LIVING IN FAITH, WATCHING IN HOPE
Catholic Homily/Sunday Reflection
19th Sunday in Ordinary Time (C)
August 8, 2010
I would like to think of today’s liturgy as a lesson on keeping one’s sense of balance in these postmodern times all too prone to all forms of excesses and imbalances. In these confusing times marked by the pull of so many conflicting ideologies and positions on the political, cultural, philosophical, and – even – religious planes, it is very easy for all to fall for one of such extreme positions.
Not even the Catholic Church is spared this particular difficulty and monumental challenge to evangelization. On the one hand, there are those of us who fall for the cut-and-dried and what appears to be a no-nonsense approach to the faith offered by modern-day milleniarists who overly emphasize an apocalyptic, if frightening, vision of impending disaster and gloom that mark the coming of the “end times.” Supported by the teachings of so-called “visionaries” that espouse doubtful theology, and reports of various, alleged, but, unapproved Marian apparitions all over the world, these Christian Catholics spend all their time preaching a “fire and brimstone” type of gospel, based more on fear, than on love and healthy, balanced, and theologically sound devotion.
On the other hand, we have a growing bunch of those who, in their desire to give quick answers to people who are lost in a culture either of material affluence or the utter lack of it, a culture characterized either by overflowing wealth or utmost penury, the gospel gets reduced to a message of prosperity solely for the here-and-now, on the one hand, or one that identifies salvation solely with the hereafter, on the other, leaving people only with the promise of retribution and spiritual salvation only at some unknown time in the future.
One trend identifies salvation with a “this worldly” reality of earthly prosperity and well-being. The other extreme would have people look at this salvation as an “other worldly” reality, as something that will take place only in the after-life. For some misguided Christians, passage to this other worldly reality entails a whole lot of frantic efforts on their part, characterized mostly by endless reparation for one’s sins and the sins of all the world, not letting one’s guard down at anytime, for the “end of the world is near.” Christian life is thus reduced to a life of unnecessary suffering … the more suffering, the better … in order to live what they refer to as their vocation to be “victim souls” for Christ. Suffering of any kind, is not to be shunned, but accepted, even sought for. For others on the other extreme, suffering is to be avoided at all cost, and salvation is identified with material abundance and prosperity, which makes salvation purely a this worldly affair.
It is important that our faith is not based on a misguided interpretation of biblical passages taken apart from the totality of the whole of Christian revelation that comes to us both in Scripture and Tradition. A fundamentalist (and narrow) understanding would have us focus solely on apocalyptic eschatology. Were this to be our sole focus, then the emphasis of our understanding would be on the end of THIS world as we know it. If so, then, our sights are to be directed towards the external signs that are spoken of in several passages in the bible, namely, those symbolic events mentioned such as the stars and the moon falling from the firmament up above, or the reality of wars all over the world, or the sinfulness of humankind. What follows logically from this is the need for us to set a date, or predict a definite time for the “end of the world.” Fear, not love, would then lead us to do what it takes to “appease” a basically angry God, whose hand poised for punishment, could not be further restrained anymore. The here-and-now or the present loses its savor, its importance, and value. What matters more than anything else is one’s readiness to face this impending doom of God’s judgment to a sinful humanity. The world, as we know it, is basically sin-stained, evil, and is therefore, not to be given much attention to. Holiness is to be understood as running away from the world, as one does to a plague.
Today’s readings, though, appear to focus more on prophetic eschatology. They speak about the end of a world, as distinct from the end of the world.
Today’s liturgy, very much like that of last Sunday’s, offers us a lesson on perspective, on a balanced biblical and theological outlook on the meaning of life in the world as we know it, and our attitude towards what this same world can offer us.
The right perspective begins with a very important truth. The Book of Wisdom establishes that it was God who saved and glorified Israel: “For when you punished our adversaries, in this you glorified us whom you had summoned.” The Letter to the Hebrews further deepens this truth, by capitalizing on Abraham’s faith, who “obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance; he went out, not knowing where he was to go.” The same faith led Abraham to follow God’s will: “By faith, Abraham, when put to the test, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was ready to offer his only son…”
All this is an illustration of the perspective of people who have faith, a perspective that enables people to see God in control of history, a God whose future victory and coming is certain, but a God, who is also present and active here and now, in this world, in this life, in these present times. This perspective of faith would have us acclaim with the psalmist: “Blessed the people the Lord has chosen to be His own.” This perspective of faith would also lead us to appreciate, accept, and enjoy the world which is the fruit of His creation. Legitimate pleasures in this world and in this life are not necessarily bad and sinful. The world, per se, is not evil, for God can never create evil. By itself, it ought not to be despised and avoided. For this is the world that the Lord has given us, the place of our salvation, the locus and starting point of our search for holiness and union with God.
To live with the perspective of faith, however, does not mean living irresponsibly and without the need for any parameters, without any form of concrete moral and spiritual boundaries. To live by faith, as the same readings tell us, is really to live in vigilance, in an attitude of hopeful watching. This right perspective would have us be careful about absolutizing material goods. This right perspective would have us put possessions and belongings in the right place. They are important alright, and definitely useful – even, needed. But they must be seen in their right context: “Provide money bags for yourselves that do not wear out, an inexhaustible treasure in heaven that no thief can reach nor moth destroy.” In other words, compared to the “pearl of great price,” material wealth, and the search for it, ought to take a back seat.
Christian life, then, at least as far as today’s readings are concerned, has to do with living in faith in the here-and-now and in the “already,” and watching in hope for the hereafter, for the “not yet” of this same faith. At bottom, it has to do with a sense of balance, that comes from a right perspective of things, events, people, material goods, and the world. With so much and something so great in store for us believers, we would do well to be reminded: “Stay awake and be ready! For you do not know on what day the Son of Man will come.” (Communion antiphon)