At 2 o’clock on Saturday afternoon, while riding the subway, it hit me: the words of Paul’s letter — “we walk by faith, not by sight” — could apply to the story of Nik Wallenda. The more I thought about it, the more I realized I wanted to preach about this. I got home, clicked on the computer, and set to work. I scrapped my old homily and cobbled together a new one to deliver at the 5 p.m. vigil Mass. It’s not something I do very often, but this seemed too good an opportunity to pass up. The result is below. I’ll be preaching it again at the 11:30 Mass on Sunday morning.
For audio of this homily, click the green arrow below.
“We are always courageous…for we walk by faith not by sight.”
If anyone needed to see a literal interpretation of those words from St. Paul, all you had to do was watch ABC Friday night.
There you would have seen 33-year-old Nik Wallenda as he took the walk of his life. Wallenda stepped onto a two-inch wide wire and walked 1800 feet – the length of six football fields – across Niagara Falls. He teetered 200 feet above millions of gallons of raging water and wind and mist. He had spent years practicing for this – with fire hoses spraying him with water, so he’d know what it felt like. News reports say that he wore specially designed shoes, made by his mother.
And in 25 minutes, he walked into the record books.
When he arrived on the Canadian side, a customs agent asked him – as they ask every visitor from abroad – “What is the purpose of your visit?”
And he replied, with a smile: “To inspire people around the world.”
And he did. In an interview afterword, he cheerfully said that what he wanted most of all was for people to be inspired to follow their dreams and not give up. This had been a dream of his for decades, ever since he was a little boy.
And it was a dream that had taken years of planning, preparation — and prayer.
In fact, every step across that wire was a prayer. As he worked his way over the falls, with the cameras and microphones trailing every step, Nik Wallenda spoke again and again of God, of Jesus, of how blessed he was to be there, to be seeing what he was seeing, and to be doing what he was doing. Faith was very much a part of his journey.
In fact, he is a devout Christian who wears a cross around his neck and wears his faith on his sleeve.
“God’s hand is involved in every step of my life,” he said a few weeks ago. “I believe doors were opened for me that weren’t opened for others, and doors that were slammed were reopened. I pray and I talk to God and I find peace in that.”
Indeed, before he began his walk Friday night, he gathered with his family and friends to pray.
He was, in a real sense, walking by faith, not by sight.
Now, I’m not someone to encourage things like this. I’m the sort of person who has to say a rosary before I climb up a ladder to change a light bulb. But I think Nik Wallenda’s powerful and very public faith has much to teach us. Here is someone truly doing something impossible – or, at least, improbable – and placing all of his trust, even his life, in the hands of God.
Could any of us even be one TENTH that courageous?
Yet, the scripture this weekend is about the surprising ways that God works – how his kingdom can grow from something as small as a mustard seed, and how what we cannot see is so much more meaningful and life-changing than what we can. It is about trust. About surrender.
It’s all about walking by faith, not by sight.
We so often forget: our God who embraces what we think is impossible. This is how He works. He creates towering trees from invisible seeds. He enables the blind to see and the lame to walk. He whispers to us on the wind and calls out to us from burning bushes and calms the seas with just one word. He raises the dead to life.
And He comes to us at every Mass, incredibly, in the form of bread.
And every day, at every moment, He walks with us —even across yawning chasms of fear and uncertainty, across darkness and dread, ready to catch us if we fall.
All we need is faith. Faith in His love. Faith in His steadfastness. Faith in His ongoing presence in our lives. Even when we cannot see Him, He is there.
Just ask Nik Wallenda.
One poignant moment occurred at the end of his walk last night, and was captured by a New York Times photographer. After making it safely to the other side, Nik Wallenda fell into the arms of his father, who held onto him for dear life. It was a moment of such joy – and relief – and love. His son had survived, and had kept alive a family legacy that stretches back seven generations.
But there was even more to it.
In that moment was every father who had ever loved a child and worried for him. Here was Abraham holding onto Isaac after God had spared him…here was Joseph hugging Jesus after he’d been found in the temple…here was the prodigal’s father embracing his returning son. And here is our own Father in heaven, welcoming us at the end of our earthly journey.
I couldn’t help but think: what a beautiful image for this Father’s Day weekend.
And maybe that, too, was part of God the Father’s improbable plan. See how a father loves his children, He says. That is how much I love you – and more.
So take this challenge, He says. Walk the wire of life. Walk by faith, not by sight. Put one step in front of another and find your balance and trust that I will lead you where you belong.
Know this much: God will not abandon us. When we draw close to Him, He draws close to us. He is with us every step of the way.
And He will be there at the end, full of wonder and gratitude and joy, to welcome us at last into his arms.