On October 24, 1993, a large advertising agency launched one of the most influential advertising campaigns of all time. Its client was the California Milk Processor Board. With the use of just two words (Got Milk?) and images of numerous celebrities wearing a white residue around their lips, the ad campaign accomplished exactly what it set out to do: increase our desire to consume milk.
But on this 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time, it is clear from our Readings (Book of Habakkuk 1:2-3; 2:2-4 and Second Letter of Saint Paul to Timothy 1:6-8; 13-14) and Gospel (Luke 17:5-10) that the subject is not about milk. Rather, there is a crystal-clear focus upon faith. Like a good advertiser attempting to get under our proverbial hood, I believe that a case may be made that the Sacred Scriptures prompt us to reflect and consider two important realities: First, do we have faith? And second, do we seek to increase it?
The Prophet Habakkuk clearly appeals to the first case; that is, do we have faith? Writing around 600 B.C., he is said to be unique among the prophets in questioning the wisdom of God. “I cry for help, but you do not listen? I cry out to you, Violence, but you do not intervene.” After a while, the Lord answers him: “For the vision still has its time, presses on to fulfillment, and will not disappoint; if it delays, wait for it, it will surely come, it will not be late.”
As Habakkuk’s world crashes down upon him, it is though the Lord is stretching his faith and urging him to faithfulness and trust. To borrow words from St. Teresa of Avila: “Let nothing disturb thee; Let nothing dismay thee; All things pass; God never changes.” (Poem IX)
Do we have faith? Before, during, and at the end of our journeys, it does come down to this very question. Do we trust God and acknowledge His kingship in our lives? Do we believe that He has made us for a purpose? Do we believe that He loved us into existence before time began? Do we believe that God has set us into a family and within a circle of friends to guide and love them and be a faithful presence in their lives? Do we believe that He watches over us and has sent each of us a Guardian Angel to do the same but also the Saints to pray and cheer us into eternity?
Do we have faith when our world crashes down upon us? Or, do we have faith only when times are rosy?
Years ago, I remember watching a movie entitled Agnes of God. At one point, a hardened female prosecuting attorney (and “proud” lapsed Catholic) sat beneath a gazebo with an old nun and began to speak about her faith; or rather, the lack thereof. She noted that when she was young, she believed in miracles and felt that God was present in her life. But, as she grew older, it seemed that the events of her life seemed to simply collapse upon her. After a moment of silence, she turned to the nun and asked: “As a child, I remember hearing the stories of the prophets and the saints. But, given our world, do you really believe that God continues to make them today?” The nun’s response was this: “As difficult as it may seem, I do, I really do.”
As some of you know, my wife and I experienced the full-term miscarriage of our fourth child. Before his funeral Mass, just prior to carrying his casket for placement near the altar, a seminary friend of mine approached me—and prayed. Over and over, she prayed that God would strengthen my faith so that I might trust more deeply in Him. In reality, my dear friend was appealing to my existing faith and asking God to increase it so that I might bear that present hardship and further deepen my trust in Him.
In our daily lives, it is right to ask how we live out this ministry of assisting others in recognizing the faith God has already given them and then praying with—- and for them—- that He might bountifully increase it.
Which brings us to the second point and directly into our Gospel. After first acknowledging our faith, just how might we increase it? But rather than proposing this as a question to Jesus, the Apostles boldly state three simple words: “Increase our faith.” Quite a command, don’t you think? How many of us would look at Jesus and say the same thing?
Again, listen to Our Lord’s response:
If you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you would say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.
Think about it. Would we fear having such power? Would we fear the implications that might come from an increased faith? Can we imagine how different our world would be if each of us asked Jesus to increase our faith and become king of our lives? In turn, what miracles might we bring to those whose lives we touch? It has been said that when we look to the lives of the saints, we remark: “That’s them, not me.”
In the Gospel, the Apostles are front and center asking Jesus to increase their faith, presumably for their journey to come. In looking at their lives, it is true that each of them stumbled in coming to know Him. However, at some point, each of them laid down their lives and gave Him their very selves. First, they said to Jesus: “Increase my faith.” And then, they put their proverbial “money where their mouth was.”
And you and me? Two-thousand years later, perhaps these words would do. “Lord, increase our faith that we might become the fullest expression of the miracle you intended us to be.”
On this October Sunday, the question at hand is very simple: Got Faith?