My diocese is one of those in which what should be Ascension Thursday is celebrated on the following Sunday (which always reminds me of Churchy La Femme saying “Friday the 13th come on a Monday this month.”). So when my wife and I went to Mass on the evening of Ascension Thursday, we heard not the Ascension reading, but John 16:16-20, of which this is an excerpt:
Jesus said to his disciples:
“A little while and you will no longer see me,
and again a little while later and you will see me.”
So some of his disciples said to one another,
“What does this mean that he is saying to us,
‘A little while and you will not see me,
and again a little while and you will see me,’
and ‘Because I am going to the Father’?”
So they said, “What is this ‘little while’ of which he speaks?
We do not know what he means.”
Indeed we don’t. Two thousand years, and still the “little while” goes on. I can’t help wondering sometimes if we’re out of our minds to believe this stuff. Yet the Faith continues to convince me, day by day, year by year, of its truth, not so much on the evidence of miracles—apart from the one enormous miracle of the Resurrection—or any other specific empirical evidence, but by its general congruence with reality.
I don’t mean that it explains every physical fact, like a scientific theory. But it accommodates all the physical facts we know, and it describes and explains the experience of being human more convincingly than any other religion or philosophy. It seems to me that any genuinely open soul, any person in whom heart and mind are united in desire for the truth, must feel its persuasive power, though I know that this is not in fact the case. (Yet although a particular person at a particular point in his life may not feel it, there is always, up until the moment of death, the possibility that he will; conversion happens at unexpected times in unexpected ways to unexpected people.)
If I suppose, for the sake of argument, that all religions are equally false, I will still say that Christianity is the greatest of them, in the sense of encompassing more of reality more persuasively. I know this in the same way I know that Shakespeare is the greatest poet in English. I can’t prove either assertion, but I’m nevertheless certain of both.
If Christianity is a dream, it is the greatest of dreams. Even if it could somehow be proved to be only something like a great work of art, I would still love it, and in some way attempt to shape my life by it. Presented with the “little while” of two thousand years, I have a choice between believing that the Faith is a delusion, or that the promised time will in fact someday come. And I choose to believe. More precisely, I choose to trust God—that He Is, and that therefore no hope is too great to place in him, even when “we do not know what he means.”