If we grew up believing that our only task in life is to get our souls into heaven, we won't appreciate the depth of insight in Sunday's three readings.

Author and naturalist Sue Halpern probably understands these passages better then we. In her recent book, Four Wings and a Prayer, she chronicles the migration of monarch butterflies from the northeast United States to their winter refuge in Mexico, then follows them as they trek back to the U.S. in the spring.

She often reminds her readers that it takes at least seven generations to complete the entire cycle. No one butterfly lives more than a few months; most survive only a month or less. Unlike migratory birds, each monarch experiences just a small part of its journey. But without the contributions of each, there would be no migration. The species would die out.

Pilgrimage

Our sacred authors also presume each generation of our faith-species has already done or will do something to help our community's ongoing faith-migration. The authors of Wisdom and the Letter to the Hebrews reflect on what our ancestors unselfishly have done to help us reach this point in our journey.

The former (Wis 18: 6-9) reminds his community, By faith,...your people (during the Exodus) awaited the salvation of the just and the destruction of their fore. He's convinced that those who are reading his words in Israel are in the Promised Land only because of the steps of faith which their ancestors in Egypt dared to take centuries before.

In the same way, the author of the Letter to the Hebrews (Heb 11: 1-2, 8-19) awakens his community to the debt they owe those who acted by faith long before they came on the scene. Faith, he states, is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen.

To prove his point, he provides us with some classic scriptural examples. Though those who choose our liturgical readings have omitted all his references except Abraham and Sarah, he actually goes on for almost 40 verses narrating things various people accomplished by faith, things which prepared the way for our own lives of faith.

He pointedly reminds us, All these died in faith. They did not receive what had been promised but saw it and greeted it from afar. We believe the way we do today only because people courageously acted on their beliefs long before we existed.

More to do

The temptation is to think were at the end of this long faith journey, that everyone who traveled it before simply prepared the way for us who today enjoy the last stage of faith.

The historical Jesus never gave such a message to His followers. On the contrary, the Gospel (Lk 12: 32-48) emphasizes that we're always waiting, always anticipating what's coming next. Luke's Jesus assures us that the father is pleased to give you the kingdom, but He presumes there's a lot for us to do before that kingdom becomes a reality in all our lives. Besides advising us to sell your belongings and give alms, He also reminds us that we're to expect His glorious, final arrival at any time. Only by living with such anticipation will we be able to maintain and pass on the kind of faith which future generations need.

Twenty centuries later, we're still waiting, still believing. Like the monarch butterfly, each generation plays an essential role in the community's journey. Jesus' words always echo in our ears: Much will be required of the person entrusted with much, and still more will be demanded of the person entrusted with more. Each of us is entrusted with just a small part of humanity's overall journey of faith. But unless we faithfully live that part, the whole journey won't happen exactly as God planned it.

(08-09-01)