TAKE COURAGE, IT IS I! DO NOT BE AFRAID.





Catholic Homily/Sunday Reflection
19th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A
August 10, 2008

We live in a stormy world. There is no doubt about that. Everywhere we go, there is strife, uncertainty, instability. In politics, in economics, in religion… why, even in the Church we so love, in not a few places rocked by waves of disappointment upon disappointment, born out of sacred trusts betrayed by the very keepers and guardians of that trust. There is pain and anguish in the hearts of many, most of all in those who have been victimized, in the hearts too, of the innocent who are unjustly lumped together with those who have been less than exemplary.

We are not too sure anymore whom to trust and whom to get courage from!

And the all-too-common tendency we have is to run away in fear, to hide and go far from all that is behind our fear. Like Elijah, we flee from anyone, anything that can inflict on us further confirmation of our fears. Elijah was fleeing vindictive Jezebel, out to kill him for shaming the prophets of Baal, and making the true God known to the people. Loss of courage and hope could also be the way out for many. Again, like Elijah, we are tempted to say with exasperation.
“This is enough, O Lord. Take my life, for I am no better than my fathers!” (1 Kings 19:4)

I must confess to you that there have been times in the past when I felt exactly like Elijah in his lowest moments. These were times when my faith was sorely tested, when my confidence in a God who claimed to be present in my life, appeared more like wishful thinking than anything else. How these words of the psalmist faithfully reflect my complaints before the Lord in those trying moments:

How long, LORD? Will you utterly forget me?
How long will you hide your face from me?

How long must I carry sorrow in my soul,
grief in my heart day after day?
How long will my enemy triumph over me? (Ps 13)

Whilst I identify myself with the psalmist completely, there is something that draws me more intensely to the depth of pathos and passion that fills every line of Miguel de Unamuno’s poems as in his Salmo I based on Exodus 33:20



Donde estas, mi Senor, acaso existes?(Where are you, Lord, if in case you exist?)
Eres tu creacion de mi congoja, (Are you a creation of my anguish?)
O lo soy tuya? (Or am I a fruit of your anguish?)
Porque, Senor, nos dejas (Why O Lord, do you leave us?)
Vagar sin rumbo (To roam without direction)
Buscando nuestro objeto? (Searching for our goal)
Porque hiciste la vida? (Why did you create life?)
Que significa todo, que sentido (What meaning has everything, what meaning)
Tienen los seres?…. (Do all beings have?)


Quiero verte, Senor, y morir luego! (I want to see you, Lord, and die thereafter!)
Si hay un Dios de los hombres, (If there is a God of all men)
El mas alla, que nos importa, hermanos? (The one above all, what does it matter brothers)
Morir para que El viva, (To die so that He may live)
Para que El sea! (That He may be!)
Pero Senor, “yo soy!” dinos tan solo, (But Lord, “I am,” speak but the word)
Dinos “Yo soy” para que en paz muramos, (Tell us “I am,” that we may die in peace)
No en soledad terrible, sino en tus brazos! (Not in terrible loneliness, but in your arms)
Pero dinos que eres, (But tell us that you are)
Sacanos de la duda (Deliver us from all doubt)
Que mata al alma! (That stifles the soul!)

There may be doubt as to whether Unamuno was able to get out of this rut of seeming despair. But his words leave no doubt about the pain and the anguish that were in his heart, even as there is no doubt that the readings of today precisely are an equally passionate call and reminder for us to go on trusting, go on believing, go on hoping.

The clue to this solid appropriation of faith, hope and courage and trust is precisely what Unamuno clamored for so passionately: the abiding presence of the Lord and His manifestation in our lives! Elijah runs into the desert and prays for death. But the Lord leads him to Horeb and shows Himself in a “tiny, whispering sound.” A tiny, whispering sound… not in an earthquake, not in the wind, not in the fire…the gentle presence of love and caring that does its work unheralded, quietly, but surely! This is the answer of a God who cannot be cowed by our panicky fears! This is the way of a God who would not be coerced by our impatience and impertinence, even in prayer that is more directed at ourselves and our needs, rather than on God himself! We look for a God who is quick to do as we bid Him do. We create Him from our states of anguish! And our anguish makes us look for His loud and noisy proclamations. But it is not so, as the psalmist says (and we said in response to today’s first reading):
“I will hear what God proclaims; the Lord – for He proclaims peace. Near indeed is his salvation to those who fear him, glory dwelling in our land.”

There are many Unamunos in our times, myself included. At a time when the growing realization dawns that corruption has penetrated all branches of government in my country, including the judiciary, people are worse off now than Unamuno probably ever was! To the Unamunos in our midst, I suggest that the focus of today’s readings can help us in no small measure. We need to look closely at the way God manifests himself to us right now. I draw some inspiration from William Blake:

To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower,
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour.

