Persevere in faith to receive the mercy of the Lord
Once again, the basic theme of the Sunday liturgies this October is plain to see. Every single reading calls us to persevere in our faith under all circumstances. To hammer home this message the Church takes all of its second readings this month from Paul’s Second Letter to Timothy and all of its Gospel readings from the 17th and 18th chapters of Luke’s Gospel. However, the Old Testament readings could not be more scattered. The object is to instruct us, throughout the month, about what we should do when following God’s ways does not seem productive or effective. Too many times we find ourselves in situations where we are tempted to detach ourselves from God’s control and either take command of our own lives or let the influence of the outside world determine the outcome of the situations in which we find ourselves. Reading and practicing the message of October’s readings will help us overcome those temptations.
Each of the 12 readings makes a distinct statement admonishing us to remain faithful to God. But, beware. There is an October surprise in the final passage that sums up the basic theme, crowning it with an entirely new concept. So, to give due impact to this prize at the bottom of our package, we’ll begin with the Old Testament readings in order and then the readings from 2 Timothy and finally the readings from Luke.
The Old Testament reading for the first Sunday of October is from the prophet Habakkuk who lived at the turn of the sixth and seventh centuries B.C. Experts are not exactly sure when Habakkuk wrote or who was the oppressor responsible for the impending destruction of Jerusalem. Still, Habakkuk saw that bad things were about to happen and he needed to talk to God. He had questions. How would God explain what Habakkuk was prophetically seeing? Was everything coming to a disastrous end?
So, Habakkuk asked the Lord, “Why do you let me see ruin?” Throughout the Old Covenant God always sent good on his people. Is that all over? God answers the prophet and all who would listen to him. The answer begins with the admonition that there was much more to the vision than what Habakkuk had seen so far.
One of the main enemies of faithfulness is rashness. We tend to come to a quick interpretation of what’s going on. In the process we may very well miss the reasons why a given calamity is about to take place. We need to look deeper to find out that the real problem was that we have sinned. Then, we can look into the future to see how God will redeem us from our just punishment and renew his love in us. Habakkuk was a bit rash (by about half a century). God tells him it is faith that will overcome a rash attitude and lead us back to life in God.
For the second Sunday of the month we go back in time to the ninth century B.C. The general of the Syrian forces occupying Israel has leprosy. His “little maid” tells him to visit the prophet Elisha. Elisha tells him to bathe seven times in the Jordan. Naaman refuses to do such a menial deed. Later, he relents, bathes in the Jordan, is healed and begins to believe in the God of Israel. The lesson is that knowing God can be simple. We tend to seek God in power and complexity when he can more easily be found in simplicity. Expecting to find God only in grandeur is another way to lose faith. Our search for God needs to be humble.
On the third Sunday of October, we continue traveling backwards historically until we reach the 13th century B.C. Israel is at war with the Amalekites and fighting a seesaw battle. The real advantage Joshua’s men have is the prayer of Moses on the hill overlooking the contest. As long as Moses kept his arms upraised to God in prayer the Israelis win; but whenever he put them down, the enemy had the upper hand. This taught the people of God a vital lesson about life. Only as long as they persevered in prayer would the power of God remain with them. Becoming tired in our prayer is a danger to our faith. To persevere we need to depend on others and pray together.
On the last Sunday of the month we jump forward a millennium to about 180 years before Jesus’ birth. The old man, ben Sira, is writing down for us what wisdom he had learned. He tells us, “The God of Justice . . . hears the cry of the oppressed. The Lord is not deaf to the wail of the orphan, nor to the widow when she pours forth her complaint. . . . The prayer of the lowly pierces the clouds. . . . nor will it withdraw till the Most High responds.”
Thus, the scholar has discovered that persistence is an important asset to our faith. In addition, it is an advantage to realize our lowliness and dependence on God. Having a lofty attitude can harm the effectiveness of our faith. It creates clouds between God and us that only admitting our poverty can pierce.
Leaving the Old Testament, realize that we have learned four basic rules about persevering in faith. Don’t be hasty; God may have a lot more ahead for us than our short vision sees now. Don’t let the simplicity of the task God gives us keep us from responding to God’s Will. Keep praying steadfastly until the problem is totally defeated and allow people to help us. Finally, our faith works best when we are humble.
