All Things New
Homily for the 5th Sunday in Ordinary Time
If anyone ever had a right to complain, it would certainly be Job. Job was a righteous and prosperous man – blessed by God, and a respected leader in his community, much like a prince or a king. Now covered with ulcers and infection, he is, in his own words, “overwhelmed with shame and drunk with pain.”1 He has lost everything: his descendants, his property, and his health. And to add insult to injury he is now condemned by those thought to be his friends. Even his wife advises him to end it all saying,‘Why persist in this integrity of yours? Curse God and die.’2 .
For Job life has become very dismal. Sitting in ashes he laments. “I have lost all taste for life.”3 “Is not man's life on earth a drudgery?” “He is a slave who longs for the shade.”4 Then turning to God he cries out, “Why did you bring me out of the womb?”5 “Do not condemn me, tell me what [is] your case against me.”6 “My life is but a breath ... my eyes will never again see joy.”7
The Christian experience is fundamentally and inseparably rooted in gratitude, As Fr. Daryl Olds often said, “there is no place for pessimism in a redeemed people.” Yet, in today's readings, we encounter instances of great suffering, the kind of suffering that challenges our faith.
In the throes of suffering it is easy to feel, as Job does, that we will never see happiness again. It's hard to be grateful when we are surrounded by affliction and there is no solution, no miracle cure in sight. To remain hopeful, to remain grateful, can be very difficult. To believe that we will someday see joy may seem hopeless or even delusional.
There are numerous causes for suffering. Some suffering is physical, some is mental, some is societal, and much is self-inflicted. As a seventeen year old, Karl Marx, who became a savagely brutal Communist dictator, once wrote a “devotional commentary on abiding in Christ.”8 But in his university years he accepted the philosophy of Hegel, Schelling, and Kant. His youthful training had left him ill-prepared for this onslaught of skepticism. We suffer as individuals, and as a society, because many Christians have been led astray. We suffer when we lack an in-depth religious education and are ill-prepared to defend our faith.
Later Marx, after his about-face from Christianity, would claim that, “man needed no divine Savior” and “Religion is the opiate of the masses.”.9 Man, according to Marx, and according to many voices today, can save himself by his own technological innovation and power. However, in the 135 years since Marx's death, we have had uninterrupted and unparalleled technological advances, but the ocean of human misery is as broad and deep as ever. What Marx failed to understand is that man, when left only to his own resources, and separated from God's grace, can speak with only one voice, the voice lamentation – the voice of misery and suffering.
That is why the Christian response to suffering is so essential. Suffering is a mystery and determining the root causes of our individual suffering can be complex. However, it is critical to realize that all suffering, especially societal suffering, has a core spiritual component. It is easy to see, for example, that all the diverse political arguments revolve around one central issue, and that is the opposition to, and defense of, abortion. How can a nation grow and prosper faced with such a great moral division? Societal suffering is the inevitable result.
St. Pope John Paul II once said, “The purpose of suffering is to release love.” In the gospel we read about the healing Christ brought to the world; that the lame walk, the blind see, lepers rejoin the community, and demons are expelled. And the people flock to Peter's door bringing all manner of afflictions.
Jesus responded in love to their suffering. He could have said a simple word and all would be healed, but instead He responded personally. He builds the Kingdom of God by building relationships and by addressing individual needs. Note, for example, the healing of Peter's mother-in-law. Jesus comes to her. He takes her by the hand and heals her completely, so completely that she does not need a period of recuperation. In response, in gratitude, she arises and places herself at the service of her Lord and God.
Yet, early the next morning the disciples arise and find that Jesus has departed. He says, “Let us go on to the nearby villages that I may preach there also.
For this purpose have I come.” Jesus responds in love and compassion to our pain, but healing illnesses is not His primary mission. His primary mission, and ours as His disciples, is to heal souls. The suffering of the body is insignificant when compared to the suffering of our souls.
Suffering brings a change of priorities. It brings to the forefront what really matters and reduces everything else to trivialities. When we are faced with circumstances beyond our control, like Peter's mother-in-law lying on her deathbed, Satan's attacks against our spirit, or a complete reversal of fortune as with Job, suffering calls us to look beyond ourselves. It calls us to look in trust to the True Physician, to Jesus Our Lord and Savior.
Despite all our technological advances, medical physicians address our healing one problem, one symptom, at a time. But it is not so with Jesus. Like Peter's mother-in-law, Jesus heals us fully and completely. Perhaps, you may know, that when the Church investigates a reported miraculous healing, the healing must be complete. It is not enough to expel a cancer, to heal a leg, or mend a irregular heart. The entire body and soul must be healed. Jesus heals us fully and completely. In the sacrament of Penance, Jesus cleanses our souls. He restores us fully and completely. And in plenary indulgences, and on Divine Mercy Sunday, he remits all punishment for our sins.
As we confess our sins and receive Jesus' absolution, we promise in our Act of Contrition, our intention, with God's Grace, to sin no more. Jesus' forgiveness is freely given, but our efforts needs to be directed toward our repentance. In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus warns us that if we do not guard our souls, unclean spirits will return, and our souls will suffer even greater affliction.10
In the Book of Sirach we read, “Good and evil, life and death, poverty and riches, are from the Lord.”11 If we fully understood the mystery of God's Love and Wisdom, we would see that everything we receive is a gift from our Good and Gracious Lord, even our suffering.
The purpose of suffering is to release love. The Catholic author Peter Kreeft tells the story of a hunter and his dog. During a hunt the dog gets caught in an animal trap. The dog is in great pain, and the more he tries to escape the more the trap digs into his flesh. In order to free his dog from the trap, the hunter must push the dog further into the trap, releasing the tension, so the dog can be set free. The dog doesn't know what his master is doing. He only knows that he is suffering and his master is causing him even greater pain. We are like the dog caught in a trap. Our Master must endure our complaints, our suffering, and our lack of trust, so we can be set free.
For those who have lost a loved one, as a grief minister, I know they have fully worked through their grief when they begin to see a future for themselves, and when they can see good coming from their loss. A parent who has lost a child, or a wife who has lost a husband might ask, “What good could possibly come from the death of the one I love?” And this is a difficult question. It is hard to see good in such a situation, and the good that does come we may see only in eternity.
Some years ago I visited a person in the hospital who was suffering from Crohns disease. She had been at odds with her mother for many years. Her mother, learning of her current hospitalization, came to stay with her. At first the situation was very tense, but over the coming months they began to reconcile, and finally, before she died they both received absolution and communion. I was honored to give the eulogy at her funeral and watched the entire family reconcile and return to the Church. In her suffering she became a symbol of Christ. It took her illness and death to bring about this reconciliation.
In the Book of Revelation we read, “The One who sat on the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new.”12 What lies ahead, what God has planned, is as incomprehensible to us as it was to Job and his friends. But Job said, “We accept good things from God ... should we not accept evil?”13 Job's health, family, and fortunes were restored, and the experience left him with a deep inner knowing, a sense of great trust in God's providence and goodness.
If anyone had a right to complain, if anyone had a right to curse God and abandon the faith, it would be Job. Yet, Job remained faithful. Even in his torment and suffering, He allowed God's plan to unfold. He knew His Lord and God, and he trusted in His Goodness. Job knew that if he remained true to his Creator, that God would, indeed, make all things new.