Monday, August 7, 2017

Coming To Belief

How is it that simple Galilean countrymen came to believe that Jesus was not only the Messiah but the eternal Son of God?

If someone were claiming to be God, we would naturally be skeptical. Even if we were somehow to be convinced that one of our friends was really God, we would probably have quite a bit of trouble convincing others.

Yet, twelve men from Galilee did in fact come to believe that Jesus Christ, a carpenter from Galilee, was truly God in the flesh and they succeeded in convincing countless others as well.

How could that be?

The simple answer is that their experience of Jesus convinced them that He was divine.

At His baptism, they heard God’s voice call out from Heaven, “This is my beloved Son with whom I am well pleased” (Mt 3:17). Those same words are echoed in today’s gospel when Jesus is transfigured in glory before Peter, James and John.

During the years that followed, they witnessed Jesus perform mighty miracles. Not only did He cure the sick and raise the dead, but He also showed that He could command hurricane force winds to be stilled and could even walk on water. Not only that, He showed that He could read men’s minds and claimed to have the power to forgive sins - powers which only God could claim to have.

What finally convinced them, however, was the Resurrection. God raised Jesus from the dead making it clear to them that He shared in Almighty God’s power over the grave.

They then went out to all the world and witnessed to others what they had seen and heard during those years that they spent with Jesus. Preaching to a pagan world steeped in arcane mythologies, the apostles spoke of events which they themselves witnessed - historical events and actual places which others could also testify to. Saint Peter, in fact, tells us as much in today’s second reading: “We did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we had been eyewitnesses of his majesty.” The apostles were not so much preaching a doctrine or a way of life but a person - Jesus Christ - whom they had come to know personally and who convinced them by means of powerful deeds that He was, indeed, the Son of God and Savior of the World.

Therefore, when we hear so-called experts and scholars claim that Jesus never existed or that the apostles made up the gospels, we should pay no attention to them. In fact, there is at least as much if not more evidence that Jesus existed as there is that Julius Caesar or Socrates existed. If we are going to doubt the historical truth of the gospels then we should also doubt the historical truths about Caesar Augustus or any other figure from antiquity.

The fact is that Jesus really existed. He really claimed to be the Son of God. Our faith in Him, then, lies in historical realities that are attested to by eyewitnesses. These eyewitness testimonies have been handed down to us. This testimony, as Saint Peter tells us in the second reading, is “altogether reliable”. Our faith, therefore, is not “blind”. Rather it is based on history - on events that really took place.

Of course, not everyone who witnessed Jesus’ miracles came to believe in Him. We know that some of the religious authorities of His day claimed that His powers came from the devil (Luke 11:15). They were also extremely offended by His claim to be equal to God. It was ultimately because of this that Jesus was put to death.

How is it then that some believed and that many others did not?

The answer is that faith is a gift. Throughout the gospels, it is Jesus who invites people to follow Him. He always takes the initiative. That is why He says to the disciples, and to us, at the Last Supper, “It is not you who chose me but I who chose you” (John 15:16). We cannot give ourselves faith. It is not the result of our efforts but it is, rather, a gift of God which we can only receive with humility and gratitude.

This is what the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches us about faith: “Faith is a gift of God, a supernatural virtue infused by him. Before this faith can be exercised, man must have the grace of God to move and assist him…” (CCC 153).

At the end of the day, we can never understand why some people believe and others do not. However, we can be sure that God offers this gift to everyone - both the gift of believing and the gift of living out our faith. We know this because “God desires everyone to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim 2:4). If God desires everyone to be saved and if faith is necessary for salvation, then it follows that everyone is offered the gift of faith.

If there is anyone here who finds it hard to believe and doubts that God has ever offered them the gift of faith, please know that you are not alone. Many people struggle to understand the gospel of Jesus Christ, especially in our modern times. However, also know that if you desire to believe then that is already God preparing your heart for the gift of faith. God never gives us anything without first planting the desire for it deep within us. Continue to pray, then, and to ask because Jesus promised: “For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened” (Mt 7:8).

On this Feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord, Jesus revealed His glory to Peter, James and John. Seeing His glory for themselves, they believed. We also have come to believe because their testimony has been handed down to us through the gospels. Not only that, we too have our own stories of how we have personally witnessed Jesus’ power to heal, His love for us and the miracles that happen through faith. Like those first apostles, we must fearlessly and boldly witness to others what we have seen and heard so that they too might experience Jesus for themselves. And, since faith is a gift, we must pray that God open the hearts of all people so that they too may come to believe. Then the whole world will be transfigured by the light of faith which will continue to shine down through the ages until the Son of Man comes again in all His glory.

No comments: