By Fr. Don Braukmann/St. Philip, Bemidji & St. Charles, Pennington
I get a kick out of the fact we are such creatures of habit. Even at Mass, as happened on February 4, the Fifth Sunday of Ordinary time here at St. Philip’s and, I dare say, around the world!
The first reading was from the Book of Job (7:1-4,6-7). Here is part of what was proclaimed from all the ambos around the Catholic world: “Is not man’s life on earth a drudgery? He is a slave who longs for the shade. I have been assigned months of misery and troubled nights have been allotted to me. My days come to an end without hope. I shall not see happiness again.”
No hope is offered in that passage from Job. And yet, as the reader ends the reading and says, “The Word of the Lord,” we all respond wholeheartedly “Thanks be to God!” What? How in the world can we be thankful when what we just heard was nothing to be thankful for? It is like we are saying, “Yes! Lord! Give me drudgery, assign me months of misery and troubled nights! I hope I never see happiness again!” And still we proclaim, “Thanks be to God!” We are a funny people and the Church shows she has a sense of humor.
But, of course, the bigger question here is how do we explain the endless spiral of suffering in the world? What do we say to those among us who echo Job’s words of despair in this day?
In the movie, “The Passion,” when Jesus receives the cross upon which he will die, he sighs and leans into it. Actually, Jesus clings to it with all his remaining strength. At that moment his mother, Mary, finds her way to his side and kneels down beside Jesus. He takes one of his blood soaked hands and raises it to her face and says, “Behold, I make all things new!”
Again … what? In that bloody mess called crucifixion Christ makes all things new?
The view from the cross changes everything, as long as you know you are on it! Without knowing, it becomes nothing more than a crucible of pain and needless suffering.
The truth is: In our suffering. In our struggle. In all the things the evil one throws at us, there is an even greater power at work; an invitation from the great God of the universe to trust him.
I continue to be blessed, as a priest, because I am welcomed onto the front lines of the struggle between good and evil, light and darkness, in the lives of so many over my 32 years of priesthood. I have stood in awe holding hands and passing Kleenex as folks stumble under the burdens of life only to rise again. Those seemingly abandoned in defeat come to rejoice in victory and I am graced to witness it firsthand. This is true not only in the lives of those I serve, but in my own life as well. It is in the mystery of life where Christ stands victorious … and we are at his side!
The crosses which hang in our churches, in our homes, around our necks, on our rear view mirrors and on the end of our Rosaries are not signs of defeat, but awesome testaments to victory!
Job was tempted over and over again to give up. People kept coming to him saying, “Think, Job, you must have done something so terribly wrong that you are being treated this way … punished by God. You’ve lost your family, your farm and all your animals!” Today they would have added, “If your life were a country song you would lose your pickup and your dog to boot!”
It gets to a point where Job is so angry at God he even wrestles with God. It doesn’t go well.
It reminds me of when my nephew went out for wrestling for the first time his senior year of high school. We all thought he was going to go on to be an electrician because by the end of the season he could name every light fixture in every gymnasium for miles around! That is not a good thing in wrestling!
Yet, even as Job was being swallowed up by the deepest darkness where hope could not be found, he was faithful. Over and over again, Job tried to understand God’s ways but, over and over again, placed his trust where it first rested, in God.
In the end, Job wins. In the end he has more cattle, more land, more children, more money, more dogs and more pickup trucks than he ever could have wanted. He was in heaven. Eternal life was and is his!
Hope: knowing the best is yet to come.
I want to close with these words from Pope Francis which explain more clearly what the previous paragraphs I have written were trying to say:
“To Christians, the future does have a name, and its name is Hope. Feeling hopeful does not mean to be naïve and ignore the tragedy humanity is facing. Hope is the virtue of a heart that doesn’t lock itself into darkness, that doesn’t dwell on the past, that does not simply get by in the present, but is able to see a tomorrow.”