St Peter and St Paul

Silver and gold have I none, but such as I have give I thee:
in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk.
Acts 3

. . .

Just in case I had forgotten that today is a holy day of obligation, I received a text message from my sons’ school earlier in the week, reminding me that there would be Mass in the school hall on this feast. Indeed. And so, as it was also the first time Thomas, my 8-year-old, would be receiving communion at school, I went.

This perhaps explains my rendition of this bit of Acts: it is from the song that taught me this story when I was a child. On hearing Peter’s words, the man ‘went walking and leaping and praising God.’ Now I look at the story differently. The man who used to beg at the city gates has to find a new occupation. Healing means change, sometimes big and radical change; sometimes the healing, however miraculous, is not the whole story of restoration.

But that isn’t what I was thinking about today during Mass. No, today in Mass I was reflecting that these are the stories that pass on this peculiar faith, the church’s faith, handed down from generation to generation. My mother handed it down to me (both at home and at church, and I am certain that she taught me the song based on Acts 3), and I am, with the help of my children’s school and our parish church, handing it down to my children. Sometimes I think I don’t do a very good job. I can’t understand how all that the Bible says about God is true. Heaven remains a concept too big and elusive for me to get my mind around it. Anticipating the questions my children would ask about where Nana (my mother) went when she died last summer, I froze. Where, exactly, would that be? And how, exactly, is it that ‘she’ is ‘with God’ or ‘in heaven’ when her body was there, in the funeral home? It all seems pretty far-fetched and utterly inexplicable. The answers that might do for my children would not do for me.

Somewhere along the way, though, I realised that the kind of answers that might satisfy the children shouldn’t satisfy me. It is, as I often say in teaching my theology students, a mystery. The fact that I can’t imagine it, that it all seems implausible, is not troublesome but appropriate. Wasn’t it Augustine who said that if we understood, what we understood was not God? My failure to comprehend, to answer the ‘how’ questions satisfactorily, is a difficulty, not a doubt. I should not expect to comprehend.

Standing now at the beautiful gate, having risen from the pallet and left the crutch behind, we–the healed man and I–have to learn a new way of being in the world. The healing, the realisation, is only the beginning, the first small step into the abundant life promised and offered to us by Jesus.

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