Homily for 13 October
St Augustine is one of the great minds of the Latin West. He went awry in one or two things: he thought that people were either predestined for salvation or not; an idea which the church rejected. He also came up with the concept of limbo which has caused a lot of grief, but still he is a giant and we stand on his shoulders.
In one of his sermons he distinguished between three types of believing: credere Deum, credere Deo, credere in Deum – to believe God exists, to believe God, to believe in God. I quote Augustine first in Latin because quidquid latine dictum sit, altum videtur – whatever is said in Latin seems profound.
The first two types of believing are important, but not enough. We can believe that God exists; there is a God who brings everything into being and sustains all things. We can believe what God teaches us as true, but that is not enough for Christian belief. To have true Christian faith is to set one’s heart on God through Jesus – credere in Deum – to believe to love God, to believe to go to God, to believe to cling to Him and to be incorporated into His members.
In today’s Gospel nine of the men with leprosy believe what Jesus says to them and are healed, but only one of them comes to see Jesus as the source of salvation and life. Only one comes to love Jesus and have faith – to turn to Jesus and to follow him. The Lord says to him, ‘your faith has made you well – your faith has saved you.’
We can believe that God exists. We can believe that he speaks truly to humanity. We can pray for what we want and even see our prayers answered; but we may not truly know Jesus as the centre of our heart and life even as we turn to him because we believe that he can do things for us. The lepers turned to him, but they did not truly know him and so believe in him. Only one was led by the healing to the man who healed him, to know him as the source of salvation, as his heart’s true desire and to want to follow him.
John Henry Newman, who is being canonised today, journeyed from the heart of the British establishment to become a member of a despised and marginalised Catholic community and even within that community for much of his life he experienced suspicion and much failure. In many ways one could say he became a Samaritan, a leper for Christ. He spoke often of the venture of faith – the risky undertaking of faith and in one of his sermons he challenged his hearers:
Let every one who hears me ask himself the question, what stake has he in the truth of Christ’s promise? How would he be a whit the worse off, supposing (which is impossible), but, supposing it to fail? We know what it is to have a stake in any venture of this world. We venture our property in plans which promise a return; in plans which we trust, which we have faith in. What have we ventured for Christ? What have we given to Him on a belief of His promise? I really fear, when we come to examine, it will be found that there is nothing we resolve, nothing we do, nothing we do not do, nothing we avoid, nothing we choose, nothing we give up, nothing we pursue, which we should not resolve, and do, and not do, and avoid, and choose, and give up, and pursue, if Christ had not died, and heaven were not promised us.
The Samaritan, the outsider, took the risky undertaking of faith, he followed Jesus. He invites us to look at ourselves and to ask: What is the form of my belief? Do I believe to love Jesus, to believe to go to him, to believe to cling to him and be part of his living body? Do I want to follow him? The Lord is turned toward us always – his arms and his heart open. Do we have the Samaritan’s faith?