Sunday, December 16, 2007

Reflection for Gaudete Sunday

Rejoice in the Lord always. I say it again, rejoice!

Yesterday I heard a homily on the prophet Elijah which really got me thinking. In it the priest mentioned that Elijah's call was to unmask the false gods of Israel (Baal and the like). These gods promise prosperity in the form of rain, but when confronted with Elijah, the prophet representing the true God, Israel experiences a drought, showing that it is not Baal who controls the rain but God. In exchange for his service to God, Elijah is persecuted, experiences dislusionment to the point of wanting to die, and yet is comforted by God in a way he never expected, the stillness of the presence of God.

This homily, when combined with the themes of accepting the cross (from the second reading of the office for St. John of the Cross) and the story of Job, which I have been studying in class, made me realize something which has kind of been forming within me ever since my time in Central America... The false gods that we follow at times promise one a life of ease and of no suffering. To serve them means to buy into the illusion that one can be above suffering and pain, that one can be unaffected by the evil of limits. In other words, the false gods promise to make us gods. They promise to make sure that we are always happy and never in pain.

Thinking about pagan cults, magical practices and the like, one sees that this is often the aim. One performs a rite to ensure a blessing of sorts. One then, by doing such, places oneself in charge. One controls the elements (supposedly) by doing a particular action. Obviously one uses this then to try to gain pleasure and avoid pain.

The true God does not promise us pain and suffering. God does not inflict upon us the various trials that we encounter, but rather simply informs us in the gospel that we will encounter pain and suffering. In fact, we are admonished that he or she who does not pick his or her cross can not be a disciple of Jesus.

Instead we are promised that God will be with us even to the end of the world, which means he is with us even in our suffering. Just as God reveal his presence to Elijah, encouraging him to then be able to face the trials ahead of him, likewise God gives us the strength to be able to face the trials we are going through. Just as God reveals himself to Job, who, though reduced to nothing sees God with his own eyes, knowing in a more experiential way that his redeemer lives, likewise, to the downcast and downtrodden faithful, God shows himself tobe in their midst, giving them the hope that they need in order to endure their trials.

God does not promise a life free of suffering, but does promise to redeem us in our lowliness and to glorfiy man in his frailty. This is the opposite of what the sham gods promise. They want us to think that we can be gods free from suffering, but in the end we suffer more because the sham gods, like Baal during the time of Elijah, really can not deliver on their "promise" to make man into something he isn't. The one true God, on the other hand, can make do on the promise, but his promise does not ask the humman to reject what his very nature, frail, limited and prone to suffering, but rather to embrace it. It is here, in the poverty and the meekness of the beatitudes that God promises His enduring and encouraging presence to help us face the trials and difficulties of our lives, and it is in the very weakness of our human nature that God manifests His glory! Think of the baby Jesus, prone to experience not only the difficulites of our human nature, but even more exposed by being born into poverty, without even a proper bed. Think also of the glorified Christ after the resurrection. The marks of the passion, signs of human humiliation and shame, become the life giving fountains of grace and healing, glorified specifically in so much as Christ chose to keep these signs in his body, in His glorified state. The true God, can and does divinize man. He glorifies his saints, but only if they accept who and what they are. Only if they accept and embrace their limited human nature and offer it to Him as Christ did, putting faith in being maintained and sustained by the best of consolers, God Himself.

When one suffers, the difficult thing about it is the feeling of being alone. But with God by one's side, and even better, with Jesus who has already experienced what we go through and much more, we have the best of consolers. He might not take away the pain, but He gives the interior peace one needs to face even death itself.

Since God is for us who can be against us. And since God is with us in all our trials, we have every reason to rejoice in the cross, our one hope! Because in the cross is redemption. After the cross comes Easter.

So therefore, let us rejoice in the Lord always, even in the midst of sadness and trials, I say it again, rejoice!

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