| By Bishop Steven J. Raica

‘Increase Your Faith’

Bishop Celebrates Blue Mass

On Sunday, Oct. 2, Bishop Raica celebrated the first of two diocesan Blue Masses. The Mass, held at the Cathedral of St. Paul, honors law enforcement, first fighters, and all first responders. The complete text of the bishop’s homily follows herein.

My brothers and sisters in Christ, once again, we have the occasion to join together in prayer for our law enforcement, fire fighters, and first responders here at the Cathedral of St. Paul in downtown Birmingham. As a community of faith, we thank you again for your presence with us to allow us to pray for your mission, for you, and your families in a particular way this morning at this service near the feast day of St. Michael the Archangel that we call the Blue Mass. St. Michael is the patron of military, police, fire fighters, and those who work in dangerous situations. May you be further protected! You, too, have a calling to help preserve the common good of our local communities. For that, we, through the Catholic Diocese of Birmingham, and in my own name, thank you in a formal way today and pray that you will fulfill your responsibilities with professionalism and with care and respect for all, ensuring our safety and security.
In recent years, Twitter has become a popular social phenomenon. With it, one can send/publish messages of no more than 280 (formerly 140) characters and spaces called “tweets,” announcing to the world your thoughts about may subjects. It has become increasingly more popular. Now there is an emerging science about this phenomenon called “Twitterology.” Some have taken it to another level, attempting to summarize the classic literature into 20 tweets or less of no more than 280 characters and spaces. This study is apparently called “Twitterature.”

In our readings, and as I think about the writings of the Bible, both the Old and New Testament, especially Gospel passages or Proverbs or Psalms, they provided an early foundation of Tweets that the writer wanted announced to the world. The longest would be “Esther 8:9” with 90 words and some 471 characters and spaces. (It would have to be divided into 2 tweets). The shortest is “John 11:35.” One we know very well: “Jesus wept” (a mere 2 words, 9 characters, and one space).

On this weekend of the Blue Mass, the first reading from Habakkuk, a minor prophet who lived around 612 B.C., seems to characterize a lot of the troubles we face: “I cry for help, but you do not listen! I cry out to you, ‘Violence!’ but you do not intervene. … There is strife and clamorous discord.” It sounds like it needs a first responder to help out! Turning to the Lord, he answered: “Write down the vision clearly upon the tablets.  … The rash one has no integrity; but the just one, because of his faith, shall live.”

We go from chaos to order, from despair to hope, from violence to peace. It comes through faith and a vision. Just as we call on our esteemed authorities to help in time of need, we might call “faith” the first responder to our inner turmoil and chaos. It is the fulfillment of a dream that we pray will provide us with peace and security so that all can thrive and fulfill God’s dream!

If we had only the faith the size of a small, tiny mustard seed. What would that be able to do. The readings give us some small “tweets” to consider:

“Increase our faith.”

“Write down the vision.”

“If today you hear His voice, harden not your hearts.”

These Scriptural “tweets” could take up an entire homily … a lecture … a book. That’s your homework this week! Take one of these verses, spend time in quiet or out for a walk, and ask the Lord what He wants you to do for Him. There’s a lot to analyze, a lot to think about, but these Biblical tweets grab our attention.

Today, I will take a brief, very brief, look at a couple points.    

We take our cue from the Gospel in which the Apostles plead with our Lord, “Increase our faith!” In need and desperation, sensing our own inadequacy, everyone of us could utter the same prayer: “Increase our faith!” 

Interesting, isn’t it, the Lord does not satisfy their request immediately or directly. It is not important how much faith you have, its size, or amount. Can it be quantified like a liter of wine, a quart of milk, or a gallon of gas? What is important is the kind of faith! Is it genuine? Do you seek it? If it were not bigger than a mustard seed, but genuine, real, its power would be dramatic, Jesus says. With such faith, St. Luke tells us, “You could say to this tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.” (Lk 17:5-6) Or, as St. Matthew informs us, “You will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here over there,’ and it will move.” (Mt 17:20) Alas, I’ve not seen any mountains or trees move no matter how hard I’ve prayed – my faith must be very small, indeed. I join the chorus of many others here, “Increase my faith, Lord!”

What is this genuine faith? It is the capacity to recognize a presence before us. Those who saw and heard this man Jesus speak before them were convinced. “You are the Christ,” they exclaimed in the Scriptures. They knew something was truly different about this Jesus of Nazareth. Like the responsorial: “If you hear His voice” talk to Him, don’t run away. Don’t ignore it or “harden your hearts!”

It is about our knowledge and awareness of what is truly in front of us – the reality before our eyes. “Knowing about God” is far different than “knowing God.” “Knowing about Christ” is quite different than “knowing Christ.” The faith that saves, the faith that moves mountains and trees is not simply a matter of statements. It is a “YES” given by a person, not merely to statements, but to a person whose “heart is not hardened” but wide open – a fact, indeed the Christian fact that is always an event. It is this “YES” that engages the whole person, not only our understanding, but also our heart and will as well. Thus, it is a total self-giving.

What we do at Mass on Sunday focuses our faith on the very heart of the Christian mystery. There are two intertwined and interlocking processes constantly at work: Faith forms community, and community nourishes faith. If you are to deepen your basic commitment to Christ, your original YES to Christ, then, it must be acknowledged that there is no substitute for this weekly event where we find and experience the presence of Christ in a particular way. We pray that we will not let the message that Christ wants you to have today be drowned out by the distracting noise around us – or that our hearts not become hardened to the wonder around us every day. 

As Christians, our faith, even if it’s not the size of a mustard seed, is not isolated from our daily routine - this is what I do in church, and that is what I do out there. It is not that 1/7 of us is Christian and 6/7 of us is secular. No! We are totally Christian. We belong to Christ totally, not partially. It is interwoven into the fabric our lives, permeating every aspect of our lives – our work, our leisure, from balancing our checkbook to enjoying life in all of its factors. It is something the disciples learned over time. They stayed with Christ because they came to an experience of life that nothing else could offer. It is who we are, it is how we face the world in which we live, it is our way of living and looking at the world with amazement. Living this life today takes courage, it takes intentional fortitude. When we pray, “Increase our faith!” we begin with that fundamental plea of a beggar recognizing our limitations and wounds. It leads us to beg for only that which answers our basic desire of our hearts: Christ. As those in the Scripture and the saints over the centuries have demonstrated, the school of discipleship is one that doesn’t have a graduation and we’re done. They kept looking for Him. They wanted to see Him one more time; they wanted Him to remain when they were wandering aimlessly to Emmaus – “Stay with us!”

So, Biblical tweets are food for thought and soul that summarize the Word of God speaking to us this weekend.

“God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather of power and love and self-control.” 
How could we not respond to our world around us except with a sense of bold resolve?

“Increase our faith”

Our fundamental plea: to see Him one more time!
“Write down the vision.”

May our memory of Him be alive so we can share what the Lord will do for us!

“If today you hear His voice, harden not your hearts.”

Hear the call of God inviting you today to a deeper relationship. 

All considered, it is for these reasons that it is a vital part of our vision, our way of life, our vibrant witness of gratitude to the Mystery we have encountered, and for which we have done what “we were obliged to do.” “Increase our faith!”

‘Increase Your Faith’ 2