FREED FROM DARKNESS; KEPT IN THE RADIANCE OF TRUTH
Catholic Homily / Sunday Reflection
13th Sunday in Ordinary Time June 28, 2006
Readings: Wisdom 1:13-15;2:23-24; 2 Cor 8:7,9,13-15; Mk 5:21-43
A certain continuity spans the themes of the liturgy this week and last. If you remember, I alluded to a situation of darkness last week, a darkness that is met, not necessarily with optimism, but with hope. I was trying to suggest that Christians are not, and ought never, to be bleary-eyed optimists alone. Whilst optimism can help us all face the destabilizing waves of challenges that rock the boat of our life and our faith, ultimately, it is not what we wish to see that would strengthen us, but what God wants us to see through the eyes of faith – and HOPE!
We remember it, I am sure … the resounding voice amidst the engulfing and frightening waves … “Why are you terrified?” We remember, it, too, I am sure … the stentorian voice of the fearless shepherd calling on his flock from St. Peter’s square, back in 1978 … “Be not afraid. Be not afraid. Be not afraid.” (JP II, on his inauguration homily).
I am one with Richard John Neuhaus in suggesting that optimism was never a Christian virtue. I suggest it is nothing more and nothing else than part of the American “gung-ho” and “can-do” spirit of rugged individualism. Neuhaus specifically states that optimism is but a matter of optics … one sees what one wants to see … one does not see what one doesn’t want to see. Optimism has a ring of denial to it. It sounds to me, more like putting on colored glasses, when we don’t want to see things around us.
Hope, instead, is grounded on reality. It sees. It knows. It accepts the real, the painfully and the joyfully real, the unalloyed reality, no more, no less.
I start with the glaring first in this Sunday’s list of hope-filled and hopeful realities … “God did not make death, nor does he rejoice in the destruction of the living” (1st reading). Over the past 24 years I have been a priest, this has been a recurrent question and complaint against a God of freedom, a God who sometimes is perceived like Christ “sleeping on a cushion” somewhere at the back of the boat being tossed about by murderous waves. Where is God when we need him most? Where is God on the day the twin-towers fell to smithereens? Closer to home base, in a retreat I was preaching to a group of professionals less than three years ago, a lady accosted me with manifest, ill-concealed anger on her face: “Can you please tell me Father, how I could tell the children in Leyte (Southern Philippines) that God is alive and that he loves all when mountains of mud fell on them one sunny and bright morning?”
I was hard pressed to give a quick and convincing answer. I wanted to tell the honest lady, honest in her pain, and honest in her disappointment, that I, too, shared her pain… that I, too, grappled with the same questions … that I, too, wanted quick, not round-about answers that all led to the depths of mystery, the twisted and convoluted pathways of an answer to a question that had bothered, and still bothers the best and the brightest of minds down through human history.
My own pain and disappointment with humanity, with my fellow human beings purportedly on the same quest for happiness and well-being, and yet are all too willing, it seems to me, to inflict pain and destruction to other people, even in the name of God, leads me to the second in the list of realities of today: “I will praise you, Lord, for you have rescued me.”
I don’t need to wax optimistic today. I don’t need, too, to deny the reality of pain and suffering that continue to buffet the boat of human existence in this confusing, and morally complex world. I don’t need to repeat to you all the abstract philosophical and theological principles that have gone to the countless books and tomes that philosophers and pundits have written down through the centuries on pain and the race to obliterate pain. Some of my readers know them better than I do.
But today, there is something that goes beyond optimism. There is something that goes beyond mere philosophical and theological optics. I call it experience. I call it learning at the school of hard knocks. I call it starting out from where it all began, from the day we were born.
No, I don’t take recourse to your stock knowledge. Many of my readers are far more learned than I am, far wiser, in both age and wisdom perhaps. Even St. Paul mentioned it: “As you excel in every respect, in faith, discourse, knowledge, all earnestness, and in the love we have for you, may you excel in this gracious act also” (2nd Reading). Yes, I ask you to draw from your personal experience. I know for a fact that many of my readers are themselves immersed in situations of darkness, beset and besotted by “sweat and care and cumber; sorrows passing number.” I know for a fact how many of you have faced tremendous odds. I know what I am talking about. Having been a priest all these years and a counselor all these fewer years, I have seen human travail first hand … my own, and that of others.
Karl Rahner had interesting questions to help us make sense of experience, and to make for experiential learning. When was the last time you felt trampled upon, and you found the heart to suffer in silence and to forgive your tormentors? When was the last time you felt so cornered and hemmed in from all sides, and you found it in your heart to be grateful to God on account of the fact that what others undergo are still worse than you have undergone? You have just experienced God! You have just met God face to face … really … experientially … truly. This explains the hope-filled and hopeful declaration of the psalmist … “I will praise you, Lord, for you have rescued me.”
I don’t ask you to deny the uncertainty that hovers over the world and life in this valley of tears right now … yours and mine. I don’t ask you to pretend not to see everything that sucks the marrow out of a serene and happy life that is ours by birth right. I don’t even ask my readers to gloss over the reality of sin – both our own and that of others – and thus, give you the impression that suffering is always inflicted by others, and never self-inflicted at all. I just ask you for acceptance, for acknowledgment, for hopeful, steadfast, and courageous acceptance of God and his inscrutable will.
There is oftentimes no logic, no rhyme nor reason to his will, even as there is no rhyme and reason to the death of the Lord … “though he was rich, for your sake he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich. Not that others should have relief while you are burdened, but that as a matter of equality your abundance at the present time should supply their needs, so that their abundance may also supply your needs, that there be equality.”
I only ask that you be attentive, soulfully attentive to your experience, to the gentle stirrings of God within you, and the gentle reminders that your experience brings you. I only ask you to listen to someone who had his own experience of “our savior Jesus Christ [who] destroyed death and brought life to light through the Gospel” (Alleluia verse).
Today, Mark reports about two women. Unknown to each other, they were actually sisters in pain, bound together by the same experience. It was not desperation that brought them to the Lord. It was honest acceptance that they were in pain. And because they accepted they were in pain, it was not blame that came out of their lips, but a prayer of faith, a plea of hope, and a request born out of love.
A painful experience, accepted wholly, gave way to exhilaration and joyful exclamation. Fear and trembling, on the part of the first woman with the hemorrhage, eventually turned to joyful acclamation. Weeping and commotion, on the part of the little girl’s household, were replaced by a similar joyful emotion. “And they were utterly astounded.” In both cases, personal experience became a learning experience, a faith-filled declaration of what the Old Testament reading prophesies.
In the end, abstract answers really don’t matter. High falutin philosophical and theological tenets won’t clinch it. But one’s personal experience accepted and reflected on in faith is what leads us all to live what Jesus Christ, Paul, Peter and all the saints, and John Paul II told us with both passion and panache: “Be not afraid. Be not afraid. Be not afraid.”
Freed from darkness, we are now kept by the light of Christ in the radiance of his truth.