THOUGHT FOR THE DAY: We tend to imagine eternal life in terms of what we know,

By Canon Gerry Conroy

I am not sure why but this second lockdown we are enduring seems longer than the first even though it isn’t. Enduring this second wave of the virus seems more draining than the first. It seems more difficult to keep hope and joy strong: we just don’t have the strength. The first lockdown seems to have been easier; we are tired and drained, there is little space left for hope. It seems all taken up by the emptiness. These feelings that people are experiencing caused me to reflect a little in a more general way whether people’s potential for trust and hope has been exhausted because of the pain they have suffered in life. I sometimes wonder if people just haven’t the strength to believe that there will be any afterward for them.

One of the most arresting verses in that Gospel of the Transfiguration for me is, that they discussed ‘What rising from the dead could mean?’  The whole idea was alien to them! Here, I suspect is one of the great difficulties of faith for us, the great difficulty of believing in eternal life because the prospect radically transcends the experience of any of us and is therefore in some way unimaginable. We tend to imagine eternal life in terms of what we know, in terms of what we think an ideal life here on earth would be like. We reduce everything to the happiness available to us here on earth and to the absence of the sorrows and sufferings of this life. But that is to sell it short, it is to reduce it to our ordinary everyday feelings.

It is like Peter who wished to remain on the mountain where everything was fine and clear. It was a wish for that feeling that life is good, for faith as enthusiasm; faith in the easy moments. But what then would faith have to say to us in the difficult moments, in the darkness, in the difficulties? What kind of hope would such faith offer us? What about faith as it is for most of us when it is a struggle and we keep getting things wrong? When faith is all about finding an earthly peace and happiness, it is not wholly faith, a faith that gives a hope that can face everything life throws at us. It is the faith of St Peter on the mountain who did not wish to confront the reality of life, or the reality of death. What truth is there in faith in God if he is not God present in the darkness too? If God is only a God of morals and human kindness, what does he have to say to us about our life, or about death and suffering?

This world offers certainty, in so many ways, its great achievement is science and technology, but finally the only certainty it can offer is that of death. Faith in Christ offers uncertainty – finally it offers the uncertainty of eternal life – something that radically transcends the experience of any of us. No wonder Peter wished to stay on the mountain rather than descend. A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush!

It all took place on the bright day of the transfiguration, but it was in the shadow of a cloud that God told us to listen to his beloved Son. He is telling us that finally we must face the uncertainty of life, the emptiness of death with only our hope and trust in Christ and his resurrection. We must journey through life, choosing between a certainty that ends in death, or God’s love, a certainty that in this world, assailed as we are by suffering and death, can seem at times only too uncertain.

Canon Gerry Conroy is parish priest of St Patrick’s, Dumbarton

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