Wrestling With The Questions – Homily, 24th Sunday Ordinary Time
Wrestling With The Questions
Let me begin with a quote from the prophet Habakkuk 1:1-2:4a – entitled: A Prayer In Time of Desolation:
Why do you let me see ruin; why must I look at misery? Destruction and violence are before me; there is strife, and clamorous discord. This is why the law is benumbed, and judgment is never rendered: Because the wicked circumvent the just; this is why judgment comes forth perverted.
We sometime feel like this. The good and the innocent suffer. The bad get away with crimes and are not caught, least of all punished. We’re living, basically, a good life and we’re struggling and can’t get a break.
We pray and pray and pray and God is not answering our prayers. He’s not even LISTENING!
In the midst of this, we hear two passages in today’s Gospel that are just haunting:
- “He began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer greatly and be rejected … “
- ‘Who do you say that I am?”
He tells the apostles, “The Son of Man must suffer greatly … ” In these words Jesus is telling the apostles what discipleship is really all about.
He asks the apostles, “Who do you say that I am?” What do you do when He asks that question of you?
Sometimes God speaks to us, and we hear it, but the words seem strange, the language is unfamiliar, the message doesn’t make sense, clarity is missing. What’s the problem? Again, quoting Mark’s Gospel, “You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.” And what is frustrating, as well as frightening, is that in our joy and in our pain, Jesus asks us, over and over again, “Who do you say that I am?” Each person has to wrestle with, and answer, that question. And today, part of the challenge of this wrestling is not only answering the question about who Jesus IS – we must also be clear who Jesus IS NOT.
There are two quotes in the September 2nd issue of Magnificat’s “Meditation of the Day,”
Christ came to justify, not to render justice. (What does that mean?) The Gospel IS the proclamation to people that they have the possibility of being justified in Christ. It is not the proclamation of the establishment of human justice.
The disciples thought that Jesus had come to kick out the unjust Romans. No! He had come to save them. Second quote:
(We) preach the Gospel. The Gospel is the Good News of the Kingdom of God – and not that of a better world. We cannot let ourselves forget that salvation is a one way street: it can only come from God – through Christ – to us.
In other words,
- Jesus isn’t a Social Justice Warrior.
- He is not the “divine therapist.”
- He is not the sacred self-help guru.
- He is not the cosmic community organizer.
Jesus came to save souls, not be a poster boy for the “This-Is A-Wrong-That-Must-Be-Righted cause du jour.” This can be extremely frustrating for some people who keep waiting for Jesus – and HIS church – to “pivot” more towards the world. My advice: try this line from the prayer, “The Litany of Humility” [written by Rafael Cardinal Merry del Val (Secretary of State for Pope Saint Pius X)]: “From resenting that my opinion, my wish, my orders are not followed – Lord Jesus, free me.”
I am Israel: Wrestling With God.
John 12:16 – His disciples did not understand these things at first, but when Jesus was glorified, then they recalled that these things had been written about him and had been done to him.
John 2:22 – After He was raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what he had said. Then they believed the scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken.
John 2:17 – His disciples recalled – that it is written: “Zeal for your house will consume me.”
What are the strategies for wrestling with God? Prayer. Silence. Contemplation. A dose of humility. In the silence, when we bring our “stuff” to Him, Christ says:
- Think about it.
- Pray about it.
- This is personal. This is about a relationship; it’s not about a discourse.
The Abbot, Saint Bernard, once wrote a sermon on this entitled: The (Two) Stages of Contemplation (Sermo 5 de diversis, 4-5; Opera omnia. Edit. Cisterc. 6, 1  103-104)
The first stage of contemplation, my dear brothers, is constantly to consider what God wants, what is pleasing to him, and what is acceptable in his eyes. Our own strength and our own actions and our best intentions cannot match the correctness and moral integrity of God’s will. We are neither one with it nor wholly in accord with it. We all offend in many things, all the time. So, let us then humble ourselves under the powerful hand of the most high God and be concerned to show ourselves totally UN-worthy before his merciful gaze, saying: Heal me, Lord, and I shall be healed; save me and I shall be saved. Lord have mercy on me; heal my soul because I have sinned against you.
In terms of the second stage of contemplation, once the eye of the soul has been purified by such considerations, we no longer abide within our own spirit in a sense of sorrow, but abide rather in the Spirit of God with great delight. No longer do we consider what is the will of God for us, but rather we consider and contemplate God’s will all by itself and don’t even consider its implications for us or how it affects us. Our life is already buried deep within in his will, as if God’s will and our will are fused together. Thus we are convinced that what is according to his will is in every way more advantageous and fitting for us. And so, concerned as we are to preserve the life of our soul, we become equally concerned, insofar as we can, not to deviate from His will.
The whole of the spiritual life consists of these two elements. When we regress and start focusing and thinking of ourselves again, we are perturbed and filled with a salutary sadness. And when we turn our thoughts and gaze back on the Lord again, we are revived to find consolation in the joy of the Holy Spirit. From the first we derive fear and humility, from the second hope and love.
Here are two points to take out of St. Bernard’s homily, especially when you experience doubt, despair and inner turmoil in your temporal life, in your spiritual life or in your prayer life:
- It’s OK to feel lousy in those moments.
- When you experience doubt, despair and inner turmoil in your temporal life, in your spiritual life or in your prayer life, you are not necessarily doing something wrong; you might be doing something right.
What’s the goal? Getting to a point where you can allow God to do, what He wishes to do, in your life. And what might that look like concretely? To answer that, in closing, let’s turn to a book by Carmelite Sister, Mary Grace Melcher entitled, Prayer of the Faithful, Intercessions For Mass:
- For the prophets who must undergo persecution in order to remain faithful to the truth that God has shown them, that they may know that the Lord God is their help and upholds their right.
- That we may learn to think as God does, following the example of Jesus, willing to lose our lives for Him and for the Gospel, in order to receive life in abundance from the Father’s hands.
- For the gift of faith that expresses itself in good works; so that the poor, the sick, the imprisoned and the grieving may be relieved through our loving deeds.