The Office of Readings – from the Divine Office – is always a good place to start when you don’t have much inspiration to pray. It starts off with psalms – to get you in the right relationship of praise, petition, and trust in God. Then there’s the meat – two beefy readings – one from scripture and one from the Fathers of the Church (you know, the ones with fantastic names like Athanasius, Irenaeus, John Chrysostum. I want to name a dog after one of these) or writings of the saints. If you follow along for a few days, you’ll see the scripture follows on, and sometimes the commentary from the Church Fathers does too. You can find it everyday online at Universalis.
Today’s readings were very pertinent for me (actually, God always finds a way of speaking though the readings for a day). The first one was from the very Catholic book of 1Maccabees, and is about the exploits of Judas Maccabeus (literally ‘the Hammer’). No, it’s not about Thor – but if you can find a good picture of Judas Maccabeus then tell me!
Judas had become the leader of the Jewish rebellion against the Seleucid rulers, who were preventing them from worshiping God and keeping the law. He was being hunted by a far superior force led by Seron:
He had nearly reached the descent of Beth-horon when Judas went out to confront him with a handful of men. But as soon as these saw the force advancing to meet them they said to Judas, ‘How can we, few as we are, engage such overwhelming numbers? We are exhausted as it is, not having had anything to eat today.’ ‘It is easy’ Judas answered ‘for a great number to be routed by a few; indeed in the sight of heaven deliverance, whether by many or by few, is all one; for victory in war does not depend on the size of the fighting force; it is from heaven that strength comes. They are coming against us in full-blown insolence and lawlessness to destroy us, our wives and our children, and to plunder us; but we are fighting for our lives and our laws, and he will crush them before our eyes; do not be afraid of them.’
Judas’ trust in God, his mustard seed of faith really did move the mountain of soldiers before him.
But confronted with the difficulties and stresses of everyday life, I wonder if I have that sort of faith. I want to be free – ready to go into battle for God though the odds seem stacked against me. But getting through my exams seems a big enough hurdle. Is there something missing in my faith life? The answer comes in the second reading from St Cyril of Jerusalem – there are two types of faith – one dependent on me, the other on God:
The one word “faith” can have two meanings. One kind of faith concerns doctrines. It involves the soul’s assent to and acceptance of some particular matter. It also concerns the soul’s good according to the words of the Lord: Whoever hears my voice and believes in him who sent me has eternal life, and will not come to be judged. And again: He who believes in the Son is not condemned, but has passed from death to life.
This first kind depends on me, or at least partially. It is my trusting and believing in God, being attracted by God, and is the faith that saves me.
The other kind of faith is given by Christ by means of a special grace. To one wise sayings are given through the Spirit, to another perceptive comments by the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing. Now this kind of faith, given by the Spirit as a special favour, is not confined to doctrinal matters, for it produces effects beyond any human capability. If a man who has this faith says to this mountain move from here to there, it will move. For when anybody says this in faith, believing it will happen and having no doubt in his heart, he then receives that grace.
This second kind is God’s gift. God wants to grant us the gift of faith that will move mountains – but it is not an achievement of ours or something we can give ourselves. It depends entirely on God, but we can dispose ourselves to it with our little acts of faith in Jesus – making the effort to believe in him and have a relationship with him each day.
So may you have the faith which depends on you and is directed to God, that you may receive from him that faith too which transcends man’s capacity.
-St Cyril of Jerusalem.