This is watchfulness at its best… the ability to see beyond (Remember Patch Adams?) … the capacity to look and see much more in what one sees. This is what I call “sacramental view of reality” … of events in the world, of life itself. This is sensitivity to the ways God is manifesting himself to us … every day, everywhere, at all times. This is to look at everything with the eye of hope. I remember seeing a poster somewhere that said: “Two men looked out the window. One saw mud; the other saw stars.”

I personally profit a lot from literature, from reading. This, for me – the testimony of so many women and men about their own struggles of faith, their own journeys of hope and the examples of their own courage in the face of difficulties – these all are eloquent manifestations of the presence of God in my life.

One favorite book I love to browse through time and again is Paul Tillich’s The Courage to Be. He ends his book with a powerful affirmation that strikes close to the heart of what I am trying to develop in this reflection. “The courage to be is rooted in the God who appears when God has disappeared in the anxiety of doubt.” In the introduction that he wrote to the book, Peter Gomes adds wisdom to the already profound ideas of Tillich as he writes:

It does not take a great deal of imagination or courage to believe that God is on your side when you are prospering or winning; it takes a great deal of courage and imagination to believe that God is on your side when you are suffering or losing. To believe in love in the face of hatred, life in the face of death, day in the dark of night, good in the face of evil – to some, all of these may seem to be hopelessly na├»ve, wishful thinking, “whistling in the dark” (a decidedly non-Tillichian phrase); but, to Tillich, all of these are manifestations of enormous courage, the courage of confidence in more than the sovereignty of fact and appearance. “Providence,” he argues, “is not a theory about some activities of God; it is the religious symbol of the courage of confidence with respect to fate and death. For the courage of confidence says ‘in spite of’ even to death.” This is the echo of Job, who, in the midst of his dung hill and despair, gives in to neither and proclaims, “Though he slay me, yet will I praise Him” (Job 13:15)

But the best is yet to be told… this time by Matthew. The disciples were caught by surprise at a storm-tossed sea, in the dead of night. These are all conditions that would, and should wear away all courage. The Lord came and manifested himself in the midst of all this fear and trembling in the utter darkness. “Courage. It is I,” he said. Peter, the most intrepid among them, asked him “If it is you, bid me come to you on the water.” The Lord did so, and Peter walked on water, like his master. But at some point, something inside him took the better of him. And he began to sink.

We have to admit the fact that in life we are navigating through a stormy sea. That is a fact that our experience has shown us repeatedly. Incontrovertibly. But this is not the real problem. External troubles and difficulties are not half as bad as internal troubles. These internal troubles are those that make us sink: our lack of courage, trust, hope and faith – assuredly not on externalities, not on material things and earthly realities – but on a person – the person of the one who today tells us with authority: “Courage! It is I.” Peter did not sink because of the waves. He already walked on them! He has triumphed over them. He sank not because of those external troubles (the waves that raged in the stormy sea). He sank because he lacked faith, hope, trust and courage in Him who was there for them. He lost focus and allowed himself to be overwhelmed by his panicky fear and anxiety. He thus began to sink.

There is a need for all of us to take stock of our own “courage to be.” As you see by now, this is Tillich’s way of referring to faith, hope, trust and confidence in a God who is present in us, with us, and for us. More than this, we all have to find out the various ways by which God is present to us, the ways by which he manifests himself to us, be it through nature, through the liturgy, through poetry and literature, or through meditation and contemplative prayer. In all the storms that pass by our lives, God always has a unique way to be present to us – ever so gentle, unassuming, unheralded, unproclaimed – the tiny whispering sounds of our lives. May I add another ‘whisper’ of his presence via this poem of D.H. Lawrence?

PAX

All that matters is to be one with the living God
To be a creature in the house of the God of Life.

Like a cat asleep on a chair
At peace, in peace
And at one with the master of the house, with the mistress,
At home, at home in the house of the living,
Sleeping on the hearth, and yawning before the fire.

Sleeping on the hearth of the living world
Yawning at home before the fire of life
Feeling the presence of the living God
Like a great reassurance
A deep calm in the heart
A presence
As of the master sitting at the board
In his own and greater being,
In the house of life.

N.B. The good reader, especially those more adept at Spanish will have to forgive my less than literary translation of excerpts of one of Unamuno’s poems I quoted above.

Comments

Anonymous said…
this article is talking and expressing what i am experiencing right now. i am now in great inner struggles and i do not know where is God right here in my heart. i am angry, i am praying, i want to see light but as if i am changing moment to moment from good to devilish thought no matter how i pray. so, now i agree with you that it is easy to believe or trust God if you are winning. pray for me.

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