This Sunday’s epistle from the Letter to the Hebrews is a wonderful summary of the characters that feature in the Old Testament. This passage taken from Chapter 11 - worth reading in its entirety - as well as the testimony of Peter in Acts 2 and 3 and Stephen's witness in Acts 7 combine to give us a good introduction to the Old Testament (and its fulfillment) to anyone who wants to know more about Scripture.
The key is faith. ‘Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe’, Jesus said to doubting Thomas (John 20:29).
Faith does not come readily or easily. I am sometimes surprised when people say “Father I don’t know if I believe it all’. I think what they are really saying is: ‘I believe, but at times it’s an effort’. What may have challenged them is the presence of so much relativism and skepticism in today’s culture. There are few things on TV to encourage us, and there are few people we know who believe convincingly, it seems, who will bolster our faith, so that our own personal faith is constantly challenged. Crises and scandals have done their share to shake our resolve. Sadly too the reaction to the scandals has shown up some peoples’ shallow understanding of the nature of the Church that they think we can go back to the drawing board and jettison the Pope and the hierarchy!
We make a mistake if we think that faith comes and stays easily. Faith is a gift, thank God for it! But it is like the bridge built by the engineer. Heavy loaded trucks were driven along it to see if the bridge specifications were right. So it is with God.
We see some people whose faith is tested beyond all reason! We wonder how they do it, how do they cope? I will never forget the man I met in New York. A father of 10 children, 3 of his children committed suicide (so-called ‘copycat’ suicides) by standing in front of fast-moving trains. How he has kept his faith, I will never know. Yet he was a daily Mass-goer, said his prayers out of a thick prayer book bulging with devotional prayer cards, and proudly wore his scapular and smiles through the tears. We can all think of personal tragedies and hardships that have greatly challenged people we know who are strong believers. I admire parents of special-needs children who are people of strong faith and are always willing to lend a hand in the locality, often volunteer without having to
The 'faith of our fathers’ who faced ‘dungeon, fire and sword’ was in every single case a personal decision in the most trying circumstances.
Similarly all those saints and martyrs we admire had free-will. They had to make a choice. The people of the Old Testament had their own difficult choices to make too. But we must remember WE HAVE HINDSIGHT. We know now all that they had to face. They did not. And so it is for us. We do not know what lies ahead. That is where courage, grit and determination come in. We can seek the help of the Holy Spirit who has given us the gift of courage at Confirmation. We can call on Him to give is the grace of perseverance and fortitude. He will help us to overcome doubts, difficulties, and above all our fears. So faith is a personal decision for you and me also. And our lives are not over yet. We have not yet reached the summit, but we can take a momentary look at the view and see how far we have come, even if we have stumbled and delayed or strayed along the way. God urges us on even further.
We have helps to faith. Prayer and the sacraments, the example of fellow-believers, the lives of the saints and spiritual reading, short prayers we can say aloud or in silence at any time, the teaching of the Church, a Father-confessor or spiritual director who knows us. All these are helps to salvation. And all these are helps we should resort to in order to be vigilant and keep our lamps lit as alluded to in the Gospel. In the Book of Life may our names be added to the list of those who had faith and persevered to the end (Revelation 20:12).