Expectant Waiting

The readings for last Sunday and this Sunday are about what’s important and how to protect it. Last Sunday’s readings were about what is not important. Riches are not important, building bigger barns or bigger retirement accounts is not important. This Sunday’s readings are about what is important. What is truly important is that we have faith in the promise made by God, and that we protect and sustain that faith.

When we use the word “faith” we can mean many different things. We use the term “Catholic Faith” to mean the body of beliefs that we hold to be central to what gives meaning to our lives. But sometimes faith another word for confidence, which seems to be the meaning we see in the Letter to the Hebrews today. The writer says, “Faith is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen.”

So faith uses reason, that is why the writer talks about evidence. But faith is both below and above reason. Faith underpins reason, and reason eventually raises questions that it cannot answer on its own, and so it hands them up to faith for a final answer.

Ask a Georgia football fan why he has faith that the football team will get to the national championship game, and you will get a lot of evidence, but the final answer will be something like, “Well, I just know they will.” You see, you cannot be argued out of something you hold in faith if you have some evidence to support your position.

UGA fans know Coach Kirby Smart said Georgia would beat Alabama and win championships. He hasn’t yet, but the Bulldog fans can point to this item and that factor as they look to the next season and maintain their confidence, their faith. Now, whenever a Georgia fan starts to get going about how good this season is going to be, there is always somebody who will point out all the times they failed to realize what was hoped for. Maybe somebody will mention Herschel Walker and that 40 years have passed since he won it all, or somebody will point out that Coach Nick Saban has never lost to one of his former assistants. Whatever it is, it will have some truth, it will hurt, and it can only be overcome by faith in the Bulldogs.

The readings today are not about Georgia football. They are about us. They are about our faith, which is that we have confidence in the promise that Jesus Christ is the Messiah sent by God to suffer for all our sins, and to open to all believers the door to Heaven. Jesus entered into his passion over 2,000 years ago, so we Christians have been waiting for the thing unseen a lot longer than UGA fans have been waiting for another football championship. In today’s readings we are given some instructions and some warnings about waiting. We are waiting for the Second Coming, and God has told us we are not going to know the date or the time. We are not going to know when.

But we do know how. Jesus told his disciples how to wait. We are to wait expectantly. We are to be ready with our belts tight around our waists, with our oil lamps all filled, and our ears attuned to the Master’s knock. This is an active waiting. This is more like waiting for the stoplight to turn green than waiting for the bus to arrive. Most of us cannot maintain this posture very long. Sometimes being still is the hardest thing we are asked to do.

But our Lord knows our weaknesses, and he loves us enough to give us instructions on how to maintain this posture of expectant waiting, how to be ever-ready for our Master’s return. In the parable today, Jesus describes the complacent servant who abandons his job for eating and drinking. How are we to fight complacence?

We fight complacence by making sure that we are like those servants in the parable who kept their belt tight and their lamps lighted. These readings appear on the church’s calendar just as the results of a poll of Catholics reveals how many self-professed Catholics in the U.S. do not believe in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharistic species of bread and wine. And this is not an optional teaching; it is the core of what Catholics believe. It’s a requirement of the faith. Yet many in the poll said they didn’t believe or weren’t sure about it. Who is responsible for the lack of faith shown in this poll?

The reply by Jesus to Peter’s question about servants who “knew their masters will but did not act in accord with it” is a clear warning to the clergy not to abandon their ministry of teaching and preaching, but all of us should be doing our part to grow in our understanding of our faith, to collect evidence to support our faith in the promise of God. We must work so that we can have what the Book of Wisdom calls “sure knowledge of the oaths in which they put their faith.” We should make a serious effort to study the teaching on the Real Presence, not just so we can do better in apologetics when somebody challenges us, but mostly to solidify our faith in this mystery. We need evidence, but we finally need the courage to say, “I just know it’s true.”

If we commit to deepening our understanding of our faith, we will see that the promise is not only the Second Coming at the end of time, but also the coming of peace in our own time. In the letter to the Hebrews, the writer points out that lots of people trusted in the promise of the Messiah yet never saw it finally be realized in the earthly ministry of Jesus. He says they “greeted it from afar and acknowledged themselves to be strangers and aliens on earth.” Knowing how our lives fit in God’s plan brings us a peace that passes all understanding, a peace that protects us even as the world rejects us.

As we collect evidence by spending time in prayer, in the word, and in the sacraments, we will grow in our understanding of God and his promises, and we will find we are waiting expectantly. When we read Jesus say in the gospel that we should “sell our belongings and give alms,” we will understand that we really do want only that kind of treasure “that no thief can reach nor moth destroy.” We won’t be owned by the pursuit of possessions as so much of the world is. By girding our loins and filling our lamps, our prayer lives will deepen, our Scripture time will be more fruitful, and we will see in the sacraments what the world cannot: the real presence of God in everyday and ordinary things like bread, and wine, and water, and oil.

As we prepare to receive the Real Presence in Holy Communion, let us give our assent in the Great Amen at the end of the Eucharistic prayer. As we leave Mass today, let us commit to broadening and deepening our understanding of the evidence of what we profess as Catholic Christians.

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