Saturday, 6 August 2016

19th Sunday in Ordinary Time - Year C

Wisdom 18:6-9; Hebrews 11:1-2, 8-19; Luke 12:32-48
(A Reflection)

There are two kinds of atheists, happy atheists and angry atheists. I somehow like the second group better, or at least, I have more respect for them.

The first group we may call the ‘non-practising’ atheists. They claim life is ultimately without meaning but they live as though it were not so. They are much like the ‘believers’ who claim faith in an afterlife but live as though their true home was here, on planet earth.

The true atheist, deep down, is always angry. He truly believes his existence has no meaning and he doesn’t like it one bit. To make matters worse he is forced to live with all kinds of restrictions on his life placed there by humans who likewise have no meaning, and he doesn’t like that either.

The true Christian is always happy. The foundation for this happiness is effortlessly easy to grasp. Christians live their entire lives in the invisible presence of a Saviour who loves them and in whom they have put all their trust. Naturally, this infuriates atheists because they have put all their trust in the visible, the tangible, the empirically verifiable. ‘Show us your God!’ they scream. ‘You can’t, can you, because he doesn’t exist.’

Kenny, the lovable plumber from the 2006 move Kenny put it much more nicely when he said he didn’t believe but that if God appeared to him he would give him 110% of his attention.

The trouble with all this is that atheists can’t see that they are asking God to behave like a microbe in a petri dish or a star in the sky. They want something they can examine and run a clinical test on; or at least someone they can interview.

To this the believer replies, ‘Are you saying God doesn’t exist if I can’t pull him out of the top drawer for you? If you can’t see him with your eyes? If you can’t put him under a microscope or locate him with a telescope?’

So between the believer and the atheist there exists an impenetrable wall constructed of bricks made up of answers to all the wrong questions. Perhaps the American Stuart Chase was right when he said: "For those who believe, no proof is necessary. For those who don't believe, no proof is possible."

No one, at least not in my circle of friends, has ever seen God. My eyes have never seen him. And I have never seen an angel, or the Blessed Virgin Mary, or any other heavenly being. And yet, along with 2.3 billion other Christians around the globe – about a third of humanity – I DO believe.

And what’s more I believe in those especially difficult Catholic specifics which even baffle other Christians let alone atheists. Though I have never seen the bread and wine change into the Body and Blood of Christ; nor witnessed the annihilation of sins confessed in the sacrament of reconciliation, yet – I DO believe – and so do you.

Of us Jesus said: Happy are those who have not seen and yet believe. And the writer of the letter to the Hebrews adds: Only faith can guarantee the blessing that we hope for, or prove the existence of the realities that at present remain unseen.

On one level we Christians experience the ‘invisibility’ of God as much as non-believers. Though to the senses he remains ‘unseen’, a ‘hidden’ presence, yet to the eyes of the soul he is to be seen – everywhere and always – so much so that, if we had ears to hear, the soul would exclaim, ‘What’s not to be seen about God?’

This painful emptiness, this perceived absence of God, this hidden presence which the senses experience as a vacuum, is precisely the place which invites and enables the very possibility of faith. We can believe precisely because we do not see him.

For us the promises made through Abraham and the prophets are the very word of God. We believe this word. In heaven, when we see him face to face, our faith will give way to sight. In the meantime we set our hearts on the promise and on our heavenly homeland. We work for treasure that will not fail us and look forward to the realities which at present remain unseen.

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