“The Humble Boldness of Faith and the Mystical Life” Heb 11 (2/4/2019)
Fr. Ignatius John Schweitzer, OP
In our First Reading, we end the famous chapter 11 of Hebrews on faith. Among the half-dozen names of models of faith today we find mention of David. Why David? What does he in particular add to our understanding of faith? Our reading doesn’t give an explicit answer but of these six names today it says, “who by faith conquered kingdoms, did what was righteous, obtained the promises; they closed the mouths of lions, put out raging fires, escaped the devouring sword; out of weakness they were made powerful, became strong in battle, and turned back foreign invaders.”
It seems that what it has in mind is the boldness of David’s faith. In this spirit, we could say of the boldness of David, something like this: ‘by faith, he slew the giant Goliath with a mere stone; by faith, he snuck into a fortified city through a water line and captured Jerusalem for the Lord; and by faith, he won battle after battle in extending God’s kingdom.’ Faith involves something of David’s boldness.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church, in it’s very enriching part 4, On Prayer, speaks too of this boldness. It highlights the Greek word in the New Testament, parrhesia, which is very rich and often translated as boldness. The Catechism speaks of “the beautiful, characteristically Christian expression: parrhesia, [which means] straightforward simplicity, filial trust, joyous assurance, humble boldness, the certainty of being loved.” (2778) So, you see, we need something of David’s boldness in our prayer life too. We need to seek God with humble boldness.
Early on in chapter 11 of Hebrews, it says, “Without faith it is impossible to please [God]. For whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.” Do we believe that God rewards our earnest seeking of Him? Hebrews says that it is part of faith that we do so. There is a call here for a boldness of faith.
Faith is certainly humble. It looks to God for everything. But at the same time faith is also bold. The Catechism calls it a “humble boldness.” Humility and boldness come together. We need both. We can ask for big things. We have to surrender to whatever is given or not given. And we should ask not just for ourselves but also for others. But we can have big desires.
What do I know? But here’s my sense of what can happen in the spiritual life sometimes: Sometimes what begins as an attempt at humility ends as a lack of faith. This is especially true of the mystical life. Sometimes what begins as an attempt at humility ends as a lack of faith. We might think, oh no, no, no, the deepest union with God is not for me. The main substance of what the Saints and mystics speak about is not for me. Oh, but in fact it is for you.
It might seem like a humble thing to say. Oh no, no, no, not me. But might not a lack of faith creep in here? It is certainly true that you and I don’t deserve it and it is beyond us. But God’s infinite goodness and his Fatherly generosity so tower above us that all things are possible. All things are possible for those who believe—those who believe and work and struggle and persevere in the crucible and remain faithful year after year, decade after decade. All things are possible with God.
And God loves us so much that he wants to bring us into the depths of divine intimacy, more than we do ourselves. It is not a lack of humility to concede to God’s plan for us and to cooperate with his intentions for us. Sometimes what begins as an attempt at humility ends as a lack of faith. Yet, sometimes what begins as an act of humble boldness ends with…ends with God—God, whole and entire, the abyss of our nothingness united with the Abyss of God’s Fullness.