Jesus will work with it
Rev. David Mercer
When Pope Francis spoke to 3 million listeners at July's World Youth Day, he spoke to us all: "The Gospel is for everyone, not just for some. Do not be afraid to go and to bring Christ into every area of life, to the fringes of society, even to those who seem farthest away."
His message echoes Jesus' call to Christians of every age to be His witnesses to the ends of the earth. Whether we take the Gospel to the end of the street or to the ends of the earth, Jesus' call might seem daunting to some. For those who think they bring little to this task, Jesus' words to us in October offer hope.
On the first Sunday in October, the Gospel reminds us that faith the size of a mustard seed can move a tree. In other words, Jesus works with the faith we bring forward, even if we think it is too little.
Our faith is our greatest asset, but we need to carry it with us each day, wherever we go. Or else, our faith will not support the mission Jesus gives us.
To illustrate, consider the story of the man painting lines on a new highway. The first day he paints 100 miles, a marvelous pace that catches the attention of his supervisors. However, on the second day, he paints only 20 miles; the third day, 10; and the fourth day, only one mile. His supervisors then fire him, but he protests: "It's not my fault. I kept getting further away from the paint bucket."
Just so, the further we move away from our faith, the less our faith will be there when we need it. Often, we only need to adopt simple habits that keep our faith nearby.
For example, I grew up Catholic, but my family prayed before meals only in the house, never in a restaurant. Only after I was ordained a priest did I see people saying grace before eating in public.
Out for dinner with parish young adults, I picked up my fork and began eating as soon as the food was placed on the table. "Father, don't you say grace before you eat?" I put down my fork, joined hands with the others, bowed my head, and began a new habit to keep my faith with me at all times.
But we need not stop with meals. More than a century ago, English Catholic author G.K. Chesterton wrote, "You say grace before meals. All right. But I say grace before the play and opera, and grace before the concert and pantomime, and grace before I open a book, and grace before sketching, painting, swimming, fencing, boxing, walking, playing, dancing and grace before I dip the pen in the ink."
Simple habits of faith stand to keep faith at hand for whatever God puts before each day. Jesus stands ready to work with the faith we bring forward.
In the Gospel, there is a context for Jesus reminding us that our faith, even if only the size of a mustard seed, can move a tree. Just before that passage, he directs us to forgive a repenting sinner, even if the person "wrongs you seven times in one day and returns to you seven times, saying, 'I am sorry.'" His immediate disciples think Jesus asks too much of them, so they appeal to him: "Increase our faith." They think their faith is too little.
Although we might think our faith is small, if we keep our faith with us throughout the day, Jesus will work with it to help us forgive those who might hurt us.
Forgiveness is only one side of the mission that Jesus assigns to us. Pope Francis reminds us that, whatever our mission might be, it extends beyond our street and "into every area of life, to the fringes of society, even to those who seem farthest away." Say grace, and bring your faith with you. Your faith is your greatest asset, and Jesus pledges to do something wonderful with it.
(Father David Mercer is parochial administrator at St. Thomas of Canterbury Catholic Church, San Jose.)
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