The newly-released movie The Walk tells the true story of an acrobat, or high-wire performer, who in 1974 illegally rigged a wire between the two towers of the former World Trade Center in New York City and then, a quarter-mile high off the ground, walked back and forth between them eight times. Because of the special effects and high camera angles, some theater-goers have apparently experienced dizziness, vertigo, or other physical distress while watching the movie. I am definitely planning on not seeing it myself, for I’ve always been afraid of heights—and I figure it makes no sense to pay good money to see a movie if I’d be covering my eyes during the climatic scene.
There’s a story about an acrobat who walked across a strong, thin wire over a 300 foot long, 1000 feet deep gorge lined with jagged rocks. A tense crowd watched and cheered as he made it across successfully, then looked on in disbelief as he blindfolded himself before returning to the other side. The viewers gasped in astonishment as he then removed the blindfold, took a wheelbarrow filled with sand, and pushed it across the wire. When he made it across safely for the third time, everyone erupted in cheers. One enthusiastic young man embraced the acrobat and shouted, “You’re the greatest! I’ve never seen anyone like you!” The acrobat, while emptying the wheelbarrow of the sand, responded, “So you have faith in me?” “Faith in you?!” the young man exclaimed; “I’d trust my life to you!” “Well then,” said the acrobat, “go ahead and climb into the wheelbarrow, and we’ll cross the gorge together.” Needless to say, the young man’s faith immediately evaporated (James A. Feehan, Story Power, p. 44). We’ve all heard the expression “talk is cheap,” and it applies in a special way to our relationship with God. Faith is real only if we use it in difficult times, not just when it’s easy.
We might say that the rich man in the Gospel of Mark (10:17-30) wanted to cross the gorge or chasm separating this world from the Kingdom of Heaven, and he asked Jesus for advice on how to do so. However, the man did not like the Lord’s answer. People making a difficult, high-altitude crossing are usually told “Don’t look down!,” because doing so can be disorienting, frightening, and distracting; instead, they must keep their focus on the goal and move steadily and carefully toward it. Jesus was telling the rich man to do precisely this, but the man in a sense wanted to look down by holding onto his riches and worldly status—and so he went away sad (though we can hope he later came to his senses and repented). In the Book of Wisdom (7:7-11), King Solomon came to realize that worldly treasures and possessions are as nothing compared to wisdom—for wisdom allows us to see and value everything as God does. Furthermore, we’re told in the Letter to the Hebrews (4:12-13) that everything is exposed to the eyes of the Lord; He knows very clearly whether we’re just going through the motions in living our faith, or whether we truly mean it when we say we wish to be part of His Kingdom.
Years ago a young door-to-door salesman was assigned to a rural area. Driving down a country road, he saw a poor, run-down farm with an old farmer sitting in a rocking chair on his front porch in mid-morning, apparently ignoring all the work that needed to be done. Sensing an opportunity, the salesman pulled in the driveway, got of the car and introduced himself, and said enthusiastically, “Sir, I have a book here than will tell you how to farm ten times better than you are doing now.” The farmer kept on rocking for a moment, then finally looked up at the salesman and replied, “Young man, I don’t need your book. I already know how to farm ten times better than I’m doing now—but I like things just fine the way they are” (Mark Link, S.J., Illustrated Sunday Homilies, Year B, Series I, p. 109). Now, I’ve known a lot of farmers, including many of my own relatives, and I can’t imagine any of them being lazy and complacent like that, but the story does illustrate a valid point. Knowledge of what’s needed does us absolutely no good unless we have the commitment to act upon it. The rich man in the Gospel had an idea that something was lacking in his life, but when Jesus told him just what he needed to do, he didn’t want to hear it; he preferred to keep things the way they were.
What about us? Do we praise and glorify the Lord when everything is going well and life is enjoyable, but then suddenly go silent—or even begin complaining—when following Jesus starts to become painful or challenging? Are we quick to pray when we need something, but find ourselves too busy to pray at other times? Do we thank God when we get what we want, but sulk or withdraw from Him when He asks a sacrifice from us? Are we happy to be Catholics when the Church’s teachings and customs console and encourage us, but angry or disenchanted when they challenge or convict us? Are we willing to thank God for His blessings by supporting the Church and giving to charity—perhaps even by tithing—when it’s easy and convenient to do so, but unwilling to be generous when a real sacrifice is involved?
Faith was never meant to be painless and predictable, and Jesus never intended discipleship to be perfectly easy and worry-free. Because of original sin and its effects on the world in which we live, there is always a price to be paid if we wish to live as authentic Christians and faithful Catholics—and knowing what we must do, but refusing to act upon this knowledge, just doesn’t get the job done. Our Lord warns that it’s hard for rich people to get into Heaven—and in terms of today’s world, and by historical standards, almost all of us would be considered rich. We are like a high-wire acrobat trying to cross over safely to the other side—and becoming too caught up in worldly things, and in our possessions and desires, can lead to a spiritual disaster. The solution is to strive to become rich in God’s sight—specifically, by praying and attending Mass regularly, remaining in a state of grace and going to Confession as needed, seeking the guidance of the Holy Spirit in all our decisions, learning more about our Faith, defending the Church when it’s unfairly attacked, being generous with the blessings we’ve received, and trying to put God’s will first in our lives. In all these ways, our faith will become stronger and more authentic, and the crosses we carry will become the bridges we need in order to cross over safely from this world into the everlasting joys of Heaven.