Wednesday 19 June 2024

Walking by faith and not by sight

Like many people, the Fathers and Brothers have greatly enjoyed watching Clarkson’s Farm, on the rare occasions we can gather together in front of the television. That entertaining depiction of the trials and tribulations of farming life gives a glimpse of what goes into producing the meat and vegetables that we take for granted on the shelves of supermarkets and butchers. It also shows the huge amount of knowledge our farmers possess: what is good and what is bad seed, how to prepare the soil, how to plough a field, when to plant, when to harvest, how to breed pigs and wean goats, how to build a dam and repair a wall, and much more besides. Farmers have a different way of looking at things to the rest of us: an old air-raid shelter turns out to be the best place to grow mushrooms, and that bit of rain that is a welcome relief from the heat of summer for most of us can spell disaster for the grain harvest. A farmer can look at piles of manure and see pound signs. Someone who is not a farmer will look at a seed and think that nothing much can come of it, but a farmer knows that with patience and the right conditions, that seed is his livelihood — and that a crop or a tree cannot be judged solely on the size of its seeds.

St Paul tells us to walk by faith and not by sight. Many people will think this is delusion or ignorance, that Christians close their eyes to the reality of this world and live with their heads in the clouds, focussed on some fantastic afterlife where everything will be put right. They accuse us of denying cold hard facts and science in favour of fairytales, trading vision for blindness and deluding ourselves that we have the better deal.

But the thousands upon thousands of hospitals, orphanages, nursing homes, schools, soup kitchens build by Christians over two millennia are hardly the work of men and women who aren’t concerned with the problems of this world. Some of the greatest works of art and music and the most important advances in science have been created by people of faith. And the Christian faith makes for terrible fairytales: forgiving your enemies, confessing your sins, caring for the sick and defending the unborn, taking up your cross, dying to yourself.

To walk by faith is not to close our eyes. We see what everyone sees, and we see more. Like farmers. Or like Antiques Roadshow experts seeing artistry and value in what looks like old junk. Or software programmers making whole virtual worlds out of lines of numbers and symbols. Or a parent forever prizing the paintings and drawings of a child, seeing scribbles and blobs of colour — but seeing more.

So it is with the Blessed Sacrament. The priest speaks the words that Christ spoke and...nothing seems to change. The bread and wine look the same, weigh the same, taste the same. Nothing looks different, yet everything has changed. Faith sees what eyes and scales and microscopes and chemical tests cannot. Jesus Christ is present — body, blood, soul, and divinity.

And so is it with us. We walk by faith when we see the poor as more than a need to be met, or a problem to be solved, but as a privileged encounter with the risen Lord. We walk by faith when we recognise this world as more than something to be used and abused, but also as God’s gift to be treasured, preserved, and shared. We walk by faith when we see ourselves as more than a bundle of desires, more than customers, more than the sum of our failures and pains, but as coheirs with Christ and children of eternity. We walk by faith when we see the smallest acts of kindness and love as the seeds of the kingdom of God; and know that God’s reign comes in power through the seemingly insignificant actions of each one of us.

We see what everyone sees, and so we do not deny evil, but neither do we believe that evil has the final word. We proclaim the beauty of this world and thank God for the wonder of our lives, but we also know that in Christ we are meant for life beyond this. Though we live and move, draw breath and have a pulse, we have already died and been buried with Christ. And that although we will return to dust and be forgotten by men, we hope to live forever in Christ.

None of this is apparent, it is not obvious to the eyes. By faith, we see that we are more, much more, than we appear to be. So is this world, and so is the Kingdom of God.