How important is faith? According to Jesus, it’s VERY important:
“Whatever you ask for in prayer, you will receive it if you have faith.” (Matthew 18:22)
“Daughter, your faith has made you well.” (Mark 5:34)
“Rise and go on your way; your faith has made you well.” (Luke 17:19)
We often become uncomfortable when we read Jesus’ words, fearing that the reason our prayers aren’t answered is due to a lack of faith. This can result in anxiety because we don’t know how to increase our faith. In fact, doesn’t the Church teach that faith is a gift? If that’s the case, is there ANYTHING that we can do to increase it? Interestingly enough, the apostles had the same concern and took it up with Jesus:
The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” (Luke 17:5)
As per usual, Jesus’ answer is a bit surprising:
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.” (Luke 17:6)
If we read between the lines, the Lord appears to be telling the apostles that they are not making use of the faith that they already have. This message applies to each one of us. While praying for an increase in faith is certainly a recommended practice, are we making use of what we’ve already been given? A good example of putting faith into practice can be found by looking at an event that occurred as Jesus and His disciples experienced a storm while riding in a boat. While this is hardly a story that ever gets used to illustrate what strong faith looks like, dissecting it can yield some surprising conclusions.
He got into a boat and his disciples followed him. Suddenly a violent storm came up on the sea, so that the boat was being swamped by waves; but he was asleep. They came and woke him, saying, “Lord, save us! We are perishing!” He said to them, “Why are you terrified, O you of little faith?” Then he got up, rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was great calm. The men were amazed and said, “What sort of man is this, whom even the winds and the sea obey?” (Matthew 8: 23-27)
For years, I would look at this story and criticize the disciples, wondering how they could be worried when Jesus was in the boat with them. Recently, however, I’ve come to realize that they handled this situation a lot better than I’ve handled similar events in my life. Instead of just worrying when they realized their lives were in danger, they went to Jesus and asked Him to save them. That was smart! How many times do we begin worrying about our problems and forget to pray? The fruit of their prayer was that Jesus calmed the storm. He didn’t say, “Sorry, you didn’t trust me. You’re on your own!” Notice also that Jesus never said they had no faith, saying instead that they possessed “little” faith. Obviously, they had some degree of faith in Christ because they went to Him for help. They believed that He could fix the problem. While their faith may have been weak, they had SOME faith and that was enough!
While it’s encouraging to realize that we can indeed “move mountains” with faith the size of a mustard seed, imagine what we could do if our faith was even greater! So what can we do? How is it possible to increase our faith? In his apostolic letter Porta Fidei, Pope Benedict XVI addressed this very question:
Faith grows when it is lived as an experience of love received and when it is communicated as an experience of grace and joy. It makes us fruitful, because it expands our hearts in hope and enables us to bear life-giving witness: indeed, it opens the hearts and minds of those who listen to respond to the Lord’s invitation to adhere to his word and become his disciples. Believers, so Saint Augustine tells us, “strengthen themselves by believing”.
One of the best ways for our faith to grow is by putting the faith we already have into practice. The more we trust in the Lord and His providence, the more He will increase our faith. This often means stepping into action, even if we’re afraid. It means praying for a miracle healing or a new job, even when the odds are against you. The very act of praying implies that you do have faith and that you’re trusting in God. You may not trust a lot, but you trust enough to ask for His help. Don’t let the fact that you’re afraid cause you distress. Being afraid isn’t as important as what you do with that fear. The disciples were afraid during the storm, but that fear led them to go to Jesus. They exercised what little faith they had and the Lord came to their assistance. Good things happen when we step out in faith. The greatest example of this can be seen when we look at the life of our Blessed Mother. Her “yes” (even though she didn’t know most of the details) resulted in the arrival of our Savior!
By all means we should continue to ask the Lord to increase our faith, but we must never forget to make use of the faith we already have by praying frequently and with confidence. By doing so, an outpouring of graces and blessings will be unleashed…even if our faith is as small as a mustard seed!
“Faith is one foot on the ground, one foot in the air, and a queasy feeling in the stomach.” (Mother Angelica)