The search for power has been an ongoing effort down through the centuries. Military arsenals have often been instruments in this effort, but there are also other avenues to power. Money, of course, comes to mind, and prestige associated with recognized authority. In recent times the perception of the kind of power that is sought after has become more technical and scientific, with access to oil, for instance, as a primary goal of power-seekers in the contemporary world. And, with the diminishment of oil reserves, alternate generators of similar power are emerging in the form of wind-driven resources, surf-energized alternatives, atomic fueled capabilities, etc., along with more traditional coal reserves and dam reservoirs familiar to us along our rivers.
Our biblical readings address power issues in today’s Eucharistic liturgy. St. Paul’s reflections on the faith we share with the outstanding ancestors in our religious tradition, such as Abraham, remind us of this. For Paul acknowledges the empowerment factor in Abraham’s adherence to God’s promise to him. Paul designates this as Abraham’s faith that what God "…had promised he was fully able to do". We note the phrase: "he was fully able to do"-a power motif. What’s especially significant about this is that this empowerment "was not for him alone" but "it was also for us". In other words, we have here a power source that is not afflicted with the problems of all the above examples of power: gradual diminishment and eventual unreliability. And what is it? According to Paul, Abraham was "empowered by faith", which was ultimately traceable to the ultimate power source: Jesus rising from the dead (v. 24). So faith puts us in the enviable position of linkage to a power source that is ongoing.
Unfortunately, the rich man described in Luke’s gospel today presents a person who also had a certain amount of power at his disposal, land that "…produced a bountiful harvest", but, as the examples above, it was a power source that was unreliable. Though, for a time, he enjoyed the advantage his land afforded him, saying to himself: "…you have so many good things stored up for many years, rest, eat, drink, be merry!", leading him to build new barns to store this produce, yet again, a power shortage was at hand to undo this advantage: "…this night your life will be demanded of you."
And so it is with all of us. We may not think of ourselves as power hungry, but each of us searches for someone or something to resource us in our passage through life. There is nothing wrong with this. But, from God’s vantage point, He gave us this drive to find a power source , with a very definite arrangement in mind: Himself. It’s not the search for power that is reprehensible, but the search for it in the wrong places, that ultimately failing to provide what they seem to promise. The only trustworthy and reliable power source in our lives is what Abraham found to be verified in his life: faith in Him. Not only is faith a source of power, supplied by the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, but it is also an inexhaustible power-point, unlike any other resource on which we might rely.
This has been declared The Year of Faith. Let us explore the ways leading to the refurbishing of faith so that we can be empowered "…in what matters to God."
Fr. Sebastian MacDonald, C.P. is a member of the Passionist formation community at Catholic Theological Union, Chicago.