Opening the Word: Timeless faith

“Brothers and sisters,” wrote the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews, “Faith is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen.” This is a timeless definition of faith, made at the start of a chapter extolling many great models and heroes of faith, including Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Moses and others, men and women of whom “the world was not worthy” (Heb 11:38).

Last week, I mentioned several truths expressed by Pope Francis in Lumen Fidei (“The Light of Faith”) about the true nature of faith. Today’s readings touch on some others, including one of the more involved themes of the pope’s encyclical: the relationship between faith, memory and hope. In writing about Abraham, Francis points out that his faith was always an act of remembrance, precisely because it was based on God’s word, which preceded any response or action on the part of Abraham. Yet Abraham’s remembrance, in a paradoxical way, “is not fixed on past events but, as the memory of a promise, it becomes capable of opening up the future, shedding light on the path to be taken. We see how faith, as remembrance of the future, memoria futuri, is thus closely bound up with hope” (No. 9).

This is heady stuff. How, exactly, does someone remember the future? The essential reason is that God is not bound by time, but is the creator of time and history. But, having entered time and history — most radically by becoming man — God has put us in touch with eternity. In other words, the eternal God has dwelt among us and now, through the merciful love of the Father and the power of the Holy Spirit, Jesus Christ lives in us. “I have been crucified with Christ,” wrote St. Paul, “yet I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me; insofar as I now live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God who has loved me and given himself up for me” (Gal 2:19-20).

Living by faith, then, involves living in the moment while being rooted in the past and looking to the future — not in an unfocused way, but with clarity and purpose. Which is what the author of Hebrews meant when exhorting his readers to persevere “while keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the leader and perfecter of faith” (Heb 12:2). That means being vigilant, which is evident in today’s readings. Vigilance is not possible without faith and hope. The true disciple of Jesus Christ stands prepared because he believes in faith that the Lord has come and will come again, and also because he believes in hope that Christ will fulfill the promises granted through the new covenant, the Church and the sacraments.

Vigilance is closely linked with obedience. The vigilance kept on the night of Passover, the author of the Book of Wisdom wrote, was based on the promise and the “knowledge of the oaths in which they put their faith,” which had been given to them by God through Moses. Abraham’s faith was shown through obedience to God’s call to an unknown but better homeland, a foreshadow of the heavenly home (Heb 11:16).

That heavenly home is the new Jerusalem, the dwelling place of God, the Kingdom proclaimed by Christ and anticipated by the Church. Those who listen with anticipation and respond in faith will receive and enter into the Kingdom. All of us “must be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come.” 

Carl E. Olson is the editor of Catholic World Report.