Where is the Vision?

The tragedy is that the Church in trying to avoid error has often been afraid to explore truth. This pithy remark by Herbert Slade is worth pondering on. We are followers of someone who risked His life to do something beautiful for mankind. Jesus Christ was very clear when he remarked that he "came so that they may have life and life to the fullest". The fullest of life is where there is the fullness of love. Unfortunately this same Church founded by Christ appears in the eyes of many as an arid institution devoid of relevancy in modern society. What happened to the prophetic ministry of the Church?

Once upon a time, there was a monastery where the brothers worked on a little field. They were neither happy nor sad. They were-you might say-indifferent. The brothers had all settled down to this way of work because they did not know any other way of living.

One day, a very smart and talented young man came to the monastery. He wanted to join the brothers. The young man had great abilities in writing, music, the arts and the sciences. The abbot felt very lucky that such a candidate wanted to join the brothers.

As his training was coming to an end, the young man went to the abbot and asked, "Should I continue my studies as a writer?" "Oh no," replied the abbot. "One does not write here. All we do here is care for our little field." "I see," said the young man, and he went out into the field.

More time went by, and the young man returned to the abbot and asked, "Should I continue my studies in music and the arts?" "Oh no," said the abbot, "that would be of no use here because all we do is care for our little field. "I see," said the young man, and he went back out into the field.

A year passed and the young man returned to the abbot and asked, "Should I continue my studies in science and technology?" "Oh no," said the abbot. "Don't you understand? All we do here is work in our little field. You must settle for that and nothing more." "I see," said the young man, and he went back out into the field.

As the young man was working in the field, he found an old box buried deep in the earth. He opened the box. Inside was a picture of a monastery on whose grounds the brothers were playing, working, building, smiling, singing, studying and praying. In front of all this activity stood a man who was obviously the leader of that monastery.

The young man thought to himself "This is the monastery I want to join." So the young man took the picture to the abbot and said: "Father, I must leave here at once because I have found the monastery God has asked me to join." "What monastery is that?" the abbot asked. The young man handed the abbot the picture and said: "Here it is. I found this picture in the little field as I was digging. You can have it. Now, I must move on. Good-bye." And he left.

The abbot leaned back in his chair, looked at the picture - and cried, because he remembered his Order's founder with love.

"Then the Lord answered me and said: Write down the vision clearly upon the tablets, so that one can read it readily. For the vision still has its time, presses on to fulfillment, and will not disappoint. If it delays, wait for it, it will surely come, it will not be late" (Habacuc 2:2-3).

What is the vision? It is the vision revealed to us by Jesus Christ. It was proclaimed by the early disciples. It found root in the hearts of many. It transformed the lives of entire generations.

The vision announces that God cares. He is not indifferent to the sufferings and pain of mankind. He intervened. He sent His only Son Jesus Christ to this cosmic world. He immersed himself into human history. God became one like us. In Jesus, God has placed in the midst of barren, despairing mankind a new beginning which is a gift from above. Every human being represents something unspeakably new, something more than the sum of chromosomes and the product of environment. But Jesus is the truly new, coming not from mankind's own resources but from the spirit of God. He lived among men. He laughed, enjoyed companionship, worked, interested himself in current events, wept. He died a very violent death.

To many Christians the cross is understood as part of a mechanism of injured and restored right. Many devotional texts visualize a God whose unrelenting righteousness demanded a human sacrifice, the sacrifice of his own Son. This picture is as false as it is widespread. The cross is not the work of expiation which mankind offers to a wrathful God but it stands out as the expression of that foolish and extreme love of God which gives itself away to the point of humiliation in order to uproot from the subconscious of man the doubt whether God really loves mankind or not.

Jesus Christ rose from death. And his resurrection is good news. As the Pope himself said one Easter Sunday a few years ago, Resurrection of Jesus Christ is "a fact, a mystery and a gift". Because He came out of death with power over everything that shackles us and keep us slaves. His victory outweighs all our problems. This is a tranquility that the Christian knows : I cannot destroy what Jesus Christ has built up. In himself man lives with the dreadful knowledge that his power to destroy is infinitely greater than his power to build up. The tragedy which is happening in front of our eyes in countries torn by the strife of war is a an appalling witness of this. But the Christian knows that in Christ the power to build up has proved itself infinitely stronger. We know that God sees through all our errors and remains well disposed to us. The issue of the world does not depend on us but lies on God's hands. That is why we can act with courage and commitment wherever we see injustice and wherever life is scorned. Life has vanquished death. With Christ our Passover everything is possible!

This vision has been smothered by layers upon layers of philosophy, moralism and religion. Christianity has become in the eyes of many Church goers a life-suffocating drudgery, a question of do's and do-not's. That is why the Pope constantly repeats and repeats : "Europe is now called to a necessary task of courageous self-evangelization".

Tomorrow is another country - wrote someone. We do things differently there. If we really want to live, we had better start at once to try; if we don't it does not matter. We shall start at once to die!

Well, what are we waiting for to start?!

(c) Fr. Pius Sammut, OCD. Permission is hereby granted for any non-commercial use, provided that the content is unaltered from its original state, if this copyright notice is included.