Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
The apostles come to Jesus with a beautiful request: “Increase our faith.” We might hear in these words an echo of the prayer of the man whose son, possessed by a demon, was brought to Jesus in Mark’s Gospel: “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24). There is a nobility and a humility in this request that must be acknowledged. Noble, for the apostles are becoming more aware of the human desire to know and love God, and the time they spend with Jesus is opening their hearts to understand that knowledge and love of God require a bedrock of deep faith. Humble, for the apostles are coming to see just how frail their own faith is, just how little they truly believe.
We too, are called to this nobility. St. Paul, writing to Timothy, reminds him of the “noble confession of faith” that he had made (1 Tim. 6: 12), encouraging him to stand fast in that same faith. To place our trust and faith in Jesus is truly something noble. The deep desire of the human heart is for God, and when we uncover that desire we are uncovering a treasure. To want deeper faith is unlike wanting other things or other forms of knowledge. But sometimes we get a bit too caught up in quantity. If only I had more faith! Then I’d really be set, then with more faith, I’d be able to serve God. We do the same with many other aspects of our life: if only I had more of the virtue of patience, or charity…if only I was more disciplined in my eating or exercising…if only I can save this much money then I can… Same logic, but very different realities. In fact, Jesus makes it clear that faith is the most foundational of all, and requires no special skills. “If you had faith the size of a mustard seed.” When we read the lives of the saints, or stories of miraculous cures or conversions, it is often someone with little education, little wealth, poor health, or poor morals who cries out to God in faith. With faith the size of a mustard seed, they turn to God and find healing, help, and a path to holiness. Jesus reminds the apostles, and each of us, that we need not have our life together to cry out to God. So we shouldn’t wait until we have more faith to start turning to God. Rather, with our mustard seed-sized faith, we’re invited to make our requests known.
We are also called to humility. If at a word I was able to uproot mulberry trees and see them planted in the sea, I might start to think a bit highly of myself. Thus, Jesus uses the example of servants who acknowledge that they are simply doing what is required, fulfilling their duty. The more we start to live our Catholic faith and learn about it, the better. But we might experience the temptation to think that this growth is a result of our own accomplishment and skill. The truth about faith, though, that Jesus wants us to understand, is that God is the one who is at work in and through our faith. When I recite the Creed, making “the noble confession of faith in the presence of many witnesses” (cf. 1 Tim. 6:12), I am simply responding to what God has already inspired in my heart. And the truth is that on some days I am reciting that Creed with more or less faith. Faith the size of a mustard seed is all that is needed. Humility allows us to recognize that faith is a light given to us by God that elevates our minds and hearts. Thus when I make my confession of faith, when I uproot the mulberry tree, I realize that it is not me at work, rather it is God at work in and through me. I am just an unprofitable servant who has done his duty. Humility is also the proper disposition of the heart when turning to God in faith. If faith is a God-given gift that elevates my mind and heart, it turns me to One who is greater than I. Humility allows me to recognize that I am not God, and so what I ask in faith is something I cannot do or attain on my own. God does not ask me to do everything myself, but rather to trust Him, to put my confidence (even just a little bit of confidence) in His goodness and mercy. When I do this, I have done what was asked; there is no reason for me to be overly proud. With that humility, with that noble confession, I can say both, “Increase my faith,” and “I am an unprofitable servant.” Thanks be to God!