A scripture reflection for October 2, 2022, the 27th Sunday of Ordinary Time.
You may remember “The Secret Life of Mother Teresa,” the September 3, 2007 Time Magazine cover story about St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta. Journalist David Van Biema reported a decade after Mother Teresa’s death that her secret letters showed that she spent almost 50 years without sensing the presence of God in her life.
Lord, my God, who am I that you should forsake me? I call, I cling, I want – and there is no One to answer – no One on Whom I can cling – no, No ONE. – Alone… Where is my Faith – even deep down right in, there is nothing, but emptiness and darkness. My God, how painful is this unknown pain. I have no Faith. I dare not utter the words and thoughts that crowd in my heart – and make me suffer untold agony. So many unanswered questions live within me afraid to uncover them – because of the blasphemy. If there be God – please forgive me – When I try to raise my thoughts to Heaven – there is such convicting emptiness that those very thoughts return like sharp knives and hurt my soul.
Mother Teresa wasn’t feeling Christ’s love. She could have shut down. But instead, she was up at 4:30 every morning for Jesus, and still also wrote to Him, “Your happiness is all I want.” This shows her commitment, fidelity, and vulnerability. Reflecting on her life, Rev. James Martin, S.J., said: “Everything she’s experiencing is what average believers experience in their lives writ large. I have known scores of people who have felt abandoned by God and had doubts about God’s existence.”
The first reading is taken from the book of the prophet Habakkuk. During that time, there was much cheating, injustice, and violence in Israel. There were unrestrained oppressors and helpless victims. There were self-appointed prophets who twisted the word of God to suit their own agendas to gain wealth for themselves. The king of Israel, Jehoiakim (Jer 22:17) forced people to build his own lavish residence with unpaid labor, and taxed the people to pay for his military expeditions. The legal system in Judean society was full of irresponsible litigation and the failure to administer justice properly. Justice was absent and law became ineffective. Finally, the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar II (605–562 BCE) sacked Jerusalem in 597 and destroyed it completely in 586 BCE.
This entire situation makes the prophet Habakkuk question his own faith in God. He cries out to God, but God seems deaf to his cries. Even the prophet struggles in his faith. But it is now that Yahweh gives him a vision. God is still active. Justice will come; and in the meantime, the righteous, says Habakkuk, must live by their faith.
In today’s Gospel (Luke 17:5-10), the apostles are also struggling in their faith. Just before today’s scene, Jesus has told the apostles, “If your brother or sister sins against you, rebuke them; and if they repent, forgive them. Even if they sin against you seven times a day, seven times come back to you saying, ‘I repent,’ forgive them” (Luke 17:3-4). This teaching is too difficult for the apostles to digest. It is extremely demanding of them. Hence, the request: “Lord, increase our faith.”
The response of Jesus, “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed,” is not an admonition or putting down the apostles. In Greek, it means, “If you have faith – and you DO!” The apostles already have faith enough to uproot a mulberry tree, which live to be some 600 years old, and whose roots are so deep and so strong that they can break rocks beneath the earth’s surface. The real meaning of the words of Jesus is, “you have plenty of faith to accomplish all I ask, so stop making excuses for yourselves. Go and do.”
The prophet Habakkuk and the apostles suffer the same thing, they both struggle in their faith. And in both cases, God intervenes and confirms their faith. God does not admonish them for their lack of faith. Instead, God shows that they already have faith. We see this same movement of God in response to others in Scripture.
In Genesis, Abraham struggles to believe that God would really make good on his promise to give him and Sarah a son. Years had gone by, and now both of them are too old to have any children. It seems like time had passed them by. The man we call the Father of Faith was struggling in his faith, yet God assured Abraham of His promise.
In Luke, Mary has her doubts about how she could be pregnant with the promised Messiah, asking the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” Even the Mother of God struggled in her faith. She kept all these things in her heart and pondered over them. Even Jesus on the cross cried out, “My Lord, My Lord, Why have you forsaken me.”
We all struggle in our faith. We are not angels. Every saint struggled in their faith. A mother who gives birth to a child with physical or mental defect will struggle in her faith. Every parent whose son or daughter experiences addiction will struggle in their faith. Anyone who keeps failing constantly will struggle in their faith. A person who suffers due to cancer or incurable illness will struggle in their faith. A married couple who divorces will struggle in their faith. When we experience immense suffering, we will go through a time of struggle in our faith. Every time you witness a scandal in the church, you will struggle in your faith.
It is normal to question our faith in God. God is not offended by our doubts or struggle in faith. He is willing to reassure us, and to stand by us. We should know that when we struggle in our faith, our faith is alive. Theologian Paul Tillich said doubt and struggle in faith are not the opposite of faith but an integral element of it. Struggling in faith like Habakkuk or the Apostles shows that we are on the right path. God upholds your faith.
Fr. Fredrick Devaraj comes from India. He was a member of the Congregation of the Holy Redeemer, the Redemptorists of Bangalore Province. Now he is a priest of the Archdiocese of St. Louis, Missouri, serving at St. Alban Roe Catholic Church.