The Obedience of Faith
By Fr. Humberto Palomino, PES
What does it mean to be people of faith? How does it impact our lives in a practical way? Our readings today offer some insight on these questions, so that our faith can become “living and active,” as St Paul says. [Heb 4: 12]
St Paul connects faith and obedience. His phrase, “the obedience of faith,” appears twice in his letter to the Romans. The Catechism says that “to obey in faith is to submit freely to the word that has been heard, because its truth is guaranteed by God, who is Truth itself.” [CCC 144] Having a living and active faith means first listening to God in prayer, and then submitting freely to what God asks of us, because God is trustworthy.
The Example of Abraham
In our second reading today, St Paul speaks about the obedience of Abraham. In the beginning, there was a moment when Abraham had to leave everything and trust in God. When God called him to leave his home, “he went out, not knowing where he was to go.” [Heb 11: 8] He left his friends and family, his possessions, his plans and possibilities…everything that represented security for him. He freely submitted to the will of God for his life, not knowing where he was headed or what would happen to him, because he trusted that it would be worth it. He believed that if he emptied himself, God would fill him with good things.
This is the obedience of faith that our Lord asks of His disciples in our Gospel today. He encourages them to give everything, emptying themselves freely. He says with love, “Do not be afraid any longer, little flock, for your Father is pleased to give you the kingdom.” [Lk 12: 32] God asks us to empty ourselves so that we can receive from Him. This can be uncomfortable, exciting, and sometimes excruciatingly painful. It can mean the moment of decision when we have to take a step into the unknown, but it can also mean remaining in God’s will through long periods of darkness and lack of understanding, while trusting that God will eventually fill us.
Abraham was promised that God would make of him a great nation, with descendants as numerous as the stars or the sands of the seashore. [See Gen 12: 2 and Gen 15: 5] But the fulfillment of that promise was not immediately evident. Isaac was born to Abraham and Sarah in their old age, but then Abraham was asked to sacrifice his only son, offering him up as a holocaust. [See Gen 22: 2] Abraham doesn’t hesitate or negotiate with God. He believes in the trustworthiness of God so much that he is willing to freeing give everything.
The Fruitfulness of Obedience
When we begin to understand the virtue of obedience in this light…as freely offering ourselves to God with deep trust…we can see why it is also a font of fruitfulness for souls. Abraham’s obedience of faith bore abundant fruit. God did make of him a great nation, and we hear that, through his obedience, “all the nations of the earth shall find blessing.” [Gn 22: 18] The blessings from Abraham’s obedience extend all the way to us today, and our small acts of obedience and trust are fruitful for souls we may never meet.
Our acts of trustful obedience bear fruit that God often hides from our eyes, in order to increase the merit of our offering and safeguard our humility. Abraham only saw the very beginning of the fulfillment of God’s promises in his lifetime. He didn’t see descendants like the stars or all the nations of the earth blessed through him. And similarly, when we give ourselves away, we don’t know all of the ways that God will fill us with His gifts or use us to fill others.
Remember that it was only though Mary’s total surrender of herself to God that she was able to receive Jesus into her womb and into her heart. It was through her freely-given “yes” that Jesus came to dwell in her. In the same way, our obedience to whatever God asks of us will give us the joy of having our Lord come to dwell in us. Our obedience is not easily given, but can there be any doubt that Mary, Abraham and all the saints will help us?