Twenty-seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time Cycle C
Habakkuk 1:2-3, 2:2-4; 2 Timothy 1:6-8, 13-14; Luke 17:5-10
I will admit to anyone that asks that I’m a blessed man. God has given me so many gifts in my life, and continues to give them. For instance, this summer, my wife Nor, my son Ben and I signed up for a pilgrimage through Italy, visiting Milan, Padua, Florence, Assisi, Rome, and Turin, and were able to attend Mass in all of the famous churches along the way. The centerpiece of the trip, around which it was organized, was the World Meeting of Families, organized by our Church every three years to discuss issues involving the family and to celebrate family life. Unfortunately, the Vatican announced that due to the lingering effects of Covid, all of the events would be closed to the general public except for the final day's celebration of Mass by the pope in Saint Peter’s square. But like I said, I’m very blessed. There was a last-minute opening on the official delegation from the United States, and through the Charleston Diocese’s Office of Family Life we were able to join the US delegation and attend all of the conference, including the opening ceremony with Pope Francis in the papal audience hall. Like I said, I’m blessed, and truly thankful. And this point was driven home on the last day of the conference, for reasons that are brought out in the lesson of today’s readings.
That lesson is that if we have true faith and trust in the Lord, our God, he will give us his blessings. That is his promise, his covenant with us. This is particularly apparent in the first reading, where we hear from the prophet Habakkuk. We only hear from this minor prophet this one Sunday every three years, and it’s a good thing, too – Habakkuk is a tremendous whiner. Half of this short three-chapter book from the Old Testament is Habakkuk complaining about how God is numb and uncaring, allowing all sorts of bad things to happen, and the other half of the book is God’s response to Habakkuk, telling him that he will make all things right. The verse selection today for the first reading captures this well. There are two verses from the complains – with phrases such as “violence,” “destruction,” “strife and clamorous discord” – and two verses from God’s reassurance – coming “to fulfillment,” “will not disappoint,” “the just one, because of his faith, shall live” [Habakkuk 1:2-3, 2:2-4, NABRE] Christ, in the Gospel, echoes this in his comparison of faith to the mustard seed.
During one of the final sessions of the World Meeting of Families, the delegates were presented with an example of true faith and Christian spirit that our readings encourage us to have. On the first of February, 2020, a family from Sydney, Australia, much like any here in Conway – thirtyish parents with six children – let their kids walk down the block to get some ice cream at a store near their home. [ https://www.dow.org.au/australian-familys-story-of-loss-and-radical-forg... ] A drunk driver drove his car off the road and over the sidewalk, killing three of their children and their niece. Unlike Habakkuk, the Abdullas told us that despite the pain they went through, they still had faith in God, enough to forgive the killer of their family members. In the words of the father Daniel, “I chose to forgive myself for telling my kids to go for a walk. I chose to forgive the offender in obedience to my Father in heaven. If my children were here today, they would say, 'Dad, forgive him.’” [ https://www.vaticannews.va/en/church/news/2022-06/wmof-daniel-laila-holi... ] The mother Leila said something similar: “My message would be everyone has a cross to carry. We can't choose what will happen to us in life, but we can choose how to respond. Respond with a smile! Offer it up to Jesus! Trust in God's will” [ibid]. What was remarkable is that they didn't come around to this attitude over time. The wife told the TV news reporters right after the incident that she had to forgive whoever did this, even before knowing who that was. The delegates gave them a standing ovation at the end of their talk, because I think we all recognize the kind of faith in the Abdullas that Christ talks about in the Gospel, and recognize it as an all-too-rare thing, even in ourselves. It is the type of faith that Paul describes to Timothy in the second reading, that God made us to have “the spirit … of power and love and self-control” [2 Tim 1:7b NABRE].
But we here in South Carolina don’t need to look to Australia to see another example of faith in God's justice. Many of the survivors of the people gunned down by Dylann Roof in the Mother Emanuel church in Charleston were able to forgive him, and did so publicly at his sentencing hearing. [ https://www.usatoday.com/story/life/movies/2019/06/17/emanuel-explores-p... ] This is despite the fact that he has never once asked for forgiveness, and apparently he still believes that his attempt to start a race riot was something he was justified in doing. At least the man who killed the Abdulla children, both drunk and high on drugs, didn’t have premeditation for his act. But these Christian people were able to forgive a cold-blooded killer that has shown no remorse. That, too, is faith that can move mountains and uproot trees.
I would like to tell you that I have the faith that these two groups demonstrated, but I will admit that I don’t know. Having told you that I’m blessed, one thing I mean by that is that I’ve never had the test of being subjected to a major tragedy in life anywhere comparable to what these people went through. I guess that’s why the Church tells us to come to Mass every week and listen to God’s word. God’s law is to keep the Sabbath holy, but the Church’s law is to come to Mass, because in her wisdom she knows that if the mustard seed of faith is to grow in each and every one of us, we will need to water and feed it continuously, hoping that the day it is tested in the storm of events that the world can throw at us, our faith will have the deep roots necessary to weather the storm.
As we continue with the Mass, let the Eucharist we receive nourish in us the faith that we need to trust in God unreservedly. May we all be filled with the faith and trust that will allow us to joyfully count all of our blessings and not keep track and hold grudges against all of the things that befall us or are denied to us, which only serve to blacken our soul and separate us from God. Let us aspire to live up the words of today’s psalm: “let us acclaim the rock of our salvation. / Let us come into [God's] presence with thanksgiving” [Ps 95:1b-2a, NAB].