There can be little doubt that we are living through a dramatic epoch. Pope Francis himself has observed on a number of occasions that the world is at war. It is at war, he has said, because there is no peace. Ours is a time of dislocation. So much seems to be shifting from under us. Something new is developing but what it might be we do not know.
When the rate of change is intense and everything of the past is perceived to be falling apart, it is understandable that people feel insecure, they become afraid. They look for security. Some look for security by trying to restore the past. Some look for security by burying themselves in their own concerns, in their own nest, both personally and socially. We disengage and retreat into what is comfortable, or we draw up the bridges; we build walls; we become defensive to protect ourselves. Others look for security by looking for strong authority figures and strong ideologies – something outside themselves to give them confidence and security and to restore their sense of safety.
Today’s gospel speaks to this situation of change and of fear. We hear of apocalyptic events in which everything is being destroyed. When the Scriptures use this language, they do not mean it simply in a literal sense. The use of such imagery was a device of ancient writers to indicate that something is in the process of dramatic and radical change and that something new is about to happen. However, as ancient a language it is, perhaps, nonetheless, it has a very modern feel. Events of our own time can feel apocalyptic.
So, what are to do? Where are we to go?
In the Scriptures the constant choice placed before the People of God is that between life and death. As the Book of Deuteronomy declares it so forcefully in chapter 30:
See, I set before you today life and prosperity, death, and destruction. For I command you today to love the Lord your God, to walk in obedience to him, and to keep his commands, decrees, and laws; then you will live and increase, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land you are entering to possess.
But if your heart turns away and you are not obedient, and if you are drawn away to bow down to other gods and worship them, I declare to you this day that you will certainly be destroyed. You will not live long in the land you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess.
This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the Lord is your life, and he will give you many years in the land he swore to give to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
In the New Testament the choice is presented in a slightly different way: it is the choice between fear and love. Will we go the way of fear; or will we choose the way of love? Fear closes us in, it shuts us off, it paralyses us. Love opens us up, sends us out, creates a future. Fear denies faith; love serves faith. Faith, hope and love: these are the three great Christian virtues, and in the midst of enormous change they alone guide the one who proclaims Christ risen.
Faith, hope and love do not make us powerful. But neither are they naïve. They manifest the next sure steppingstone upon which to tread in the uncertainty we experience. They breathe the sober recognition that time is not in our grasp, that the future is not completely created by us, but that, in the end, it is subject to a reality greater than ourselves. Jesus challenges us as his followers to put our trust in the quiet confidence his presence gives us, and to keep living from this confidence so that our hearts do not become fearful and therefore defensive. There is no future in the politics of fear; the future belongs only through the politics of hope.
I often come back one of my most memorable experiences from my visits to Myanmar, that enchanting but deeply troubled country, I recall a parish I visited in the Archdiocese of Yangon in the Ayeyawaddy Delta Region, a vast area of many thousands of fish farms west of Yangon. So isolated was the village, we could only reach the parish by boat. The most powerful image that stays with me from that visit came from entering the Chapel of the Blessed Sacrament beside the main village church. There, when we entered as the sun set, was a young girl in prayer alone before the Blessed Sacrament The clarity of faith in such a remote place made a deep impression on me. So far from anywhere, in such unmistakable poverty, in a context in which uncertainty and despair looms incessantly, someone as young was silent in surrender before the Lord in the Mystery of the Sacrament of the Eucharist. It was for me a profound experience of the power of the powerless, an experience of pure faith that has not let itself be overtaken by false substitutes.
As for that young girl in a remote parish in the vast delta of Myanmar, may that same quiet confidence known only in deep faith, enable us to go into the future in a way that gives us life and hope rather than fear and anxiety.
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