IS there a God? And does Heaven really exist? This is what I asked myself whilst looking at the photo atop a coffin at a funeral recently. And I'm sure I was not alone. Am I wrong to assume that anyone attending a funeral asks themselves those same two silent questions?
Yet on this particular occasion, I was impatient to have a definitive answer. Sitting in the church amongst a weeping congregation, it dawned on me that I had enough of this 'sitting on the fence' business when it came to God. I wanted answers. Concrete stuff. There and then, I wanted a guarantee that God existed and a guarantee that Heaven did too. I had enough of relying on faith for a God and hope for a Heaven.
I am not agnostic, sceptic or a la carte (well almost not) - I am a weekly massgoer, an annual confessor and a periodic sacrament receiver but just because I do that stuff does not mean I do not ask the same questions as those who do not, those who rubbish it or those who believe in none of it. I imagine that the majority of us who commit to a faith, at some point turn scientist and ask for proof (please note Doubting Thomas who, by the way, had no excuse whatsoever).
Then the pope resigned and lightning struck St. Peter's Basilica. I must admit I was very impressed. Not that I believe for one second that this was God's personalised response to the disgruntlement of yours truly. Nor must I lose myself in the drama of the event as, from what I am told, it is seemingly not that unusual an occurrence (the lightning strike that is, not the pope resigning). Nonetheless, I was impressed.
Faith is a funny thing. Much like the object of faith itself, it is an unknown quantity. It can be a source of strength, comfort, frustration and conflict. Would life without faith equate to freedom, liberty and autonomy? Or without it, would life be empty, pointless and cold? And yet some of the best Christians I know are atheists, the most conscientious people I know are freethinkers and the most sincere people, non-believers.
And yet I like my faith. I belong to it and it belongs to me. It is quite separate from religion and not at all bound up in an institution but still I borrow both as a means to illustrate it because no relationship should exist merely in the mind. Well, not for me, anyway.
Lightning strikes or not, it would be nice to have more in the way of concrete proof but as I looked at a face that shone out from a photo atop a coffin I wondered if that same face was now gazing into the face of God in a place called Heaven. It would be nice if it was so and, faith or no faith, it would be nice to know for definite.