I have been faithful to my belief in the Catholic Church all my life. Faith was built on teachings; catechism classes as a kid, and into Christian apologetics fiercely defending the faith as a young adult. There was an unshakeable conviction in my belief. Faith and belief were two of the same. I had always thought so. Without ever pondering on it, the difference in my understanding of belief and faith was probably the size on a mustard seed.
We will only begin to ponder when our deeply held belief gets challenged. Often this happens when challenges in life turn into a crisis and we realise that our “deeply held belief” are not deeply rooted at all. Faith flickers to life when belief is almost dead. Faith becomes real when we enter into the darkness of a crisis, when we realise our “long held belief” did not buy us that ticket for a smooth sailing life.
It is in that darkness where our small seed of faith germinates. When the going in life gets tough, when our belief can explain nothing no more, we search for the divine in our life. Our journey in life enters a deep, long tunnel. In that darkness, we see nothing and can only cling on to hope for light at the end of it. “Faith” says St Paul “is an assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen”.
Faith grows through our personal encounters with the Divine. When we pull out of the tunnel and look at our life in the light, the journey we had just travelled, we experience hope fulfilled. Understanding from belief becomes wisdom from faith. Such an experience in life gives birth to faith. Faith, unlike belief, cannot be taught. Faith is an experience and it grows from our many encounters with God on our journey through life.
An encounter with God is an experience in life when we know we are being loved. This is the nature of God: to love us first, unconditionally and most times unseen. Faith open our eyes to see and our hearts to feel. Both love and faith cannot be rationalised in the mind.
When we ask today “to increase my faith” we make ourselves available to experience the limitless, infinite depth of God’s Love. Imagine standing on the seashore and one tiny drop of the ocean represents the love of God we already experienced in our life journey thus far. “Increase our faith” make available for us the entire vastness and depth of the ocean. It is somewhat like having faith the size of only a mustard seed and we can say to a mulberry tree “Be uprooted and planted in the sea” and it will obey.
This beggars belief but faith offers “not a spirit of timidity, but the Spirit of power, and love, and self-control” to embrace our journey in life. We cannot, and must not, be limited by the boundaries of belief.
This is best summarised by the author Rea Nolan Martin who writes, “Belief is the product of the mind, but faith is not. Faith is the product of the spirit. The mind interferes in the process of faith more than it contributes to it. To have faith in the worst of times will no doubt require us to silence, or at least, to quiet the mind. Faith is what happens when our beliefs run aground. The spirit can be buoyed by our beliefs, but can also be brought down by them when they prove inadequate, as they most certainly will at some point in the journey”.
Life is this journey from the head to the heart. Along the way, a mustard seed is all we need to be assured of things hoped for and be convinced of things yet unseen.
27th Sunday in Ordinary Time