Greetings, SBT Readers!
Today, 17 students graduated from ThrivingTogether, the Catholic Theological Union's Ministerial Coaching program. It was a wonderful "virtual" celebration of our students' personal growth and academic success, as well as of their commitment to the coaching profession. While most of the group intend to continue professional certification through the International Coaching Federation, all our graduates have already found ways of enriching their various ministries with their coaching skills. Whether they serve as campus ministers, directors of religious education, pastoral associates, clergy, college professors, social workers, social justice advocates, liturgical ministers, and more, members of Cohort Two, like the graduates of Cohort One, have embraced the call to "honor the inherent dignity, particularity and wholeness of each human person and their ability to thrive" and to commit themselves "to authenticity and liberating justice" on behalf of their own transformation and the transformation of the world. Their hard work, vision and willingness to be transparent reflect their faith in the present moment, in each other and in God; their collective energy and enthusiasm point to their faith in the future and their dedication to build a happier world for generations yet to come.
Congratulations, to Cohort Two, ThrivingTogether, and many thanks to the Lilly Endowment for funding this pilot program!
Link to the Sunday Readings
The apostles said to the Lord, "Increase our faith."
The Lord replied,
"If you have faith the size of a mustard seed,
you would say to this mulberry tree,
'Be uprooted and planted in the sea,' and it would obey you."
Personally, I have never tried uprooting trees of any kind to test my faith. In the first place, I love trees, and, secondly, I'm not sure what planting a tree in the sea would prove, other than trees don't do well in salt water. As a teenager, I did pray over a large black beetle that had been stuck in a supine position for a few days -- and yes, it did eventually roll over and walk; however, I was not testing my faith but responding to the predicament of the humble beetle. Prayer, apparently, can move beetles as well as mountains.
As for the apostles, it doesn't seem that they were interested in moving trees, mountains or beetles. Their request-- "Increase our faith!"-- seems random while Jesus' comment about the mulberry tree comes across more as a gentle reprimand than a lesson on how to grow faith. In fact, he then changed the topic and instead commented on duty. Reading Lk 17:5-10, I get the feeling that some catalyst prompted the apostles' request: Why, exactly, did they wish to increase their faith? Was there some stumbling block which was causing them to struggle with their belief in Jesus and in his mission?
Looking back, we see that Jesus' teachings prior to this request included his parables on The Lost Sheep, The Lost Coin, and The Prodigal Son (Lk 15), and The Shrewd Manager and The Rich Man and Lazarus (Lk 16). Each of these parables would certainly have undermined the apostles' world view and their sense of what was fair and appropriate. The idea that a shepherd would leave 99 sheep to fend for themselves while going in search of a single wayward sheep hardly seems practical. Similarly, the prodigal son's return home to his father's embrace conflicted with societal expectations regarding family honor and inheritance laws. As for the rich man and Lazarus, this parable turned upside down all cultural notions of what it meant to be "blessed" and "righteous." Still reeling from Jesus' inversion of their values and assumptions, the apostles then heard Jesus' mandate on forgiveness: “If your brother or sister sins against you, rebuke them; and if they repent, forgive them. Even if they sin against you seven times in a day and seven times come back to you saying ‘I repent,’ you must forgive them" (Lk 17:1-5).
It is quite possible that Jesus' revolutionary teachings were simply too much for the Twelve; perhaps they realized that without an increase in faith, they would not be able to commit to discipleship. The mind-shift Jesus asked of them was extraordinary -- not unlike asking an uneducated medieval peasant to imagine that the world was round, not flat.
"Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen." Heb 1:11.
Today, we, too, need an increase in faith, not so much because Jesus' teachings are so counter-cultural (which they continue to be), but because the world in which we find ourselves is increasingly unstable. Catastrophic natural disasters, food and water insecurity, forced migration, pandemics and warfare co-exist with the break down of our guiding religious and secular institutions. We can no longer see "true North" because there is no compass to show us the way. As for landmarks for the journey, many have been swept away by the floods of chaos.
It is difficult to believe that "the vision still has its time,
presses on to fulfillment, and will not disappoint" (Hab.1:2-3) when everything around us seems to be imploding. For many, the challenges each day brings are too much to bear -- hence the epidemic of suicides, especially among youth and young adults. Life without faith is barren and hopeless indeed because it demands human solutions to problems beyond human abilities -- that is, beyond altruism, compassion, collaboration. In contrast, life with faith allows us to rest in God's embrace, because, with God, all things are possible. Just like the Lost Sheep, the Prodigal Son and Lazarus, we discover that there are always Divine solutions to human-made problems.