5th November 2010, Friday 31st Week Year II
1st Reading: Philippians:317 -4:1
ARE WE SO HEAVENLY MINDED THAT WE ARE NO EARTHLY GOOD? OR ARE WE SO EARTHLY MINDED THAT WE ARE NO HEAVENLY GOOD? NEITHER OPTION IS FAITHFUL TO THE GOSPEL.
The Christian Faith and the Christian life are full of tensions. They are full of truths and imperatives that we need to hold together. Sometimes these can seem to be contradictory but we must nevertheless hold them all together without denying or watering down any of them and also without emphasizing any at the expense of others. Obvious examples are that God is one but that God is three, that Christ is fully divine but that he is fully human. Other obvious examples are between God's work and our work, between God's sovereignty and human freedom, between God's grace and our choice, between faith and works.
Today's first reading gives us one side of another such tension. For us Christians, our homeland is in heaven. In other words we are pilgrims, visitors, or aliens in this world. As St Paul says, in 1 Corinthians 15:19, if our hope in Christ is for this life alone then we are to be more pitied than anyone else in the world. The Scriptures are full of exhortations to fix our hearts and minds on heavenly things and never to set our hearts on the things of this world. This life is only a beginning, or indeed just a precursor to the beginning. Death is not the end. As the liturgy says "the sadness of death gives way to the bright promise of immortality...when the body of our earthly dwelling lies in death we gain an everlasting dwelling place in heaven".
It is so important to affirm and hold onto these truths. Many have watered it down or even denied them. However, in affirming these truths we must not deny or water down another set of truths. We must also always remember that this world is good and that we have a responsibility to care for it. Christ came to redeem the world and not just to prepare us for heaven. We are called to allow the Gospel of Christ to transform and permeate every aspect of this world, this includes the material realm, the social realm, the cultural realm, the economic realm and the political realm. Jesus Christ came to liberate us above all from sin and the Evil One, but he also came to liberate us from EVERYTHING that oppresses us.
It has been said that Christians are so heavenly minded that they are no earthly good. Unfortunately this has indeed often been the case. Christians have often withdrawn from the world seeing it as evil, or if not evil then irrelevant to the task of saving souls. But we are called to love bodily people and not simply invisible souls. How could parents say to their child that since all that matters is heaven that they are not going to provide for the child materially? Parents are concerned with all aspects of their children's lives and that is right. So we too must be concerned with all aspects of people's lives and we should also care about this world God has given us, a world which he declared to be good.
Christians should be at the forefront of efforts to change this world for the good. We should be at the forefront of efforts to care for the poor and needy, the sick and the lonely. We should also be at the forefront of seeking to end hunger, homelessness, and all forms of poverty. We should be at the forefront of fighting against injustice, oppression and seeking to stop violence and wars. We should be at the forefront of seeking to change social structures to build a world of greater prosperity, peace and abundance. But on doing this we should never identify human liberation with salvation in Jesus Christ, building the the kingdom of heaven is not the same as building the earthly kingdom. Christians know that we are awaiting the arrival of our Lord Jesus Christ at the end of time when he comes again in glory to judge the living and the dead. We also know that it is only then that he will finally establish the fullness of his heavenly Kingdom.
So even as we affirm the intrinsic goodness of creation, and even as we throw ourselves wholeheartedly into the work of transforming this present world, we still recognize the fact that our time here on earth is but a preparation for the rest of eternity. Without any contradiction we know that our citizenship is in heaven. We proclaim the goodness of the present world, the reality of the future kingdom of heaven, and the good news that this future heavenly kingdom has already broken into the present world through the person of Jesus Christ. We celebrate and proclaim his life, death and resurrection. We celebrate and proclaim the Gospel of grace, the good news of God's mercy, the infinite love of God revealed and made manifest in Jesus Christ. We echo the call of Jesus for people to follow him in a life of discipleship and to even now to experience a foretaste of heaven through repentance and faith. And as we do this we have on our lips the cry of the early Christians: "Maranatha, come Lord Jesus, come"
Fr. Paul Uwemedimo