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“ I Can Only Imagine” – Fr. Bob’s Homily for Sunday, May 16, 2021

I remember visiting an elementary school a few years ago, where the children had been asked by their teacher to draw a picture of a scene from the Bible. I watched one child drawing a picture of a man in a space suit walking to a rocket, watched by a group of other men, waving to him. I was intrigued. 

“What is this supposed to be about?” I said to the boy. “I don’t remember reading about a rocket in the Bible.”  

And he said, “That’s Jesus, about to ascend into heaven.” 

To that boy, brought up in the era of space travel, it was only natural to suppose that Jesus must have had some sort of space-craft to manage the journey into heaven, and that he would have had to wear a space-suit, in order to be able to breathe when he got into the realm of outer space. To be fair, we are all creatures of our time and culture, and bound to a certain extent by the expectations and assumptions of that time and culture. It is hard to project ourselves into a world beyond our imaginings.

So modern man looks at the stories of the Bible, and tries to find natural phenomena to explain some of the miracles described there. We have all heard of the Big Bang, so Creation must have happened like that, no need to have any kind of Supreme Being performing conjuring tricks, the Parting of the Red Sea was the result of extreme wind and tidal forces, and how did Jesus walk on water? Obviously he knew where the stepping stones were. Agnostics and atheists talk about the “God of the gaps” – we use God as a convenient cover to describe phenomena which we cannot explain at the moment, but soon, science will come up with a natural explanation, and the number of things we still need a god for, will diminish until we don’t need him at all. 

I once watched a You Tube presentation of a debate between a believing Christian teacher and an atheistic scientist. The scientist claimed that science had disproved all of the claims of the Bible about God creating everything. In response, the Christian teacher quoted one of the great physicists of our time, David Berlinksy, who said “Has science been able to prove the non-existence of God? Not at all. Has science been able to prove the theory of evolution to explain how all of creation came into being? Not even close. Has it been able to explain how the earth seems to be finely-tuned to support human life? Not even close to being close.”  The thing is, Berlinsky, is himself an agnostic, one who isn’t even sure whether he believes in a God or not. St Augustine once wrote: ”If we were able to comprehend the fullness of God, He wouldn’t be God.“

By the very definition of God-ness, God inevitably transcends all human knowledge and understanding. 

We are bound by our finiteness and limitedness as human beings, existing in a three-dimension world. The more science discovers about our world, the more wonderful and spell-binding it is.

We are lost in wonder at all you have done, Almighty God.”

Revelations 15:3

Our planet Earth is just one of hundreds of billions of planets, our solar system just one of hundreds of billions of stars in the universe. And God is beyond our universe. 

But as Christians, we are not bound by these limitations. In Jesus Christ, God himself has broken into our world of human beings, by becoming a human being himself, while still retaining the nature of God. He has brought with him an understanding of the realm of God beyond all our imaginings, beyond our spatial-temporal limitations St Paul, in our second reading today, prays for the Christians in Ephesus, to have a spirit of wisdom and revelation so that they may know what is the hope to which he has called you and the riches of their glorious inheritance among the saints, in other words, that they may know and grasp the incredible destiny that they, and all Christians, have waiting for them in heaven. There was a wonderful Christian song that was popular, even in secular charts, a few years ago, called I Can Only Imagine, which spoke about what we might do when we get to heaven and encounter God. “Surrounded by your glory, what would my heart feel? / Will I dance for you, Jesus, or in awe of you be still? / Will I sing Alleluia, will I be able to speak at all? I can only imagine.” 

All of this, our destiny, our salvation, our life with God for all eternity (and which of us can even begin to imagine what a life for all eternity might be like?), all of this is made possible, says St Paul in our second reading, because of the immeasurable greatness of God’s power for us who believe. Why for us who believe? Because those who do not believe in God,who do not accept that, in Jesus Christ, the divine has broken into our world, are stuck, stuck within the limitations of human possibility and speculation. St Paul’s words could be spoken to so many Christians today, especially we Catholics. We simply have no inkling of the greatness of our dignity as children of God, of what incredible plans God has for us, far beyond anything this world could ever offer us. 

Take one example. That second reading tells us that God has lifted Jesus up and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion . . . and put all things under his feet. And we might say, “Well, good for you, Jesus, you deserve it. But what has that got to do with me?” But do you know that, earlier in his letter to the Ephesians, St Paul also writes this: 

God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us . . . made us alive together with Christ . . . and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus . . . to show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness towards us in Christ Jesus.” 

Ephesians 2:4-7

Do you get that, brothers and sisters? We are to have the same high place in heaven that Jesus now enjoys, seated at the place of power and authority at God’s right hand, with everything placed at our feet. Because we are Christ’s body, he is our head, and there is no head without a body, no body without a head. Those who refuse to believe in Christ have rejected such a stupendous destiny, a destiny to be revealed for us at the end of time. So what future do non-believers have to look forward to? Being thrown into the ground and left to rot, and to pass away from all remembering? Does that thought inspire you to live life on earth with hope and joy and peace, brothers and sisters, because it certainly doesn’t do that for me?

St Paul also says in his letter to the Colossians:

”Since you have been raised with Christ in this way, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God..not on things that are on earth, for your real life is hidden with Christ in God, and when Christ, your life, is revealed at the end of time, then you also will be revealed with him in glory.” 

Colossians 3: 1-4

If all I have to look forward in life  are the few meager years of existence on this earth, and that existence is continually threatened by all kinds of awful possibilities, sickness, tragedy, an early death, failure, loss of loved ones, and all I can expect at the end is nothingness, wouldn’t it be a great temptation to live my life, seeking only as much pleasure and happiness that I can get out of my earthly days, and not worrying at all about anyone else? Or to live life full of fear and perpetual anxiety, worrying about how little time I have left, worrying what may happen to me in the future, scared to take risks, holding on desperately to whatever bit of comfort and happiness I have now? What a way to live life! But those who have had the eyes of their hearts enlightened, who well know the hope of a glorious inheritance to which they are called, who are convinced of the great love with which God loves them, and the immeasurable greatness of the power God is always exerting on their behalf, they can live their lives in complete freedom, without fear, full of joy, knowing that their destiny is secure, they can give their lives away in loving service to others, because this life is only a shadow of the great things God has in store for us. Which kind of life do you want to be living, brothers and sisters?

How do we know that we will enjoy such a glorious inheritance? Because we have already been given a down-payment, an instalment of that inheritance, what St Paul calls a pledge of our inheritance (Ephesians 1: 14) – that is the Holy Spirit. When we talk about the power and love of God, we are talking about the Holy Spirit. It is the Spirit who makes all the plans and purposes of God for us possible. It is the Spirit who lifts us up out of a too-earthly focus, and re-orientates us towards our true destiny and true home, heaven.

Let us finish then, by once more invoking him in prayer, using our Novena prayer I gave you last week .