Image: Inukshuk, signpost of the north
The Northwest Territories boasts some of the most beautiful and least visited national parks in our country. Because they are so isolated, they offer a special gift to those longing for adventure and who are willing to give up comfort and the security of city living in order to appreciate nature at its most pristine. You would be foolhardy, however, to venture out by yourself. It is important to be with a guide who, having been there before, knows the land and how to follow the signs so as not to fall away from the subtle path. They also offer great value in that they, being versed in the history of the land and its importance to the local cultures, can bring meaning to your experience in a way that would be lost upon you were you to go it alone.
Our faith lives are not so different. Without good mentors and those who have passed on their experience of the faith to us, our spiritual longings would be just that, yearnings in our heart aching to be filled with some kind of meaning that lies beyond our grasp. As St. Augustine famously said, “O God, our hearts are restless, until they rest in You.”
Our readings today are filled with descriptions of just such guides. St. Stephen, standing strong in the faith in the face of his persecutors is able to do so because of the example that was set by the prophets who came before him and who gave their lives to carry forward the Good News of the Messiah from one generation to the next. He accuses those who torment him of being lost and failing to heed the words of truth of these prophets and remaining in ignorance. Secure in the understanding of the scriptures and the words of the prophets Stephen accepts his fate with grace and with a word of forgiveness on his lips for those who took his life. His death, while tragic, is not in vain as his voice is one more important signpost for us to guide us on our own faith journey.
In the Gospel passage the people are also looking for meaning, they are grasping for clues as to which way to turn and in the signs and miracles that Jesus performs, they take great comfort. But then Jesus comes before them and reveals that he is more than just one more sign on the road, that he is in fact the goal and destination they have been searching for.
Their ancestors ate the bread that fell in the desert, they have eaten of the miraculous bread that Jesus provided, but Jesus himself is the bread that has come down from heaven that gives life for the world.
We owe a great debt of gratitude to those who have passed on their faith to us and we are able to repay that debt in kind, by taking what we have received and sharing it with others. We are companions on this journey. We were not the first to travel by this road and we will not be last. While we walk, let us be courageous and persevering with our eyes and hearts fully open to our surroundings and the signs of our times. Let us listen and live by the voices and wisdom of the elders, the prophets and all those who have gone before us in faith and may our lives become signs of that faith for those who know us and come after us.