"Remember, I am with you always to the end of the age" (Mt 28:20)

Faith Of The Father Of Faith

The Sacrifice Of Isaac, After Rembrandt (1606-1669)

The turn of the third and second millennia BCE (Before Common Era) was the period when Abraham lived, who is known throughout the ages as the Father of Faith, the Father of Believers. The so called human sacrifice that was prevalent during his time was part of a ritual intended to please or appease gods or a human ruler. We have seen this when Cain and Abel offered burnt offerings out of their produce. One was favored and another was not. It was no laughing matter because it led to the very first murderous act to have been recorded. Eid 'al 'Adha,' Festival of the Sacrifice, is one of the two, official holidays celebrated  within Islam, and holier than Eid al-Fitr.

Gaining God's favor and acceptance was everything such that the act of killing not just animals but also humans was a significant part of their belief system. It was tolerated as long as it was done as part of a ritual. I wanted to start with this human sacrifice context to point out that there is something very disturbing here to start with. Nowadays human sacrifices are treated in the same manner as murder. God doesn't mince his words. Meaning that God says what he would like to say clearly and directly, even if this may upset people. The words of the scripture is very clear. It says that God put Abraham to the test. He called to him, “Abraham!” “Here I am,” he replied. Then God said: “Take your son Isaac, your only one, whom you love." The Hebrew word used for “only” is yachiyd (יָחִיד), which means “unique” or “only begotten” (special). "Go to the land of Moriah," God continues, "There you shall offer him up as a burnt offering on a height that I will point out to you” (Gen 22:7-8). The message was as clear as broad daylight.

I come to my second point. Now that we have been disturbed by the true setting of the testing of Abraham's faith, we are ready to go deeper into the heart of Abraham. If you were in the shoes of Abraham how would you feel? I for one see that it is too unfair for him to be put in such a position. He was being pitted to choose between God and his beloved son. It is no joke a situation to be in. One would rather choose to die and avoid making any agonizing decision. Whenever I guide my 30-day retreatants and come to this scripture passage during the first week of the Spiritual Exercises I help them compose the setting and place on the mountain. Imagine the two are walking together, a very old loving father and his very young son. How do you think would you describe Abraham’s gait? Of course he would be walking heavy footed or dragging his feet because he knows that he was approaching a place of death. Listen to the soft voice of Isaac. “Father!” Isaac said. “Yes, son,” his father replied. Isaac continued, “Here are the fire and the wood, but where is the sheep for the burnt offering?” “Son,” Abraham answered, “God himself will provide the sheep for the burnt offering.” Abraham trusted a living God who alone holds the keys to life and death, therefore, he believed that the Lord could bring Isaac back to life, if necessary. Then the two continued going forward. It is such a heart rending scene. I for one pray to God that he would spare me from ever walking up along those cursed paths. Now that we understand how hard it must have been for Abraham to carry the burning torch in one hand and the knife in another, we can also understand why the generations that followed looked up to him as the father of faith. Only a man of real faith could tread those untrodden walkways. He was not given the title for nothing. But we do believe also that it was God who chose him among many knowing that he will be true with God's help.

For my third and last point I would like to turn to this saint who reflected on the grace of faith. St Thérèse of Lisieux had written a journal that was posthumously published—“A Story of a Soul." I quote, “Yes! What a grace it is to have faith! If I had not had any faith, I would have committed suicide without an instant’s hesitation…” If Abraham did not have faith in God, we would not remember him. Reading from the diary of Therese can help us look at Abraham in the light of faith. Thérèse, whenever she described her life being full of crosses and tribulations, she was talking in the light of faith. When one is experiencing great suffering like during this pandemic, how one reacts to it can make all the difference. If you were to walk the path of despair and had no light to bring you out of it, then it would be easy to see life as an intolerable burden and death as preferable. Like Abraham, it would have been easier to have self-inflicted stab wound to the heart to put a quick end to his agony but he did not. He clung to his faith in a loving God, a God who would not fail him and whom he personally knew. Those words that he told his son—“God himself will provide the sheep for the burnt offering”—he believed every word of it.

St Thérèse's words can help us direct our gaze not on the suffering that we see all around us but on the light of faith and hope. No wonder suffering could be redemptive once we perceive it as our participation in Christ's suffering and death. Abraham's faith can become a great source of strength for people who are in great agony as a result of the pandemic. St Thérèse must have deeply struggled with suicidal thoughts. She too had those dark thoughts. But she said that the desire to end one's life is not the answer to suffering; rather it is faith that gives comfort and the ability to endure suffering and death, even death on Jesus’s cross. Amen Fr JM Manzano SJ

Comments

  1. It will really be a devastating experience if someone (a beloved) or something important will be taken away from you...
    Yet in this world it is also a devastating experience when someone has to be humble enough to accept difficulties as God's will... Seeing His face and believing that His desires are the best for me...
    From that "story of a soul" I remember a particular part when St. Therese experienced not so good treatment from her sister in the convent yet she kept on smiling at her... Not knowing that St. Therese is not really smiling at her directly but to Jesus who is residing there in her heart... And that's simply faith... And much more humility...
    Thank you po, Fr. Jom for writing inspirational reflections that touches and triggers the readers to reflect most especially on their own experiences in life... TC and God bless you always... :')

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    Replies
    1. Perfectly said TC and thank you for adding here about the divine secret of St Therese to wear a smile even when at times it seems impossible! God bless us!

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    2. Thanks for the compliment... :')
      I really like St. Therese.. She reminds me that it is not about what we do that matters but our love and disposition... And being a missionary doesn't necessarily mean to go to far-flung places but to do and desire God's will in everyway and all the way... Saving your own soul and others' as well.. What was done well out of love yet hidden without babbling is much more precious in the eyes of God...
      Thank you... May He keep you always... Keep on smiling... :')

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