not be delayed.

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In the meantime, Paul encourages Timothy and us “to stir into flame the gift of God that you have through the imposition of my hands.” This is not an image limited to the ordination of deacons, priests, and bishops. It is also very much an image of baptism and confirmation which we have received, when the gift of God’s Holy Spirit is given to us in great abundance. “For God did not give us a spirit of cowardice but rather of power and love and self-control.” All we need is faith the size of a mustard seed to realize that we have within ourselves the power to transform our own lives and the world around us. The Spirit of God gives us a vision of God’s kingdom where the rule of God’s mercy and justice governs the world, bringing the human family the peace and prosperity it longs for. It is also not a vision of some future reality. Instead, it is a reality we are called upon to bring about in the present time through our joyful proclamation of the Gospel, our willingness to pattern ourselves after the example of Jesus Christ, our compassionate outreach and humble service to our sisters and brothers, … if only we are convinced of the power and majesty of that grand vision. “Do not be ashamed of your testimony to our Lord, … but bear your share of hardship for the gospel with the strength that comes from God.” We are reminded once again in no uncertain terms that there will be hardships, but the reality of God’s vision for the human family surpasses every obstacle and challenge. God assures us that there is yet time for the vision to be fulfilled. It will surely come. It will not disappoint. It will not be delayed.

The Holy Father, Pope Francis visited Assisi this past Friday on the Feast of St. Francis. The occasion was billed as a sort of homecoming for the first bishop of Rome from the New World who chose the name of the saint who shook the church to its core by calling her back to the essentials on which she was founded. It is becoming increasingly clear that Pope Francis has a vision of what we are called to be as church and as God’s people, and how we might get there. Upon arriving, his first stop was a center for sick and disabled children. Then he visited the tomb of St. Francis before leading a crowd estimated at 100,000 in the celebration of the Eucharist. Later in the afternoon, he visited the original San Damiano cross at the Basilica of St. Clare, before which St. Francis first received God’s call to repair his house. The implications for the pope are challenging. His ministry as bishop of Rome is clearly a call to repair God’s house, and it will be a daunting task. I am certain he calls upon God everyday as Jesus’ Apostles once did, “Lord, increase my faith.” And as Jesus told his Apostles then, he tells us and he tells Pope Francis, “If you had faith the size of a mustard seed,” it is really all we need.

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Popes and bishops, parents and children, pastors, teenagers, and government workers—we all have a role in bringing to fulfillment God’s glorious vision of the Kingdom. It is a reality even as we speak. And it is way healthier than living from one crisis to the next.

Rolo B. Castillo © 2013

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