First reading and psalm: Hos. 11:1-11 • Ps. 107:1-9, 43
Alternate: Eccl. 1:2, 12-14; 2:18-23 • Ps. 49:1-11 • Col. 3:1-11 • Luke 12:13-21
In search of worldly wisdom, one finds this, and not far from home: “It is an unhappy business that God has given to human beings to be busy with” (Eccl. 1:13). “So I turned and gave my heart up to despair” (2:20). As I waited for coffee only thirty minutes before writing these words, a beautiful young woman greeted me. As she was served at the counter before me, I couldn’t help but notice her hands, which fit her pained gait.
“Hello, Father,” she said, and then told me her name and suddenly I remembered her and her long struggle since childhood with rheumatoid arthritis. Telling me about her family, she mentioned bladder cancer and a chemo port, a wheelchair and home modifications, and how people carry on, and how God is good. How good is God in allowing all this anguish? I thought our coffeehouse theology pleasant but predictably weak until she told me that there isn’t just God. As if telling a secret with flashing eyes, she told me what I am supposed to know: “There is another power.” For that reason, being in the grip of the enemy, all is chasing after the wind. To be human is to be frail.
The riddles of Ecclesiastes and the raving of Job have made it all the way to holy writ. So there is no simple answer. There is, however, the mystery of love. I noticed a woman’s contorted hands, and then she greeted me and told her tale of personal and family suffering. Listening, I took something, and not by stealth, but freely as it was given, and this too when I visit my daughter, or sit with my wife, or, as happened yesterday, I anointed a seven-year-old with the oil of the catechumens in preparation for her baptism. I took love. It was free and fell into my hands.
I know anguish. I know this cup. I despise every despairing drop of it, and yet beyond all comprehending, I know love too. It is the one font I find always full and always fresh.
Drinking all coolness and listening, I hear, “Yet it was I who taught Ephraim to walk, I took them up in my arms; but they did not know that I healed them. I led them with cords of human kindness, with bands of love. I was to them like those who lift infants to their cheeks. I bent down to them and fed them” (Hos. 11:3-4). I hear these haunting words of love and I have reason to reject them, but God being my helper, I don’t. There is, I believe, a compassion that grows warm and tender (Hos. 11:8b).
So what are we to do with a despair that speaks of death? Let it be what it is — death — but only if we have first anchored our lives in deathless life. “Put to death, therefore, whatever in you is earthly” (Col. 3:5); “you have stripped off the old self with its practices and have clothed yourselves with the new self” (9-10). This begins, continues, and ends in God until “Christ is all in all” (3:11).
Christ is the key, the center, the end of all human history (Gaudium et Spes). He is too the ground of all beauty, the means by which, in grace, we bear what we must, suffering in and with him even as we rise with him.
Look It Up
Read Ps. 107. Ponder these things, especially distress (vs. 6) and broken bars (vs. 16).
Think About It
Jesus loved his disciples to the end. One has to mine both hard truth and truthful metaphors to say this: suffered, died, buried, broke the gates, appeared, spoke, cooked, commissioned, filled the heavens. Beauty.