Our focus on the 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time turns to a consideration of the meaning of faith. Each of our readings draws our attention to the place of faith in our lives. Faith for us exists both in the immediacy of life and yet more importantly within our eschatological longing and hope. We cannot separate the two – faith leads us to hope and hope demands faith.

As one’s experience of faith and hope become more conjoined that hope becomes “sure and certain” as we hear expressed in our funeral liturgy. Our First Reading from Wisdom speaks of the certainly of knowledge of the ancients. For the author the eschatological hope had moved to the point of knowledge. God’s plan for humanity is played out – over time – but in the course of time. The promise has been made, it happens then in the plan of God for the history of eternity, not necessarily for the time in which the promise is made or even for the foreseeable generations to come.

The author of the Letter to the Hebrews lays this out for us in a succinct way. He looks to Abraham and the promises made through the very beginning of the covenant as key to understanding both his present and the even yet to be fulfilled distant future.

For some this leads to despair. The promise not fulfilled is a promise broken or perhaps never made. Many cannot imagine the Kingdom of God in the world; they find only terror and hopelessness, and come to the conclusion that there is no kingdom, no hope and no future.

Peter and Jesus dialogue over this in the Gospel. Many of the people of their time had grown tired of hearing about the promise while living under the oppression of the Romans. They saw no hope, other than the hope that they could make better lives for themselves through compromise, abandoning their beliefs and amassing fortunes for themselves. The only hope for a good future is of one’s own making.

The disciples made great sacrifice in following Jesus.They abandoned what they had and vested everything in Jesus. Now Peter wonders if that is the wise choice. Jesus assures him and the subject is never broached again. Peter, like each of us, has to make that leap into faith, the final moment when we know we are all in. Even at that, Peter will deny Jesus three times when the going gets really tough.

Pope Francis offers a poignant insight into the quest for faith in his encyclical
Lumen Fidei: [35.1] “The light of faith in Jesus also illumines the path of all those who seek God, and makes a specifically Christian contribution to dialogue with the followers of the different religions. The Letter to the Hebrews speaks of the witness of those just ones who, before the covenant with Abraham, already sought God in faith… Even earlier, we encounter Abel, whose faith was praised and whose gifts, his offering of the firstlings of his flock, were therefore pleasing to God. Religious man strives to see signs of God in the daily experiences of life, in the cycle of the seasons, in the fruitfulness of the earth and in the movement of the cosmos. God is light and he can be found also by those who seek him with a sincere heart.”

[35.3] Because faith is a way, it also has to do with the lives of those men and women who, though not believers, nonetheless desire to believe and continue to seek. To the extent that they are sincerely open to love and set out with whatever light they can find, they are already, even without knowing it, on the path leading to faith. They strive to act as if God existed, at times because they realize how important he is for finding a sure compass for our life in common or because they experience a desire for light amid darkness, but also because in perceiving life’s grandeur and beauty they intuit that the presence of God would make it all the more beautiful… Therein lies our eschatological hope – one that is indeed sure and certain.

Father Garry Koch is parochial vicar of St. Joseph Parish, Toms River.