24th Sunday Year B
September 16, 2012
I WILL WALK BEFORE THE LORD,
IN THE LAND OF THE LIVING!
The readings today could be a little disturbing. Here is one example of suffering unjustly, as Isaiah in the first reading experienced, so undeservedly and so unrightly, but still finds it in his heart, neither to “rebel,” nor to “turn back,” but instead takes it all in stride.
One hardly hears such stories these days, where instant retribution is the name of the game. In our times, we mean it when we say, “a good offense is the best defense.” Cry out … complain … speak out and rebel … and, when push comes to shove, turn your back and walk away in a huff, never to suffer the same ignominy and shame again!
We are, more often than not, all cop-outs. We suffer once, and that’s it! We swear never to come back, never to be subjected once gain to everything equivalent to Isaiah’s “buffets and spitting.”
I, too, am one among them, perhaps, the worst of the lot. I run away from pain, and from people who seem to like to “beat me” and “oppose me.”
But I am more than just aware of individuals who “made it through the rain” and put up a gallant noble stance, knowing that God “upholds his right,” and knowing, furthermore, that “God is his help.”
St. Padre Pio was one of them. He suffered immensely, truly, patiently, and undeservedly. But he knew the one in whom he believed!
Blessed Mother Teresa was among them, too. Working with people who were “half-dead” or “dying” both figuratively and literally, the poorest among the poor of Calcutta, who were, for all intents and purposes, dead in the estimation of the world, she put up a gallant fight, convinced, like the psalmist, that “she will walk before the Lord in the land of the living!” (Responsorial Psalm).
We priests are a fortunate and blessed lot. With a few exceptions, most of us are assured of three square meals a day, at the very least. On the whole, we are very well sheltered, relatively speaking. We have the singular grace of a very good, solid education. We move around in the company of those, who, more often than not, are well-heeled, and equally well educated, if not better positioned in society.
But more than anything else, we are a people of faith. At the very least, we know what we believe in. We generally know our creed, our code, and our cult.
But we also are more responsible than the average man or woman in the street, to know better than to separate faith from works. We are at the very least, aware that our faith must show in what we do, in our works, and that it doesn’t speak very well of us if we only tell people to do as we say, and not as we do. The words of James in the second reading, applies to all believers, cleric or lay: “Faith without works is dead.”
But I am no Padre Pio, and definitely as of yet, do not get anywhere near the saintly stature of Mother Teresa. I lose steam. I lose courage. I lose enthusiasm when people I work for, and work with… people who claim to believe and belong, give me the equivalent of beatings, pluckings, buffets, and spitting!
The readings are kinda difficult today. But hard or otherwise, they sure convict me and you. For we are all in this together. We all fall short of the glory of God, and we all, are sinful human beings.
I confess to one sin, common among all of us who preach and teach. We know a lot about God. We talk about Him everyday … at Mass, at school, in the parish hall, at prayer meetings, in meetings with both clergy and lay people.
But knowing about Him is not the same as knowing Him. And this is where we all falter and fail. We all can fool ourselves into believing that it is enough to know about Him.
I would invite my readers to be convicted, as I am, today. The question before us is important. “Who do people say I am?” No … there is more than just that “third person” question … “Who do you say that I am?”
Now, this is the difficult part. You and I know, all too well, that I cannot go back to my dogma and liturgy and morals to answer that question. You and I know that you, too, cannot just fall back on your theology in college, or catechism in your childhood. You and I know that one simply cannot dig and search for your diploma back in Catholic university and College to answer that question convincingly, honestly and sincerely.
You and I know all too well, that we need more than just factual and conceptual knowledge. You and I know, too, that it still goes beyond mere evaluative knowledge … that it takes more than just knowing about God, but a lot more on knowing God as He is, in Himself, and how He means to each and everyone of us.
I confessed to you how easy it is, even for me, perhaps especially for me, to just pass of this question and answer it dutifully with cold, dead facts and data.
But I do need to tell you that suffering, personal pain and unjust and undeserved pain has taught me precious lessons. They taught me passion, dedication, and commitment. For in and through pain, I learned albeit so faintly and feebly, that when one is down and out, God comes to help me find meaning in the pain. God knows I have suffered unjustly many times. God knows I did not merit at least some of it. But I do know by experience that Isaiah’s words can indeed, ring true for those who neither “rebel,” nor “turn back.”
Please come and walk by me … Please come and walk by the Lord’s side, even if your heart now only wants to cry out in pain! Together with the psalmist, let us claim what he, too, has learned in suffering: “I will walk before the Lord, in the land of the living!”