Once every three years on Holy Family Sunday we read from the eleventh chapter of St. Paul’s letter to the Hebrews. [Spanish.]
Now, the Bible contains many inspiring chapters. To claim that any particular chapter qualifies as The Most Inspiring Chapter of the Holy Bible! Who could make such a judgment? 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 2017, and you decide to make it Hebrews 11–good choice.
We hear at Holy Mass how the paragraphs of Hebrews 11 begin. They begin with “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, based practically his whole encyclical Lumen Fidei on Hebrews 11; he quotes the chapter thirteen times. 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. (paragraph 55)
Anyway, one particular verse of Hebrews 11 struck me. In the section of the chapter after the part about Abraham and his sons, St. Paul considers the faith of Moses. We read:
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 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 it. 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. Utterly unseen—except, in Jesus Christ, we see Him, and we know Him.