“By faith we understand that the worlds were created by the uttering of God, so that what is seen has not come into existence from the visible” (Hebrews 11:3).
Faith gives us eyes to see the phenomena of this world as welling up from invisible, and personal, depths—from depths of infinite love and wisdom. If we have these eyes of faith, our souls can expand into the greatness of loving without counting the cost, of living without meanly clinging to possessions or meanly reducing relationships to possessions.
If we have the eyes of faith, we can see that matter matters because of wisdom and love. We can see time and flesh as iconic of endless glory.
The lectionary did something interesting yesterday. After Christmastide, the first daily Mass readings (Year I) came from the Letter to the Hebrews, except for the last couple of weeks, which have been drawn from Genesis 1-11. But yesterday, that material from Genesis is bookended with a final return of Hebrews (11:1-7), which places the archetypal history, from creation and Adam to Noah, under the sign of faith.
This is significant. Hebrews is about Jesus as the fulfillment of all the promises and types of every previous covenant between God and man, as well as about the proper response to God the Father’s providing in Christ all “the good things that have come.” That response is faith, faith in the goodness of God. What the lectionary shows us is that the archetypal history leading up to Abraham in Genesis 12 was always already about faith.
Faith is always faith in Jesus Christ, the incarnate Son of God, the total synthesis of the visible and the invisible, the integration of creation within the Creator, the divine personality of the analogy of being.
Which is to say, not only is God the Son present at the beginning of all things, but in some mysterious way, God the Son as Jesus is present. Indeed, that is what we profess in the Creed: “I believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, …born of the Father before all ages, …through Him all things were made.”
Faith telescopes past, present, and future within the intensity of eternity. The first reading for yesterday’s Mass includes again the opening of Hebrews 11, one of the greatest statements in Scripture: “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” Pope Benedict meditates on this verse in Spe salvi:
“Faith is not merely a personal reaching out towards things to come that are still totally absent: it gives us something. It gives us even now something of the reality we are waiting for, and this present reality constitutes for us a ‘proof’ of the things that are still unseen. Faith draws the future into the present, so that it is no longer simply a ‘not yet.’ The fact that this future exists changes the present; the present is touched by the future reality, and thus the things of the future spill over into those of the present and those of the present into those of the future.”
Faith is faith in Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, today, forever.
Faith and hope, when authentic, are Christological. There are distinctions to be made, to be sure, between natural faith and hope and supernatural faith and hope (having to do with the presence or not of sanctifying grace in a soul), but as an existential (as opposed to habitual) matter (the former being the Augustinian, and the latter the Thomistic, approach to understanding the multifaceted reality of faith), Christological faith and hope are present whenever one lives in the world according to the fact of there being a good God, Who is faithful: “Without faith it is impossible to please God, for it is necessary for whoever would approach God to believe that He exists and that He rewards the ones seeking Him” (11:6). This is said of Enoch, and the reading also speaks of Abel and Noah as acting beyond the worldly calculus because of faith.
Having faith and hope in the goodness of God the Father, Whose every promise of good is realized in Jesus Christ, means that the visible and the invisible cannot be separated. Faith and hope depend on recognizing that the invisible keeps coming on into the visible. But this pressing into flesh, this ongoing incarnation of divine love, happens only through the crossing of heaven and earth in the torture that is the sacrifice of self. Only in the Cross are all things restored.
This is, I think, what Jesus is speaking about in yesterday’s strange Gospel saying: “Elijah having come first indeed restores (apokathistanei) everything” (Mark 9:12).
Restores everything? Surely it does not look as if John the Baptist managed that!
Jesus points out the paradox of what He has just said: “How then is it written concerning the Son of Man, that He must suffer many things and be rejected?”
How indeed are restoration and the Cross compatible?
“But I say to you that indeed Elijah has come, and they did to him whatever they desired, just as it has been written concerning him” (v. 13).
The Kingdom of love, the repatriation of all things into the limitless goodness of God, comes through the suffering of the faithful servants of the Lord, and it comes no other way. And to stand in the great trial and high ordeal, which love continues to impose on us, we must see something the world does not see: we must see the glory of God’s love enveloping all things in the Eucharistic cloud of Christ’s endless solidarity with the pain of the world.