Holy Family

Everyone knows that our readings for Sundays and holy days follow a three-year cycle? The second reading always comes from the ____ Testament. Most of the time, the second reading at Mass comes from a letter written by St. ______. He wrote letters to the Romans, the Corinthians, Galatians, Thessalonians, Philippians, Ephesians, etc.

Paul himself was none of these; he was, in fact, a descendant of Abraham, a ______. Jews were also known as H_________. Sometimes we read from St. Paul’s letter to his own people.

Twice during the three-year cycle we read from chapter 11 of Hebrews. Once during the summer, in Year C. And once every three years on Holy Family Sunday.

Now, obviously, the Bible contains many inspiring chapters. To claim that any particular chapter qualifies as The Most Inspiring Chapter of the Holy Bible! would involve a lot of hubris. But Hebrews 11 will give any chapter a run for the money. If you only intend to read one single chapter of the Bible between now and the end of 2014, and you decide to make it Hebrews 11, I congratulate you on a good choice.

illuminated-bibleWe hear in Sunday’s reading how the paragraphs of Hebrews 11 begin with the phrase “By faith, So-and-so did such-and-such.” By faith, Abraham obeyed when he was called to move to an unknown land. By faith, Abraham received the power to generate offspring, even though he had passed the normal age, and had a sterile wife. By faith, Abraham, when put to the test, offered up his son Isaac.

Now, Hebrews 11 recounts not just Abraham’s faith. The chapter chronicles the faith of the successive generations of Israelites who awaited the fulfillment of God’s promises. The chapter exhorts the Christian Church to unswerving faith.

Our Holy Father, Pope Francis, practically based his whole encyclical Lumen Fidei on Hebrews 11; he quotes the chapter thirteen times in the encyclical. Like when he writes:

If we remove faith in God from our cities, mutual trust would be weakened. We would remain united only by fear, and our stability would be threatened. In the Letter to the Hebrews we read that ‘God is not ashamed to be called their God…’ (Heb 11:16)… The intention is to say that God, by his concrete actions, makes a public avowal that he is present in our midst and that he desires to solidify every human relationship. Could it be the case, instead, that we are the ones who are ashamed to call God our God? That we are the ones who fail to confess him as such in our public life, who fail to propose the grandeur of the life in common which he makes possible? Faith possesses a creative light for each new moment of history, because it sets every event in relationship to the origin and destiny of all things, in the Father. (paragraph 55)

Anyway, one particular verse of Hebrews 11 struck me, and I will tell you why. In the section of the chapter after the part about Abraham and his sons, St. Paul considers the faith of Moses. We read:

Pope-Francis-Lumen-Fidei“By faith, Moses left Egypt, not fearing Pharaoh’s fury. For Moses persevered as if he could see the invisible God.”

Moses led the Israelites out of slavery, marching towards the sea, with chariots in hot pursuit. No earthly consideration could have made the situation hopeful. Didn’t look good at all. But Moses marched forward as if he could see the invisible God.

We see the baby Jesus, a baby, a boy. A human being, like us. But, by faith, we look at the infant in the manger as if we could see the invisible God. The Blessed Mother, St. Joseph, the shepherds: gazing at the baby, adoring Him, as if they could see the invisible God.

Nothing will evangelize like this. The world needs the Good News of Christ. And nothing will convince like the witness of people who speak and live as if we could see the invisible.

Let me quote Pope Paul VI:

The world shows innumerable signs of denying God. But, nevertheless, she searches for him in unexpected ways. She painfully experiences the need for Him. The world is calling for evangelizers to speak of a God whom they know and are familiar with, as if they could see the invisible. (Evangelii Nuntiandi, paragraph 76)

For us, this requires discipline. It requires constant engagement with Christ, through Scripture and the sacraments. It requires renouncing the “concupiscence of our eyes,” which grasp like desperate babies for stimulation.

Moses did not lead the Israelites to the Promised Land by pulling out his smartphone all the time and checking his e-mail or facebook. Moses could see the invisible because he had conquered the concupiscence of his eyes, by denying them the immediate satisfaction that they crave.

Let’s think of the long, slow nights which Mary and Joseph spent with the baby. Hours of quiet breathing, little baby noises, in the pitch-black night. Totally unexciting. Except that they could see the invisible God.

That’s how we can learn to see the invisible, too. By embracing quiet, and solitude—and not running away. By becoming people who are not afraid to pray, to pray with reckless abandon to the unseen God–Who, in Jesus Christ, we can see and know.

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