Twenty-seventh Sunday of Ordinary Time • Year C

Raymond F. Dlugos, O.S.A.
Merrimack College
North Andover, Massachusetts

Hab 1:2-3; 2:2-4
Ps 95:1-2, 6-7, 8-9
2 Tm 1:6-8, 13-14
Lk 17:5-10

“Increase our faith,” the Apostles asked Jesus. I don’t know what they were asking for or what motivated their question, or even what they might have understood faith to be and how it could be increased. Yet, we may well make the same request and it would be a good thing to reflect on what it is we are actually asking for. Perhaps we want to have a deeper and richer understanding of the mysteries of faith like the Trinity, the Incarnation, the Eucharist, or what happens to us after death, so that we might better incorporate that understanding into how we live our lives. Or maybe we would be asking for a greater awareness of God’s presence and love surrounding us, so that we might be able to respond to God with trust and love more completely and perfectly.

Whatever the motivation for the request, it seems to me that Jesus’ response is utterly unhelpful, since it would be a rare person who would have any interest in having mulberry trees fly out of their gardens and into the sea. Granted, mulberry trees, for all of their goodness like delicious and abundant fruit, can be infuriating due to roots that tend to disrupt everything around them, and so much fruit that it falls to the ground before it can be picked and makes a very squishy mess.

But this ridiculous example might be Jesus’ way of telling us that faith is what we need to do truly impossible things when that is what has to be done.

Each academic year at Merrimack College begins with the celebration of the Mass of the Holy Spirit. It has become a rich tradition as it gathers in one place over 1000 people, including all of our Varsity Athletes, the Austin Scholars Community, and others who come because they want to. It may well be the most significant opportunity for evangelization and faith formation available to us. It is a fun challenge to find a way to bring something meaningful to minds and hearts not necessarily ready, willing, and eager to be formed by faith or anything else.

Pictured above is a portion of Merrimack’s 2022 Convocation Week. It marks the beginning of the academic year, including a Mass of the Holy Spirit, the Student Involvement Fair and a football season opening game.

This year, I used this opportunity to introduce St. Rita of Cascia to our community and gave each person present a card with the prayer to her as the saint of the impossible. I told them that while it may be tempting to use the prayer to help pass exams for which they haven’t prepared, it probably won’t work very well for that. But I added that it is very likely, probably inevitable, that at some point in our lives, each one us will be asked to do something that is impossible and at those times Rita would be ready to be our most trusted and reliable friend. I proceeded to tell her story of a difficult marriage, a murdered husband, two teenage sons honor- bound to avenge their father’s death with a murder of their own, and the obstacle in her way of joining the Augustinian contemplative monastery in Cascia when the community feared that her presence among them would bring the violence that was so badly affecting the towns around them.

I shared how this tiny, insignificant widow somehow did what no one thought possible. She looked at the reality of her time and said with great faith, “It does not have to be this way,” and successfully brokered not only an end to the cycle of violence around her but forged a lasting reconciliation between enemies.

Faith is what we need to do the impossible in whatever way it comes to us. It may come as the challenge to raise children with very special needs, to confront illness and suffering, to feed a world that can’t quite figure out how to share God’s abundant harvest with everyone, to make peace within our families and communities by forgiving the unforgivable, to do whatever needs to be done to put one foot in front of the other to keep on walking with whatever crosses and burdens have been given to us, to find a way to accept the sacrifices that make justice possible, so that the way things always have been is longer the way they always must be. We are called upon to do the impossible when loving the unlovable is hard, when we must let go of our own personal desires so that the common good can be served. We might be asked to do the impossible of speaking the hard and difficult truths that no one wants to hear but that still need to be spoken.

We see the impossible being done everyday by healthcare workers and laborers on farms and factories, by teachers finding ways to bring forth learning, by innovators and imagineers able to see possibilities never considered before.

An exhausted healthcare worker takes a rest during the height of the COVID pandemic.

Without faith, so much remains impossible and untried. With faith, miracles happen because faith opens our eyes to the awe and wonder of what God has done and is doing in our midst.

The second part of the Gospel is puzzling and confusing. Are we really useless servants doing no more than our duty? I hope we can be more than that and yet, when I see people actually doing the impossible things they are asked to do, I don’t see them looking for rewards or praise or compensation. We may want all of that for the very possible things we do every day, but one of the characteristics of doing the impossible with faith and grace is that we just do it because it has to be done.

So, yes, let’s keep on asking for an increase in faith, not to move mulberry trees, but to do the impossible things we are called to do. because impossible though they may be, they just have to be done.