Entering the New Testament, we focus on Paul’s second letter to Timothy. Timothy is a young convert from Lystra whose mother and grandmother also were baptized during Paul’s first missionary journey about 47 A.D. Timothy stayed with Paul for 15 years and was then sent by him to the big city of Ephesus to take a leadership role under Paul’s authority. Timothy had a problem, it seems. He was timid. Hence, he needs a pep talk from Paul.
On the 27th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Paul exhorts Timothy to remember that Paul, himself, had laid hands on him and conferred the power of ordination on him. Paul, pointedly, reminds Timothy he did not receive a spirit of cowardice. Don’t be ashamed of your testimony to the Lord. Thereby, Paul teaches us that to truly persevere in the faith we need to be courageous and willing to speak out. No matter how imposing our audience may be, we should speak out the Gospel message with all our strength. Timothy is also reminded to use Paul as a model who, at that moment, was fearlessly preaching in prison.
On the 28th Sunday, Paul continues his letter of encouragement to Timothy. He proudly points out that, although he’s writing this letter in chains, there is no chaining the Word of God. We must learn that the message of Christ is passed on by the Word of God and is not dependent on the power of our voice or our earthly status. We become unfaithful when we preach ourselves. Rather, we must persevere in Christ so that others may hear the words Jesus wanted them to hear. Our reason for being is that Christ may raise people to eternal glory.
On the 29th Sunday, Timothy reads that he should remain faithful and believe what he has heard from Paul. He is presented two good reasons for believing. First, he has Paul, himself, who taught him. Second, he has known the Sacred Scriptures. (That means our Old Testament, since the Gospels were just being written at this time.) Then, Paul tells Timothy to be persistent. Persistence is an attitude that keeps us going and never stopping. If we are to persevere in the faith and if we want to transmit the faith to others, then we have to so love the message that it sets our hearts on fire and continues to fan that fire until it catches on in other people’s hearts.
On the last Sunday of October, Paul gets personal with us. He reveals what is deep inside him as he comes near to the end of his life. He sees himself as a libation. He has been liquefied and poured out on the ground as a sacrifice. He has finished the race, and through it all he has kept the faith. He makes this point to arouse in Timothy the bravery to teach with all his heart and soul. At the same time, he lets us know there is a goal he is trying to reach. It is symbolized by a crown of righteousness. To be righteous is to be with God for all eternity. That should be our goal.
Persevering in the Faith is also the main thrust in the passages from the 17th and 18th chapters of Luke’s Gospel, which are used as the Gospels of October. In the first Sunday, Jesus’ disciples ask him to “Increase our faith.” In response the Lord brings up the job of farm hands. These folks are told to work in the fields and, afterwards, are told to get dinner ready. Our response to God should be “we are unprofitable servants; we have only done what we were obliged to do.” That is, we are faithful when we do not expect special gifts. We simply and completely live for the sake of our relationship with God. Everything else is extra.
On the second Sunday of the month we encounter the story of the 10 lepers cured by Jesus. Only one comes back to thank him. This despised Samaritan provides us with a sign of faith. His thankfulness was stronger than his happiness at regaining health, stronger than his need to become legally free to visit his family and friends, stronger than his dislike of being vilified by the Jews standing around Jesus. His appreciation of Jesus was the most important element in his life at this point. That deep love should be an attribute of our faith as well.
The third Sunday’s Gospel presents the woman who badgered a crooked judge until he finally gave a judgment in her favor. If the crooked judge was led to find in her favor because of her persistence, so God would, of course, smile on her requests. God would see how important the matter was to her and how earnestly she was beseeching him. It is with that much persistence, sincerity, and deep emotion we should have in our faith relationship with God.
We come now to the last reading of the entire month. So far we have learned a lot about what it takes to persevere in our faith. From the Old Testament we found out that our faith must not be rash nor must it involve us in heroic deeds. Rather, we need to be humble using the help of others and knowing the prayers of the lowly pierce the clouds to reach the throne of God. From the second letter of Paul to Timothy we learned we must stir the gift of God into flame and that it is not us but the Word of God that will prevail. We must trust what we read in Scripture and hear from inspired teachers until we come to the end of our race having earned the crown of righteousness.
