It is striking how often the Scriptures call us to meditate on the meaning of faith. We might say that the Scriptures rest upon faith, remain inspired at every stage by the spirit of faith and are meant to lead us into deeper faith.
So, what is faith? From experience, I want to suggest that real faith is an attitude of trust – trust in the presence and workings of God. It is an openness to what God will reveal, to what God will do, and to what God will invite us to become.
What do we make of the words on faith by Jesus, “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” in today’s gospel?
The implication here is, most of us have very little faith in God. Polls will show that, yes, we believe that God exists. But real faith goes beyond that kind of vague intellectual assent; it looks like trust and confidence; it looks like turning our lives over to God. It is a call to an attitude of surrender. Jesus is saying: if you have faith the size of a tiny seed – a measure which you do not have – you don’t yet have this attitude of surrender and trust. So, the call of Jesus means that, when we operate out of this perspective, amazing things can indeed happen.
If we have true faith in God, then we have surrendered, as St. Paul puts it, to the power already at work in us; that can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine. (Ephesians 3:20)
Now, this is precisely what we Spiritans see in the life of Claude-François Poullart des Places, our founder – who was born into wealth and status as the son of a French aristocrat and whose feast day we honour today – and indeed, in the lives of many great saints including St. Mother Teresa of Kolkata, St. Francis of Assisi and St. Anthony. Poullart des Places’s work with street children deepened his own faith and presented him with a struggle: Should he give up a law career, wealth and a seat in Parliament to help the poor? After much discernment he left his parents and their desires for their son’s distinguished career and went to study theology.
He saw that many of his fellow seminarians were also struggling to meet their basic needs and again he sought a way to help. His faith lives on today in the Congregation through its service to the poor; Spiritans are today recognized by the Church for going places where no one else wants to go and for living simply in deep faith. Think of St. Mother Theresa of Kolkata leaving her comfortable life and moving into the worst slums in the world, with no material resources and no institutional support. All she had was faith; she had an attitude of trust, and what happened because of that? We now have the great order, The Missionary Sisters of Charity, who are reaching across the world, doing the extraordinary work of God. What that came from was a little mustard seed of trust in the Lord. The examples of faith of many other saints also inspire us today. That is, that faith in God increases the more we exercise it. So, we are called to take a leap, even as we, like the apostles, ask the Lord to increase our own faith.