The occasional, often ill-considered thoughts of a Roman Catholic permanent deacon who is ever grateful to God for his existence. Despite the strangeness we encounter in this life, all the suffering we witness and endure, being is good, so good I am sometimes unable to contain my joy. Deo gratias!

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Homily: Saturday, 29th Week of Ordinary Time

Readings: Eph 4:7-16; Ps 122; Lk 13:1-9

We always seem to be asking God, “Why?” Bad things happen and we want to know why. Good people suffer and God seems absent. Or things just don’t seem to balance out the way they should.

We look at our own families and wonder why God allows things to happen the way they do. Why did my son get meningitis when he was just a toddler, and lose his hearing? Why did my mom and brother die in their 60s and my dad live to be 95? Is it all part of God’s plan or is it just happenstance?
Of course, deep inside there’s a little voice saying, “Well, if I were God, I’d handle things a lot better.”

In our Gospel passage Jesus mentions two events: Pilate, the Roman Governor, had slaughtered a group of Galileans in the Temple; and a tower had collapsed in Jerusalem taking the lives of 18 people. Both incidents are recorded only in Luke’s Gospel, and most of the Jews at the time likely considered such events to be God’s punishment on those who had died.

The ancients generally believed that God – or in the case of pagans, the gods – willed everything that happened. And believe me many people today still think this way.

Years ago, I’d been a deacon about a week and was conducting my first vigil service at a local funeral home. A 34-year-old man had died tragically in a heavy-equipment accident. He’d left a wife and three young children. When I arrived and walked over toward the young widow, I overheard her ask a friend, “Why?”

His answer? “Well, it’s just God’s will.”

I almost came unglued, but then realized the man was simply trying to offer some comfort. And so I approached her and said, “No, Bruce’s death was not caused by God. God did not will this. He did not want this to happen to Bruce.” For the next half hour we talked about God and faith and free will and God’s will and original sin and evil and suffering.

You see, God expects us to ask “Why?” Indeed, He wants us to ask this of Him. The very fact that we ask means that we know He’s there.

Flannery O'Connor
Flannery O’Connor, one of my favorite writers, was a Georgia girl and a Catholic. She died in her late thirties after a long battle with lupus. It was a battle that lasted her entire adult life. While in the midst of all her suffering, in a letter to a friend she wrote:
“I have never been anywhere but sick. In a sense sickness is a place, a very instructive place, and it’s always a place where there’s no company, where nobody can follow. Sickness before death is a very appropriate thing and I think those who don't have it miss one of God’s mercies” [The Habit of Being, p. 163].
Yes, Flannery O’Connor was a woman who, in her suffering, had tasted God’s mercy.

But for some the danger is that, in their suffering, in their grief, they will come to believe that God doesn’t care. When we suffer we so often feel abandoned by the God who loves us.  Suffering has a way of blinding our eyes to God’s image, who He really is, and deafening our ears to His voice.
When confronted by evil, as we so often are today, I’m inevitably drawn to the Book of Job where God reveals something of how we should respond to suffering. Job’s so-called friends kept insisting that his misfortunes were due to his sins. But Job replied with a phrase that could have come straight from the Gospel:

“I know that my Redeemer lives, and that at last he will stand upon the earth” [Job 19:25].
There’s no easy answer to the problem of evil; there is only God's response: the Redeemer did come and stand upon the earth. And in doing so He became one of us. And He suffered, in His human body, and gave His life for us.

You see Jesus used those two tragic events in Jerusalem to correct the thinking of the people. No, He said, the sins of those who died were not the cause of their deaths; but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t learn from such events.

Sir, leave it for a year...

Like the fig tree in the parable we still have a chance to bear fruit, to turn our lives around, for there is always hope of transformation. How long do we have? We don’t know, but if we need to reorder our lives, we shouldn’t delay.

Jesus began His ministry with the simple command: “Repent and believe in the Gospel” [Mk 1:15]. And if we just do that, we’ll go a long way toward fulfilling His will for us.

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