There’s a hilarious video out there on the Internet called “trust fall fail.” If you’ve never heard of a trust fall, it’s an activity meant to produce trust between team members who work together in an office or in some such situation. One person stands blindfolded with their arms crossed against their chest, and then falls like a tree, trusting that their team member will catch them before they hit the floor. In the video, two sisters are doing the trust fall while dad films it. He says to one girl, “OK this is called the trust fall. Just close your eyes and Lauren’s going to catch you.” Lauren then stands behind her sister, braced and ready to catch her. And then her sister leans forward and falls flat on her face. Apparently they didn’t tell her which direction to fall. So much for trust.
The theme of this week’s gospel is faith. The disciples ask Jesus to increase their faith. I always wonder how that would have happened. I can just imagine it now. Jesus says, “OK, now we’re going to do trust falls until you have more faith.” Then I imagine there’s some sort of faith dipstick that he pulls out of your ear and says, “oh, looks like you’re about a quart low.” as if there’s some way to measure one’s faith. What, then, are the disciples asking for, and how does Jesus respond? Jesus is saying that it isn’t the quantity of our faith that’s important, but rather the quality of our faith that matters.
The fact is, if you’re baptized, the Holy Spirit has already infused the virtue of faith into your soul. And that infused faith is like the mustard seed planted in the ground. It’s small, but if it’s nourished, it will grow into a faith of high quality.
“But Father, I don’t feel like I have faith. I want to believe, but I’m not sure. How do we really know that all these things in the Bible are true? I need proof.”
Ever notice how in the gospels, people are following Jesus around, seeing miracles, like when Jesus multiplied the bread and fed thousands of people, or when he cured a man blind from birth, or when he actually raised people from the dead (at least three times!)? If you saw that, wouldn’t you believe? Most of us would agree. And yet, what happened to all those witnesses? Where were they when Jesus was tried and executed? Apparently, they weren’t so convinced that Jesus was the Son of God. Where was their faith then? What happened? They saw amazing miracles, and yet they fell away.
That’s because faith is not just something passively received, it’s something that is actively practiced. It’s like when a child receives his first bicycle. He has received the gift, but he doesn’t immediately know how to ride it. He has to do something with it. He has to train. He will probably fall a few times. Eventually he learns to ride it with confidence.
Faith is like that too. We receive faith in baptism, but it must be cared for. We must train ourselves in the faith. And that training we call…discipleship.
Discipleship is an essential part of faith. It means deepening our knowledge of our faith, yes. And that can help when moments of doubt creep in. But it is more than a mental exercise; it also affects what we do. When we trust in Jesus, when we believe that he is truly God and truly man, and that he has offered us eternal life, it should change the way we live our lives. Our trust in Jesus should have some kind of impact on us.
“So what am I supposed to do, Father?” Glad you asked! The Church gives us a short list of things to do as practicing Catholics. She calls these the precepts of the Church and there are five of them. The precepts are:
- Go to Mass every Sunday and Holy Day of Obligation and rest from servile labor.
- Go to Confession at least once a year
- Receive the Eucharist at least once during the Easter season
- Observe the established days of fast and abstinence
- Provide for the needs of the Church
That’s what is expected of us as a bare minimum of discipleship. It’s our duty to observe these precepts of the Church, not because they are arbitrary rules, but because these are the natural behaviors of someone who loves Jesus and follows him as his disciple. For the disciple, he doesn’t need to memorize the precepts of the Church, because he naturally does these things anyway.
And here is where the second part of the gospel comes into play. Jesus gives us the example of the servant who does his master’s will. It can be difficult for us to look past the surface here—a worker who is already exhausted from the day’s work is then asked to cook supper. Many of us can identify with this scenario. Why not give the poor guy/gal a break? Well, that’s not the point of the teaching. The point is that the servant is doing what’s expected of him.
On the radio the other day I heard the DJs discussing whether it’s fair to pay one’s own children to do chores around the house—washing the dishes, folding laundry, taking out the trash, mowing the lawn. Apparently, some parents pay their kids for doing all these tasks, or some pay for just the most difficult chores. In my own household growing up, I received a weekly allowance, a set amount, regardless of whether the chores were lighter or heavier that particular week.
Now, I’m not trying to give parenting advice here, but I think this example illustrates what Jesus was trying to say. On the one hand, a worker deserves a just wage. But on the other hand, we all have obligations for which we should expect no further reward. I think parents understand this concept better than anyone.
- Nobody pays you to be a mother to your kids.
- Nobody pays you to be a father to your kids. It’s what you’re expected to do.
That’s the kind of attitude we should have about discipleship. We will receive our just reward in Heaven if we do what we are expected to do.
- follow the commandments
- follow the precepts of the Church
- forgive others
- share with the poor
- give worship to God alone
When we do these things, we will know we are Jesus’ disciples. And his disciples should not expect a reward in the short-term. That’s called detachment. Having an attitude of detachment from reward is key. Why? because when we expect a reward, and don’t receive one, we try to reward ourselves. We self-medicate. And we do that in all sorts of ways that are harmful to us.
- drinking excessively
- doing drugs
- shopping needlessly
- hooking up
- using pornography
So what’s the remedy? How do I begin to counteract this sense of entitlement that leads to such self-destruction? Simple. Thankfulness.
Thankfulness undoes the knot of entitlement that we tie up for ourselves. When we thank God for the day, for our lives, for our blessings, for the things that go well for us, and even for the things that don’t go our way, we are practicing humility, and humility eliminates entitlement.
A spirit of thankfulness takes practice too. Try this: when you wake up in the morning, let your first words be, “Thank you, Father.” You can be more specific if you want. “Thank you for this day, another chance to grow in holiness. Thank you for my life. Thank you for calling me your son/daughter.” Try it. It takes practice, but it works. Thankfulness puts things in perspective.
When we are thankful for what we have, we don’t constantly feel the need for more. When we are thankful for who we are, we don’t get resentful for not being like someone else. And we won’t have to numb the pain in destructive ways.
There’s no better time to start practicing thankfulness than right here at Mass. After all, the Mass is the celebration of the Eucharist, and Eucharist is the Greek word for thanksgiving. Here in the Mass we give thanks. We lift up our hearts in faith to the Lord. And we receive the greatest gift in return—the very presence of God within us in the Holy Eucharist.
Today, let us give thanks for our many blessings. Let us turn away from an attitude of entitlement and towards a disposition of humility. Let’s nourish our faith by practicing it, and may our corner of God’s creation benefit from Jesus’ presence within us.