Now, at the end of the Gospels we come to the final passage. Surprisingly, after 11 straight passages about faith we reach a grand conclusion that takes us not to another insight into perseverance, but rather to the next step. Jesus’ story of the publican and the Pharisee who went to the temple to pray teaches us the reward of staunch faith. It is mercy. The ultimate reason for persevering in faith is to receive the mercy of God. May you find it this October.
Sunday, Oct. 6: Hebrews 1:2-3 and 2:2-4; Psalm 95:1-2, 6-9; 2 Timothy 1:6-8, 13-14; Luke 17:5-10
Monday, Oct. 7: Memorial, Our Lady of the Rosary, Jonah 1:1–2:2, 11; Jonah 2:3-5, 8; Luke 10:25-37
Tuesday, Oct. 8: Jonah 3:1-10; Psalm 130:1-4, 7-8; Luke 10:38-42
Wednesday, Oct. 9: Jonah 4:1-11; Psalm 86:3-6, 9-10; Luke 11:1-4
Thursday, Oct. 10: Malachi 3:13-20; Psalm 1:1-4, 6; Luke 11:5-13
Friday, Oct. 11: Joel 1:13-25 and 2:1-2; Psalm 9:2-3, 6, 16, 8-9; Luke 11:15-26
Saturday, Oct. 12: Joel 4:12-21; Psalm 97:1-2, 5-6, 11-12; Luke 11:27-28
Sunday, Oct. 13: 2 Kings 5:14-17; Psalm 98:1-4; 2 Timothy 2:8-13; Luke 17:11-19
Monday, Oct. 14: Romans 1:1-7; Psalm 98:1-4; Luke 11:29-32
Tuesday, Oct. 15: Memorial, St. Teresa of Jesus, virgin, doctor of the Church, Romans 1:16-25; Psalm 19:2-5; Luke 11:37-41
Wednesday, Oct. 16: Romans 2:1-11; Psalm 62:2-3, 6-7, 9; Luke 11:42-46
Thursday, Oct. 17: Memorial, St. Ignatius of Antioch, bishop, martyr, Romans 3:21-30; Psalm 130:1-6; Luke 11:47-54
Friday, Oct. 18: Feast, St. Luke, evangelist, 2 Timothy 4:10-17; Psalm 145:10-13, 17-18; Luke 10:1-9
Saturday, Oct. 19: Memorial, Sts. John de Brébeuf and Isaac Jogues, priests, and companions, martyrs, Romans 4:13, 16-18; Psalm 105:6-9, 42-43; Luke 12:8-12
Sunday, Oct. 20: Exodus 17:8-13; Psalm 121:1-8; 2 Timothy 3:14–4:2; Luke 18:1-8
Monday, Oct. 21: Romans 4:20-25; Luke 1:69-75; Luke 12:13-21
Tuesday, Oct. 22: Romans 5:12, 15, 17-19, 20-21; Psalm 40:7-10, 17; Luke 12:35-38
Wednesday, Oct. 23: Romans 6:12-18; Psalm 124:1-8; Luke 12:39-48
Thursday, Oct. 24: Romans 6:19-23; Psalm 1:1-4, 6; Luke 12:49-53
Friday, Oct. 25: Romans 7:18-25; Psalm 119:66, 68, 76-77, 93-94; Luke 12:54-59
Saturday, Oct. 26: Romans 8:1-11; Psalm 24:1-6; Luke 13:1-9
Sunday, Oct. 27: Sirach 35:12-14, 16-18; Psalm 34:2-3, 17-19, 23; 2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18; Luke 18:9-14
Monday, Oct. 28: Feast, Sts. Simon and Jude, apostles, Ephesians 2:19-22; Psalm 19:2-5; Luke 6:12-16
Tuesday, Oct. 29: Romans 8:18-25; Psalm 126:1-6; Luke 13:18-21
Wednesday, Oct. 30: Romans 8:26-30; Psalm 13:4-6; Luke 13:22-30
Thursday, Oct. 31: Romans 8:31-39; Psalm 109:21-22, 26-27, 30-31; Luke 13:31-35
Friday, Nov. 1: Solemnity of All Saints, Revelation 7:2-4, 9-14; Psalm 24:1-6; 1 John 3:1-3; Matthew 5:1-12
Saturday, Nov. 2: The Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed (All Souls), Wisdom 3:1-9; Psalm 23:1-6; Romans 5:5-11; John 6:37-40 n
Father Brando is the pastor of St. Mary Parish in Gatlinburg