The theme of life and death, of dying and rising, runs throughout the readings today. It is also a theme that runs throughout our life’s journey when failures weigh us down and success raises us, when challenges overwhelm us to leave us hopeless and a turn in fortune lifts us to leave us hopeful, or when we are distanced from God gradually finding ourselves shrouded in darkness and we re-encounter him in the close confines of our personal life leading us to burst into the brightness of new life. This is the rhythm of life, of falling and rising. This is the beat on the path we walk, of backtracking and moving forward.
And we share also in the common direction of this journey. Wherever we are along the path, at whichever stage we find our faith at, we are united in the walk towards our Creator. It is only when we reach God, through the passage of death, can we say that we are returned. Coming back for Sunday mass after years staying away is coming home. However, entering the church doors is not crossing the finish line. Yes, we are on the rise, and a significant one for a returning Catholic but it does not mean we would not fall again. Our human nature, inherently weak, will ensure that.
The path of faith is filled with ups and downs, of moving forward and of back sliding. But at each hump, each turn, we learn, we grow, and we gain strength to progress on. Returning to Church, growing in faith is this process.
We grow distant to God. We do not suddenly become distant. Especially these days, the secular world takes us gradually away from the spiritual world. We will hardly notice it. The initial stages are always from the fun-filled, ‘feel good’ distractions and trappings of our social life. We hunt for self-gratification. We sometimes compromise on values for that extra boost. We enjoy a trouble-free life with no need to embrace a troublesome faith that calls on the need to die to self. Gradually, layer by layer of wall form that will eventually entomb us. When it gets darker, the naughtier things in life take over and we are deeper entombed. We realised we have fallen down.
This realisation can only be sparked by the Holy Spirit. Entombed, the voice of the Shepherd is a faint call. “O Lord, you have brought me up from the nether world; you preserved me from amongst those going down into the pit. I will praise you Lord for you have rescued me”. (Ps 29)
We begin to search the darkness for light. We retraced our footsteps for clues as to how we have fallen this far. When our eyes begin to open, when we begin to look, we find that God has placed angels in the form of the people we know on our paths to walk with us this road home. Along the way, we pass milestones in our life and when we carefully look, we see that God had been present. Gradually we begin to feel that “God is personal to me because He has been present in the personal events of my life”. Step by step, courage and strength builds, and as we climb the steps of our tomb, we peel away the layers of wall that has entrapped our spiritual life. Somewhere along the dark ceiling we will find the handle to a door. Pulling it, the door opens into the light. We are on the rise.
This is the rhythm of faith, the beat on our journey towards our Creator. We fall in and out of grace. We come in and out of Church. We are returning, and are always returning.
But at each dying and each rising, we grow stronger through an experience of a merciful and loving God, and make progress on our journeys. In this way, we are all equal. In the mission of Landings, it is never them and us, goat and sheep but an appreciation that this is a journey we must all walk together as we are all “always returning”.
(Tenth Sunday in Ordinary Time 1 Kgs 17:17-24, Ps 29;2-13, Gal 1:11-19, Luke 7:11-17)