On our prayer board there is a rather sad notice. It reads “Dear God, please put everything right.”
Of course, God could change us into robots if he wanted to, obeying every command. Imagine that! (Robot woman) “Why do you love me?” Not, because you are beautiful, because you are fun, because I want to spend the rest of my life with you but.. (Robot man) “I love you because God has told me to.” Yes, love, kindness, compassion, sympathy… all these wonderful things that make us human would not be real if we simply did them because we had to. We can look at it the other way up too. Imagine what the world would be like if God, the power of goodness and love, was not working in us, if life was just kill or get killed!
So when people ask what is God doing about the evil in the world, I tell them to look for all the good and wonderful things that human beings are doing to care for those who are sad or suffering. All over the world there are millions of unsung heroes every day (and hopefully that includes us) doing what they can to make the world a better and happier place. If we simply believe the News, and only look at the sad and evil things happening in the world, then we will never see God. Evil is always loud and noisy. It will always give the impression on the surface that it is winning. Goodness and love are much quieter, but in the end much more powerful.
This is surely why Jesus is constantly telling us, as in today’s Gospel (Matthew 25:1-13) to “Stay awake.” Of course, God is not going to lock us out of the wedding feast if we are a bit sleepy about things. But Jesus puts the story in these stark terms to challenge us. He’s warning us that unless we look for God at work in all sorts of unexpected ways, we are in danger of being swamped by evil, of drowning in our own self-despair.
We Catholics can sometimes be in danger of limiting the full presence of God simply to the inside of a Church, and then within the Mass itself only to the moment when we receive Holy Communion. Of course, it is wonderful that God is especially present to us in this way, and we must never underestimate how powerful that presence is; which is why it is a good practice whenever you can to visit the Blessed Sacrament present in the tabernacle in your nearest Church, and say your prayers there. Even better, combine it with attendance at a weekday Mass!
But being awake to God’s presence in Holy Communion should make us more, not les, awake to God’s presence in the rest of our life. Every time some good thing happens to us, however small; every time we see something beautiful, we should try to say a brief prayer of thanksgiving that God is at work. It’s a good practice too, in our prayers at the end of the day, to look back on all we have done, and remind ourselves of moments where God was at work, but we were perhaps too busy to notice.
I think we need to remember too that the presence of God is bound to be complicated and not straightforward. If God simply appeared to us in all his glory every time some good thing happened to us, we would actually be overwhelmed ; we wouldn’t be able to cope. God has to reveal himself in mysterious and hidden ways, simply because that gives us the space to be ourselves, to be free agents rather than those robots I mentioned earlier. But it is also true that truth and beauty are not simple things. It is said that when someone complained to the great musician Beethoven that his music was difficult, he snapped back, “Of course it is. The truth is always difficult!”
Some people say this about the new English translation of the Mass. They say that some of the new words are so much more difficult to understand. Actually, this is one of the virtues of the new Mass. The words make much clearer that we are communicating with a power that is beyond our ordinary words. The old translation left out lots of the adjectives too, but now we have them back and they help to hint to us how mysterious and wonderful God is. Not “We give you thanks for your glory” but “for your great glory”, and so on.
We humans always use or invent words to say more than we mean, don’t we? I remember when young people started using the word “cool” to express something they really liked, and there are many other examples. Never let it be said that young people like language to be simple and straightforward!
Thus when Paul in our 2nd reading (1 Thess 4:13-18) says that when we die we will meet God “in the air”, he is not suggesting that when we die we will all shoot upwards; he is simply using a common expression of his time to convey the mystery of meeting God face to face. For when God’s glory is finally revealed to us, no words will properly be able to describe it.