Every March, I recall the time 7 seven year ago, when I became a Canadian citizen. I value this Canadian passport because it took me a lot of blood, sweat and tears to obtain it. I have already shared with you the amount of time, trouble and testing I went through before finally making it. I already have a British passport, of course, but it was changed into a European passport when England joined the European Common Market back into the 70s, Now it is being changed again, since we left the European Union a couple of years ago. It may change further, if Scotland and Northern Ireland decide to separate from the United Kingdom. It is not a nice feeling to think of your country being divided up in this way, and so I have every sympathy for the citizens of Ukraine, who may well be facing a similar situation, as Russia invades further into their country. Maybe their passport, symbol of their proud nationality and sense of belonging, will be torn up and changed. How many other nations may face, in the years ahead, similar upheavals and loss of identity?
Given the uncertainty of the geo-political situation right now, how comforting it is to read St Paul’s emphatic declaration in today’s second reading: “But our citizenship is in heaven.”. The book of Hebrews speaks of the faith of our ancestors who wandered from place to place, seeing themselves as “strangers and foreigners on the earth” , who were seeking “another homeland, a better country, that is, heaven” (Hebrews 11: 13, 15, 16). People of faith never take their eyes, the eyes of their minds and hearts and spirits, off their goal, which is heaven and eternal life with God there. We are not like those whom St Paul has constant conflict within his evangelization, those whose minds, he says, are set on earthly things”.
I have mentioned before a poem I heard once, which echoes this theme I am exploring in my homily today. The poem goes something like this:
“Two men looked out through prison bars:
One looked down at the mud, the other up at the stars”
In each of our readings, we are invited to look, not down at the mud, but up at the stars. In other words, to have our minds and hearts set on the things of heaven, not the things of the earth. Abram , given the promise of a land he will never get to dwell in, and the promise of a host of descendants he will never get to see, because of his great age, nonetheless does not look down at his wretched , ageing, flawed body, but up at the body of the heavens, and all its stars. He sees the limitless scope of God’s majesty and glory, and he believes, believes for the impossible. And it comes true. St Paul, commenting on Abraham’s incredible faith, says:” Hoping against hope, he believed that he would become “the father of many nations”, according to what was said:” So numerous shall your descendants be”. He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was already as good as dead (for he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of his wife, Sarah’s, womb. No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, being fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised” (Romans 4: 18-21)
How is your faith, brothers and sisters, how is mine? A quick answer to that question will be given to us if we consider our attitudes, mind-set, and responses to the recent pandemic, which now seems to be fading, but which was so powerful for a time throughout the world. How was our faith-response to the virus – did we panic, did we despair, did we even bother to pray and seek God’s will for us during this time? And what about the present crisis in the Ukraine? How is our faith- response to that right now – one of fear, doubt, confusion , lack of faith and trust in God , or are we, as St Paul urges us to do in our second reading today: ”standing firm in the Lord”?.
You see, I believe there is a real crisis of faith going on among the Body of Christ, in the various Churches, right now. We should be providing strong spiritual leadership and witness to the world, giving example, again as St Paul urges us to do in that second reading of a strong faith and trust in God. And so often, we have been failing in that respect, and I include myself in that. And the reason is because we have too often looked downwards, to the world around us, to human considerations and conclusions, rather than looking up to the majesty of God’s heavens, and drawn inspiration , as Abram did, from the vast sweep of God’s glory and power. St Paul urges us, in his letter to the Colossian community:” So, since you have been raised with Christ, through baptism, seek the things that above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died to those things in your spirit, and now your true life is hidden with Christ in God. And when Christ, who is your true life, is revealed at the end of time, then you also will be revealed with him in glory” (Colossians 3: 1-4).
Like St Paul’s opponents, we have too often lived as “enemies of the Cross of Christ”. By this I mean, we have not understood that the cross of Jesus reveals God’s power and glory. We have not realized that, in and through Jesus’s sacrifice, we can overcome all crises and trials by accepting our vulnerability and human weakness, and surrendering that nonetheless, as Jesus did, into God’s hands, believing and trusting that God can turn that to salvation and triumph by His resurrection power. We have made God too small in our eyes, and we need to repent of that, myself included. We have not believed with sufficient faith, that God can and does turn all things to good, as St Paul declares in Romans 8:28, for those who love him and are called according to his purpose, as each one of us is. So we have not as a whole, given sufficient witness to a “peace that the world cannot give” (John 14:27), a “peace beyond understanding that keeps our minds and hearts in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7), we have not believed with sufficient strength in Jesus’ words from St John’s gospel ,”Do not let your hearts be troubled, nor let them be afraid” (John 14: 27).
We have not recognized the truth of Jesus’ other words from the same gospel “In this world you will have much trouble, but take courage; I have conquered the world” (John 16: 33).”This is what conquers the world” says St John in his first letter , “our faith” (1 John 4: 4) – our faith in Jesus , Son of God, the Chosen, as God’s voice declares him to be in our gospel today. We have not listened only to him, as God also warns us to, in that gospel. Instead we have listened to other voices, the voice of doubt, of fear, of distrust, of despair, of helplessness, of disbelief. We have listened too often to those voices around us, and sometimes rising from within us. And our faith has failed, just when we needed it most, and when the world around us needed it most.
Like St Peter, striding so confidently towards Jesus across the water, we paid attention to the wind and the waves around us, and allowed it to drown out Jesus’ words to us: “Come on, it is I, do not be afraid” (Matthew 14: 22-33). And so our faith and trust in Jesus’ saving power has also nearly drowned and we have begun to sink beneath those waters of doubt and fear. The good news is that Jesus always stretches out his hand towards us to pull us up out of trouble , even though he will chide us , as he did Peter “Why did you doubt , O man or woman of little faith” (Matthew 14: 31). The good news, also, is that there will always be another chance to get it right, as there was for Peter, another opportunity to display faith and trust in Jesus, our Savior. I don’t doubt, brothers and sisters, that the future is going to provide us with plenty more occasions of trial and testing, but, if we can learn by our failures this time round, and, in the words of our responsorial psalm today, learn to “seek the face of the Lord, making him the stronghold of our lives, and declaring “The Lord is my light and my salvation , whom shall I fear?”, then we will be able to emerge from the next round of severe tribulation, much stronger in faith and providing a shining example to those around us of the peace and joy that comes from having the Lord as your stronghold. In the words of Psalm 42:” Why are you cast down, O my soul, why groan within me? Hope in God, for I will praise him still, my Savior and my God” (verse 11)