The Seed of Faith by Rev. Paul Scalia
Reprinted with permission of "The Arlington Catholic Herald"
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Luke writes to explain that
Christ came to save everyone.
The apostles said to the Lord, "Increase our faith." The Lord replied, "If you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you would say to this mulberry tree, 'Be uprooted and planted in the sea,' and it would obey you.
"Who among you would say to your servant who has just come in from plowing or tending sheep in the field, 'Come here immediately and take your place at table'? Would he rather not say to him, 'Prepare something for me to eat. Put on your apron and wait on me while I eat and drink. You may eat and drink when I am finished'? Is he grateful to that servant because he did what was commanded? So should it be with you. When you have done all you have been commanded, say, 'We are unprofitable servants; we have done what we were obliged to do.'"
"The apostles said to the Lord, 'Increase our faith'" (Lk17:5). Now we cannot improve on that prayer. Its three words express a simple, profound and urgent need of every human heart. It is a wonderful prayer to make our own. Its brevity enables us to say it quickly and therefore frequently. And as we say it, we should recall the brief catechesis on faith that our Lord gives in response to the prayer. His description of faith the size of a mustard seed ("as a grain, or like unto a grain" of mustard seed, in some translations) reveals both the humility and the power of faith.
First, the humility. A seed is a small, fragile thing. Without the proper attention and care it can die quickly or be snatched away (as the parable of the sower and seeds makes clear; cf. Mk 4:1-20). And a seed desires to be hidden. It does not call attention to itself. It prefers falling to the earth, into the earth and growing where none can see. From its hiding place it produces first the shoot, then the plant fully grown and finally the fruit. But the seed itself remains unseen. At the same time, however, a seed possesses tremendous power. It has within itself the principle of life and growth. it need only find the proper soil and nourishment in order to produce great fruit. Even the smallest seeds can produce enormous plants.
This humble power (and powerful humility) of the seed we find also in the theological virtue of faith. First, like the seed, faith has a humble and hidden quality. It is fragile and must be guarded from the world's many threats. If we neglect our faith or, worse, expose it to danger, then we will soon find ourselves without any faith at all. Further, by faith we acknowledge our smallness, poverty and ignorance. Instead of relying on ourselves, we look to God for instruction and rely on Him for strength. Faith is also hidden within us, "buried in our souls at baptism, so as to bear fruit on the outside. It is the plant fully grown - the Catholic life bearing fruit in works of charity - that people see. This humble quality of faith helps explain what may seem to be a rebuke from our Lord. He tells the apostles that, after a life of faithful service, they should humbly say, "We are unprofitable servants; we have done what we were obliged to do" (Lk 17:10). Obviously our Lord uses hyperbole here, not meaning (as we know from other passages; cf. (Lk 12:37) that a Christian rises to no higher status than an unprofitable servant. Nonetheless, He wants the apostles who were somewhat prone to competition and self-promotion cf. (Mk 9-34), to understand that a faithful man seeks not his own glory but only to be true to the one who has called him.
Again like a seed, humble faith still carries a tremendous power - the principal of Christian life and growth. The apostles already sense this, for which reason they ask for an increase. This growth of faith is precisely what we so often neglect. How many Catholics are content with a faith that has not grown since childhood (perhaps since infancy), like a seed that has produced neither plant nor fruit. Without our constant care and nourishment, the seed of faith grows within us not at all, bears no fruit and remains practically dead. Precisely because faith can grow, we should nourish it with our prayers and water it with repentance. We should ask often for its increase. Our Lord describes faith's power in dramatic terms; it can uproot a mulberry tree and plant it in the sea (cf. Lk 17:6). Now most of us, even if we could identify a mulberry tree, would have little interest in relocating it into the water. But we do have plenty of vices to uproot from our souls and virtues to plant. This is the kind of planting and uprooting faith brings us. By faith we have union with God and access to His grace. By trusting in His grace we can uproot our vices - the resentment, envy, lust and pride so deep-rooted in our souls. If we trust in Him by faith, then we will find virtues - humility, courage, hope and love - planted, growing and flourishing where we never thought it possible, within our own souls.
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