Last week, the United Kingdom, in a referendum, made an historic decision to leave the European Union, of which it had been a part since 1975. However, the countries of Scotland and Northern Ireland voted in this referendum to remain a part of the EU. It appears likely that, in the near future, those two countries will vote to leave the United Kingdom which has existed for over 400 years as a union of England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland (the Republic of Ireland separated from the UK in 1921, leaving Northern Ireland as part of the union). Suddenly, the entire political map of the United Kingdom is being reconfigured. Further, other countries in the EU are considering whether to hold a referendum to decide if they also want to leave. We are facing seismic changes in the whole continent of Europe, which will undoubtedly have repercussions on the world stage. Nobody knows what the future holds as we transition to a very different world than we knew before.
Transition always has its uncertainty and consequent anxiety. Last Friday, I attended a graduation ceremony at St Philip’s and watched as the grade 6 students were awarded certificates and awards and prepared to transition to a new era in their lives, in which they would no longer be big fish in a small pond, but small fish in a big pond. Behind the smiles, I am sure there were a few fluttering hearts as well. On Saturday, I attended a wedding, in which the happy couple exchanged vows and made their own transition into the unknown of being married. I’m sure that here also, behind the smiles, both were wondering what the future held for them.
Finally, last Friday, I carried out two funerals, and here was the greatest transition any of us will ever make, from this earthly life into the unknown of whatever lies beyond. For those with faith, we are assured that beyond this life, there is a better, more beautiful life, the life of heaven. For those without such faith, there is only uncertainty and fear. Even those with faith can face this final curtain with a great deal of anxiety.
A great English saint, Blessed John Henry Newman, once wrote: “Here below, to be human is to change. And to be perfect, is to have gone through many changes.” All the transitions, all the changes in our lives, are but ways in which God brings us to perfection. The people of Israel, returning from exile to their devastated capital, Jerusalem, faced uncertainty and fear about the future. The prophet Isaiah, in our first reading this Sunday, paints a picture of a restored Jerusalem, in which abundant peace and prosperity would be theirs. It was a word of comfort to them in the midst of their profound anxiety, to remind them that God had not abandoned them, and would bring them through this time of transition into a time of restoration and glory.
Whatever transitions you may be facing this summer, be assured that God has all our lives in his hands, and will bring us through this time of uncertainty and anxiety, and use these new changes to continue perfecting us.