Recently, Dayton, El Paso, Las Vegas and several other cities in the U.S. were struck by mass shootings and horrid violence that strikes at the hearts of all decent citizens who ask “WHY?” “What’s this world coming to?” “Is this the beginning of the ‘end times’?” “Where is God?” “Has the world gone mad?” “How can we deal with such reckless violence?”
I’d like to think that dealing with these and other related problems goes much deeper than just trying to address it with approaches such as “more jail time” and “gun control.”
In his letter to the Philippians, St. Paul reminds us that “our citizenship is in heaven, and from it, we also await a savior, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Phil. 3:20). These words serve as a reminder that, because of our faith, our trying to solve all this world’s problems without God will be futile; and that we should be spending our energies searching for something beyond this life. Our true home is not to be found here; rather, it’s to be found in Heaven. So, when we look at the state of affairs in our country and world, marked by so many forms of tragedy and suffering, Paul’s words can be a source of great comfort and hope. They do encourage us to not give up on our journey of faith, no matter how difficult the road may be, for there is something greater to which we can look forward.
At the same time, we must be aware of a danger that we can face as we fix our attention on the goal of Heaven. The temptation exists to see all the negative things that are happening in our world and think that they are so far beyond our control that as a result, we might have a tendency to turn in on ourselves and just focus on what it is that we need to do in order to receive our promised inheritance. In such a case, our primary focus is very small, extending barely beyond ourselves to our families and (maybe) our churches. We’re comfortable working on this level because we can see a greater possibility for success among those who are most like us. To expand our efforts beyond that sometimes may be seen as not being worth the effort. This type of attitude is not what Jesus had in mind for His disciples, nor is it what He has in mind for us.
In the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus tells His listeners: “You are the light of the world. A city set on a mountain cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and then put it under a bushel basket; it is set on a lampstand, where it gives light to all in the house” (Mt 5:14-15). We’re called to let the light of our faith shine for others to see, not just keep it hidden in our homes and in our congregations on Sundays. That light is meant to shine everywhere! Every aspect of our lives should be guided by the light of our faith, not just because it is the path that will lead us to Heaven, but because it gives a witness for others to see and hopefully turn their lives around to follow that same path as well. As more and more people set out on this path, we also may notice a positive change in how we live here on this earth. Our relationships on every level will benefit everyone with whom we come in contact because we will be guided by a way of living which is centered on love, a love that expresses itself in a concern for the well-being of all, not just a few. Being living witnesses, we can make a bold statement that God does indeed belong in our parish, our city and our country, and that we are not content to let Him be pushed aside, which has happened far too frequently. We have to be convinced of the difference that God makes in life and we want the rest of our community to experience that difference as well. But, in order to bring God into our community, it’s important that all of us seek to find common ground to work with fellow Christians who may have the same hopes and goals that we have.
In this regard, a few years ago there was an interview with the incoming President of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, Russel Moore. In the interview, Moore said that he wanted to refocus the evangelical movement on serving as a religious example that battles in the public square on ‘three core issues,’ namely, life, marriage and religious liberty. I agree with his premise and pray that fellow Christians, in like-minded denominations, will cooperate on these core issues. This would be a great step forward in collaboration.
Though we may think that the task which we have to undertake is not an easy one, we shouldn’t be discouraged from beginning to work toward the goal. Over 150 years ago, Abraham Lincoln found himself faced with the very difficult task of assuming leadership for our country as the President. In a brief address, he spoke about how much he relied on God to assist him in this task. He was convinced that with God, he wouldn’t fail, but would succeed. It is this same kind of trust that we must place in God for ourselves. We can’t be discouraged by what seems to be an impossible task. Rather we should be reminded of what St. Paul says in his letter to the Romans: “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Rom. 8:31). God will indeed be for us if we make ourselves his faithful followers. Pray that by the witness of our lives, all members of our parish family may be attracted to the source of our light, God Himself, and seek to make Him a part of their lives, living according to His ways, fostering a community of disciples serving one another and building one another up as we advance toward the fulfillment of our hope in the heaven which awaits all of us.