God made a covenant with Abraham, promising that he would become the father of many people, so many that the stars in the heavens would be outnumbered by them. Yet Abraham was old and without a child, without an heir. When he was 86 he decided to take matters into his own hands. He followed the advice of his wife Sarah and had a son through her maidservant Hagar. Though he had a son whom he named Ishmael, things didn’t work out. A rift developed between Sarah and Hagar. Things usually don’t work out when we don’t trust God, when we take matters into our own hands and make a declaration of independence from God.
Thirteen years passed and God spoke once more to Abraham, renewing the promise. Abraham laughed at the thought that he, now 99 years old, and his elderly wife Sarah would have a son. But they did. God fulfilled the promise and told Abraham to name his son Isaac, a name which means “Laughter.”
Some more years passed and Abraham was called to sacrifice Isaac, his only son, his only hope of being the father of a great nation. This “test” deepened Abraham’s faith even more. He was ready to make the sacrifice. He didn’t take matters into his own hands. He didn’t declare his independence from God. His faith in God’s providence and plan reached the high point that has led to Abraham being called the father of faith.
God stopped Abraham and provided a lamb instead of the son for a sacrifice.
During this Year of Faith we are called to deepen our faith. The world is not lacking in faith, but it’s a faith that is in the wrong things. It’s faith in science and technology, in human ingenuity and human good will, and not in God. We are challenged to place all our faith in God as Abraham did. Our faith, our declaration of dependence upon God alone, will open the way for God to act in our lives and in the world.
At Mass we celebrate the ultimate faith—the faith of Jesus. We remember the pinnacle of Jesus’ faith when He offered Himself on the cross, trusting that, in the words of the Eastern Liturgy, He would “trample down death by death.” Jesus placed Himself totally in the hands of the Father, trusting that through His sacrificial death humanity would be saved and death itself would be overcome.
The story of Abraham and Isaac foreshadows the Passion and Death of Jesus. God did what Abraham in the end did not have to do. The Father provided a Lamb who would be the Sacrifice that would replace all other sacrifices. The only Son of God is the Lamb that was sacrificed to reconcile humanity and God.
Now we, members of the Body of Christ and joined to the Lamb of God, are called and empowered to make of ourselves, in the words of St. Paul to the Romans (12:1), “a living sacrifice.” This is the Eucharistic spirituality of the Apostleship of Prayer. One day at a time we make an offering of our lives in a prayer, then strive to live that offering throughout the day, and finally examine the offering we’ve made at the end of the day. Doing this we declare our dependence on God and find true freedom.