Abraham, our father in faith, was a nomadic herdsman who’s home base was around the ancient city of Ur, in what is today, southern Iraq. One day, God tells Abraham to just go where God tells him to go, and Abraham says, “OK”. We should pause and think about what that meant to Abraham. He didn’t know where he was going, but the final destination was Israel. Jerusalem is a straight line shot from Ur of about 750 miles, but all of that is bone dry desert. Abraham has lots of servants, family, cattle, and equipment to move, so he had to follow the water, in his part of the world that is the Fertile Crescent. Abraham basically went from south Iraq, to Syria, to Lebanon, to Israel, 1300 miles! How could he do this? By Faith!
Faith is central to our Christian life, so we need to think about the meaning of that word. The Letter to the Hebrews gives us a wonderful definition of faith, “Faith is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). Hebrews goes on to give us the example of Abraham to illustrate how faith works. Abraham didn’t know where God was taking him or how he would get there, but he knew, without doubt, that God was with him.
God had made a promise, to Abraham, and to his descendants, that they would be a great nation from whom the peoples of the world would be blessed. That promise from God was Abraham’s hope. Acceptance of God’s promises is the realization of what is hoped for, that is, faith. Faith is also, as the letter to the Hebrews tells us, evidence for what is unseen. For Abraham, as well as his decedents, to embrace the promises of God was faith. That faith was evidence for what they still could not see, the future fulfillment of the promises. From our first reading (Wisdom 18:6 – 9) we know that the Israelites, captive in Egypt, knew God would someday free them. Their Passover from slavery to freedom would come. The letter to the Hebrews (11:13 – 14) tells us that, even more, they greeted from afar the future promise of salvation (Genesis 12:3, 18:18, 22:17, Isaiah 49:6) for all the world that was to come from Israel.
In Jesus Christ, we are the recipients of the promise. Christ offers us the gift of eternal life with Him (John 3:16). That eternal life is not some future possibility, after we die, it starts when we engage the eternal Word, Jesus Christ, in faith, “I am the way, the truth and the life” (John 14:6). How do we respond to that gift? Like Abraham, we need to respond in faith. We need to pray for the confidence that God’s promises are real and present. Faith is a gift from God, but we need to open our minds and hearts to the gifts. Christ tells us to store up treasure (Matthew 6:19). Last Sunday, Christ gave us a parable about being rich in what matters to God (Luke 12:16 – 21). How do we learn what matters to God? We need to embrace His Word, in Sacred Scripture and in the Teaching of the Church. We need to spend time with Christ and let Him form us. We do this when we go to Mass. Mass is a privileged encounter with God. Christ is truly present in the Eucharist. Like Mass, Confession is a privileged encounter with God. We need to go to Confession on a regular basis. In Confession God forgives our sins. We need to make prayer a fundamental part of our daily routine. Christ asks us to store up this treasure, and he tells us, “where your treasure is there also your heart will be” (Luke 12:34).
We need faith since the promises of God, the effects on our spiritual state, of say baptism or confession, are unseen. As the letter to the Hebrews tells us, faith is evidence of things unseen. Faith is a gift from God. Any gift, however, is useless unless we open and use that gift. Our gift of faith is the gift of relationship with God through Christ. Faith is something we need to reflect on and explore, but most importantly, to live.