Yesterday, at the cathedral in Portsmouth, Sister Mary Catherine consecrated herself to God and to this Community for the rest of her life. At a time when religious vocations are, to say the least, wavering, we thank God that Sister Mary Catherine has generously accepted the invitation from Our Lord himself to serve him and the Church as a Dominican. It is our duty – and indeed our privilege – to support Sister Mary Catherine as she begins the rest of her life as a Dominican Sister. In today’s Gospel we hear how the Apostles ask Our Lord for an increase in faith, because without faith, following Christ is impossible. We ask for an increase in faith for Sister Mary Catherine. May God, who started this good work in her, bring it to final completion.
We just heard how the Apostles sense the mounting opposition to Our Lord’s mission and they begin to feel somewhat isolated. They are even tempted to despair. And so they ask Our Lord for an increase in faith in order to accept his words more easily and obey them more readily. Our Lord emphasizes in his reply the explosive power of the smallest possible amount of faith, and he uses the image of the tiny mustard seed to express it. A faith that is deep-rooted and healthy can achieve the impossible, because life takes on a new significance when the power of God is at our disposal.
The tragic happenings that are part and parcel of our daily lives call us to share in suffering and to unite our suffering with the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross; they also prompt us to question the ways of God. At times, as we seek instant solutions to our problems, we complain bitterly at Our Lord’s apparent absence from our lives. So often God seems to be silent and we are left confused and seemingly alone. The challenge is to remain faithful to God and faithful to our religious values especially at moments when they don’t seem to make any sense. Whatever the evils of the world, the person of faith will always emerge victorious because he is in communion with God. And for that reason alone we can join the Apostles in their request to Our Lord for an increase in faith. Lord, I believe, help thou my unbelief.
This is a Gospel call to give our lives to Our Lord and to make a special effort to push ourselves to our Christian limits. Now we all have our different roles to play in the Church. We can’t all be the Pope, or a bishop, or an organist or a catechist. And God doesn’t expect us all to consecrate ourselves to him in religious vows, as Sister Mary Catherine did yesterday. But, we may ask ourselves today, just how many of us, who claim to be good Catholics, have a casual approach towards prayer, a casual observance of the Ten Commandments, and a casual approach to the teachings of the Church, a casual approach to celebrating Mass, even a casual exercise of charity and forgiveness and fraternity. Faith and good works are not alternatives for the Catholic, they are in fact inseparable. If we are unable or unwilling to put into practice what we believe in our hearts, then we have no business being here. We can’t pick and choose who we are going to love and who we are going to despise. Faith and good works go hand-in-hand. God’s gifts to us require that we are generous and open-handed with others, even to the point of holding nothing back, not even for a rainy day. No matter how we look at it, the kind of faith we have is best shown by the type of life we lead and the example we give to others. This is a proper indication of our Christianity. We can’t preach one truth and practice another – that’s hypocrisy – and we all know what Our Lord thinks of hypocrites.
If we believe in the person of Jesus Christ then we will give him unswerving allegiance in our everyday lives, by living as he would have us live: by loving God and our neighbour, and by basing our lives with humility and obedience, on the teachings of the Catholic Church. And even if we have done all that God asks of us, we have done nothing remarkable in his service. At the end of the day, and as Our Lord tells us quite clearly: “We are merely servants: we have done no more than our duty.” God owes no gratitude to us for our service to him, and yet we know he is pleased by our generosity and our sacrifice, and that he will surely hold this in our favour when we come to stand before him on the day we die.