The Treasure of Faith
(19thOrdinary Sunday: Wisdom 18:6-9; Hebrews 11:1-2, 8-19; Luke 12:32-48)
“Blessed the nation whose God is the Lord, the people he has chosen for his own inheritance.” This phrase from today’s Psalm finds an echo in our second reading: “God is not ashamed to be called their God.”
This, as the author of the Letter to the Hebrews insists, is because Abraham and other patriarchs acted “by faith.” Later generations were not so faithful. Psalm 95 expresses God’s frustration with his people during the wandering in the desert: “Forty years I loathed that generation; I said: ‘This people’s heart goes astray; they do not know my ways.’”
That is what we find at La Salette. Mary weeps over her people’s sufferings, to be sure, but also over their wayward hearts. They had forgotten the privilege of being chosen.
God chose a people for himself; he treated them as a personal inheritance. He rightly expected that they would in turn recognize him as their chief treasure. “I will be your God and you will be my people,” is one of the most important recurring themes in the Bible.
We see this carried out in the liberation of Abraham’s descendants from slavery. Our reading from Wisdom states that they had courage precisely because they had faith in God’s promises.
It is something of a mystery that believers can lose their faith. It may mean thatthe faith has not become their faith; in other words, it is not deeply personal. When religious practice becomes routine, it does not nourish the soul. One does not recognize the gifts offered through the Sacraments.
Or, it may mean that we do not wish to accept the moral demands that living by faith places on us. This was, for example, a major part of St. Augustine’s struggle before he finally was baptized. There are also many trials that put our faith to the test.
Jesus says, “Where your treasure is, there also will your heart be.” There is no doubt where the Beautiful Lady’s treasure is: “My people…My Son.” In her words and in her tears, she reveals her abiding love for both.
It is that love that moved her to come to come and call us to live in faith, to appreciate the treasure that is ours.
(18thOrdinary Sunday: Ecclesiastes 1:2, 2: 21-23; Col. 3:1-11; Luke 12:13-21)
All the readings today caution us against greed and trusting in our possessions. St. Paul succinctly summarizes these thoughts: “Think of what is above, not of what is on earth.”
And yet, half of the message of Our Lady of La Salette is very much concerned with the things of earth: worm-eaten walnuts, rotting grapes, blighted, but potentially abundant, wheat and potatoes and, worst of all, the death of young children.
She could hardly tell her people not to worry about these things. She wept with them. What mattered to them mattered to her. These things are not vanity.
At the same time, she points out her people’s failure to think of what is above. Long before the famine began, they appear to have had little use for God. Religion had become the domain of “a few elderly women.”
In today’s Psalm we pray, “Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain wisdom of heart.” This means living in the presence of God, not in constant fear of death. Two chapters after the “vanity of vanities” in Ecclesiastes, we read that there is “A time to give birth, and a time to die.”
The Beautiful Lady knows that, between birth and death, there is plenty in life to be afraid of; but, close to her, we need no longer be afraid. Under her guidance, we can achieve wisdom of heart. And yet, it is no contradiction to say she will teach us the fear of the Lord.
Sirach 1:12 is one of three verses in the Bible that tell us, “The beginning of wisdom is fear of the Lord.” But read the whole chapter, and you will learn that fear of the Lord is also wisdom’s fullness, garland, and root; that it “warms the heart, giving gladness and joy and length of days;” it is “glory and splendor, gladness and a festive crown.”
What could be more desirable?
The Beautiful Lady’s first words, “Come closer, my children, don’t be afraid,” set the tone for everything that follows. As we read each portion of the message, however distressing, we should continue to hear, “Don’t be afraid... don’t be afraid...” This will help us think calmly and peacefully of what is above.