October 4, 2019

Christ the Cornerstone

Faith the size of a mustard seed can work wonders

Archbishop Charles C. Thompson

“The Apostles said to the Lord, ‘Increase our faith.’ The Lord replied, ‘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” (Lk 17:5-6).

The Gospel reading for this Sunday, the Twenty-seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time, speaks to us about the power of faith.

St. Luke tells us that the Apostles asked Jesus to increase their faith. We can imagine that they were feeling more than a little inadequate as they observed the miraculous things that Jesus accomplished—often saying to the people he cured, “Your faith has saved you.”

Jesus’ reply must have astounded them: “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” (Lk 17:6).

With enough faith, Jesus teaches, there is nothing we can’t do. Believe strongly enough and no physical or chemical laws can prevent God’s grace from working wonders. With faith, the gravest sins can be forgiven, the most serious illnesses can be cured, and the hardest human hearts can be turned away from bitter vengeance to pursue gentleness and peace. Faith the size of a tiny mustard seed is a mighty force for good.

We know that the Apostles were men of faith. They had left everything to follow Jesus. They endured hardships and uncertainty, and when other followers of Jesus gave up and went home, these good men remained faithful. They were believers, but they were keenly aware that their faith was weak and untested. They were right to ask their Lord to increase their faith.

The Gospels tell us that the Apostles’ faith remained weak until after Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. It was not until they received the gift of the Holy Spirit that their faith was increased substantially. Then they possessed the power to heal, to forgive, to proclaim boldly the Good News of our salvation. Filled with the Holy Spirit, the Apostles could do the impossible. Once they possessed faith the size of a mustard seed, they were no longer inhibited by their inadequacies or fears.

What does this teaching say to us? If we acknowledge that our faith is weaker than it should be, and if we seek to increase our faith by the power that can only come from God, we, too, can accomplish amazing things.

With an increase of faith, we might be able to endure a debilitating illness, confident that whatever the outcome we can rest secure in the loving hands of God.

Similarly, greater faith might make it possible for us to forgive someone who has hurt us, without demanding retribution. More faith might give us the courage to accept new challenges at work or in school. And increasing our faith might help us confess our sins and trust in God’s unfailing mercy.

Most of us are like the Apostles. We are people of faith who want to grow in our understanding of, and our confidence in, the teaching and example of Jesus as we encounter him in prayer, in the Scriptures, in the sacraments and in our care for our sisters and brothers in need. Like the Apostles, we are aware of our inadequacy, and we find ourselves asking the Lord to increase our faith.

“Faith is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen” (Heb 11:1). What we hope for above all else is to love and be loved. With faith, this hope can be realized—first and foremost by acknowledging that the God who is love knows us by name, loves us unconditionally and invites us to share this great love with others.

We cannot see God, but there is incontrovertible evidence of God’s presence in the witness of women and men whose faith is so strong that they work miracles in their daily lives. Most of us can name one or more of these everyday saints. They inspire us to be better and to want to increase our faith.

“By faith we understand that the universe was ordered by the word of God, so that what is visible came into being through the invisible” (Heb 11:3).

Let’s pray for the gifts of the Holy Spirit, which the Church has traditionally identified as wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety and fear of the Lord. Making good use of these spiritual gifts, we can grow in our ability to follow Jesus and be his faithful disciples.

Above all, let’s ask our Lord to increase our faith so that we, too, can accomplish wonderful things in Jesus’ name. †

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