This past Friday, I was able to visit with Bishop Felipe Estevez in St. Augustine as I traveled with the team to Jacksonville. We had a very nice time together having lunch and going to the holy sites of St. Augustine to pray. During our conversations, we talked about the brilliance of Pope Francis and his recent encyclical letter on faith. The bishop mentioned that he was going to use excerpts from it in his homily this weekend. Since I had not yet written my homily as of Friday afternoon, I told him that I would probably do the same (amazing how the Holy Spirit works.) The bishop and I started talking about most of the things the Holy Father had been focusing on and how similar it was to all the things Bishop Roman spent his life preaching about: getting out of our churches to spread the faith. Faith is central to today’s readings, but a faith that comes alive and doesn’t grow stale.
In his encyclical letter Lumen Fidei (The Light of Faith), Pope Francis points to Abraham as a model of faith just like today’s second reading does:
Faith opens the way before us and accompanies our steps through time. Hence, if we want to understand what faith is, we need to follow the route it has taken, the path trodden by believers, as witnessed first in the Old Testament. Here a unique place belongs to Abraham, our father in faith. (8)
Abraham recognized the voice of God, and with great faith (and with much to lose) uproots his entire clan to go to a distant country where God promises descendants and great prosperity. Because of his unwavering faith, Abraham is indeed blessed with descendants and given the land that we call holy today. But he first had to recognize the voice of God and respond to it. Once he responds, God’s blessings journey him because faith, after all, is a journey:
The word spoken to Abraham contains both a call and a promise. First, it is a call to leave his own land, a summons to a new life, the beginning of an exodus which points him towards an unforeseen future. The sight which faith would give to Abraham would always be linked to the need to take this step forward: faith "sees" to the extent that it journeys, to the extent that it chooses to enter into the horizons opened up by God’s word.(9)
Faith does indeed call us to a new life, but as the Holy Father points out, just as it did with Abraham,
our faith points us to an unforeseen future because our faith is always prompting us to change. If faith is indeed a journey, then we can never be in one place. While faith itself never changes (our beliefs and our morals), our understanding and the practice of our faith does. Herein lies the challenge to seek better understanding of what we believe in. Faith should take us into those different “horizons opened up God’s word” so that we may grow more and more in our love for the God that we cannot see. Our journey through this world is a pilgrimage which faith and hope tells us will one day lead us back into the arms of our Father in heaven. That is why our faith must constantly be on the move. Jesus tells his disciple that we must always be dressed to move, to travel because we do not know when the Son of Man will come.
It took great faith for those first missionary priests to sail out into the unknown and to plant that first cross here in Florida. Like Abraham, they too ventured into the unknown relying only on God. If our faith is as deep and as unwavering as that of Abraham, then our pilgrimage through this world will indeed be accompanied by God’s blessings and ultimately lead us back home to Him. So let our prayer today be that of the disciples, “Lord, increase our faith.” (Luke 17:5)