Last Sunday, the Archdiocese of Sydney celebrated the bicentennial of the preservation of the blessed sacrament at what is now the site of St. Patrick’s church at the Rocks in Sydney. The bicentennial marked the time when, after the prohibition of Catholic practice in the colony of New South Wales, the last priest in the colony, just before his expulsion by the government, purposely left the Eucharistic host open in a private home for veneration by the colony’s Catholic faithful.
As the thanksgiving hymn, the choir sung the 1920s hymn “O Christ the Same”, the last stanza of which read
O Christ the same, secure within whose keeping/ Our lives and loves, our days and years remain…
This line made me choke for a second, for it demonstrated an intuition that I realised had become muted in my own experience. At one level, the line demonstrated the confidence of leaving control of one’s own circumstances over to the rightful Lord of those circumstances. It counters the tendency that I have exhibited in my goings out and comings in, namely the tendency to treat myself as the lord of my circumstances.
At another level, this line from “O Christ the Same” was a reminder that my circumstances are not circumscribed by “the facts of life”, as if the facts were self-contained, self-sufficient and self-evident, presenting themselves with sheer empirical force. If they were, they would present a reality that is depressing, morose and devoid of hope. Instead, the song reminded me that the facts are not self-sufficient. It reminded me that my desire to get behind – and beyond – the limitations of the raw data of facts is a desire affirmed by the Christian tradition, even if I also do not want to engage in a juvenile escape from the facts of life.
And so, we pray not only for the courage to walk the vale of facts, but also for the eyes that see and recognise these facts and the workings of the divine word hidden within their structures. For it is a divine word that will eventually transform and transcend them when their brutality seems to weigh in upon us, and it is a word that also, to borrow from the words of O Christ the Same, remains the same when the facts of the world eventually fade and flee.