8/2/08

What will separate us from the love of Christ?


Illustration by Elizabeth Wang, T-07198-CW, copyright © Radiant Light 2006, www.radiantlight.org.uk

Homily for the 18th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Isaiah 55:1-3 Romans 8:35, 36-39 Matthew 14:13-21

A woman I’ve known for 17 years
has endured more serious medical problems than anyone I’ve ever met.
Betty lost her husband to a heart attack about 20 years ago,
leaving her to raise four children by herself.
Her personal history growing up has left her emotionally burdened,
far beyond what most of us bear.
She is hospitalized right now
and her prognosis is more grave than ever before.
Today her condition remains critical.

Two nights ago I went to visit her and although she is unable to speak,
we were able to communicate and pray together.

When I left her bedside the other night, I realized that my goodbye
might be the last one I say to her.

Later that evening I was on the phone with one of her sons and he said,
“You know, Father,
after all my mother has suffered and lived through,
I don’t understand how she still has such deep faith in God.”

I understand.

And St. Paul words today might help us understand Betty’s faith:
let me paraphrase today’s passage from the letter to the Romans…

Will anything separate Betty from the love of Christ?
anguish or distress? loss of a loved one?
doubts? loneliness? depression? chronic illness?
anxiety, multiple hospitalizations? fear of abandonment?
No, in all these things Betty has conquered overwhelmingly
through Christ who loved her.
For she is certain that neither death nor life,
nor physical pain, nor the depths of despair,
nor any other creature can separate her from the love of God.

But don’t misunderstand or think Betty’s faith is simplistic.
Like her medical history, Betty’s faith journey has traveled a rocky road:
ups and downs; questions, uncertainties, doubts;
seasons of hopefulness followed by seasons in a spiritual desert;
anticipation and experience of spiritual healing
followed, often soon, by the need to pray for healing again…

Yet, in all of this, one desire above all is important to Betty:
her desire to know God and to know God’s love for her –
even when it seems, and she sometimes fears,
that God has forgotten her name…
But even through her most difficult times,
Betty has not forgotten the Lord’s name
but rather has called on him, in faith, again and again and again…

Thursday, the day I visited Betty, was the feast of Saint Ignatius.
Reading about him I came across this in his writings:

The goal of our life is to live with God forever.
God, who loves us, gave us life.
Our own response of love allows God's life
to flow into us without limit.
All the things in this world are gifts from God,
presented to us so that we can know God more easily
and make a return of love more readily.
As a result, we appreciate and use all these gifts of God
insofar as they help us to develop as loving persons.
But if any of these gifts become the center of our lives,
they displace God and so hinder our growth toward our goal…
So we should not fix our desires on health or sickness,
wealth or poverty, success or failure, a long life or a short one.
For everything has the potential of calling forth in us
a deeper response to our life in God…
(Saint Ignatius’ First Principle: paraphrased by David Fleming, S.J.)

That’s how it was for Ignatius.
And that’s how it is for Betty.

Ultimately, no pain or loss keeps her from desiring to know
that God loves her
and in everything, even in her pain and loss,
her desire to know God’s love endures.

Betty didn’t start out with some amazingly deep faith.
She started out with average faith (maybe the size of a mustard seed)
faith which has grown and deepened through all her trials
because “everything has the potential of calling forth in us
a deeper response to our life in God.”

Those aren’t easy words to live by, but in an unexpected way,
they may be easier to follow in distress and difficulty
than in success and prosperity.

Ease of life can lead us to forget that true happiness
is not in the gifts we may have,
but in our relationship with God who gave them to us.

Hard times strip us of our distractions
and leave us naked before God who is the source, the reason,
the goal of our existence.

When I first visited Haiti I asked the question Betty’s son asked of me:
"How can these people who suffer so much,
these people still waiting for the banquet promised the poor in Isaiah,
how can these people have such deep faith in God?"

A wise woman gave me the answer when she said,
When God is all you have, you believe in him very deeply."

If the wisdom of that answer puzzles or escapes us,
perhaps we have allowed the many gifts we have in abundance
- or our desire for them -
to displace God as the center of our lives.

We all have a tendency to think that we don’t have enough.

The disciples in the gospel story
thought they didn’t have enough bread and fish to feed so many.

But they brought the little they had to Jesus
who made of their want more than enough for all.

"For everything..."
(the little we have - and even what we don’t have)
"has the potential of calling forth in us
a deeper response to our life in God."

Consider how little we bring to this table:
some unleavened bread and a decanter of wine.

Of these meager gifts the power of the Spirit
gives back to us the body and blood of Christ,
the only begotten of God, the savior of the world.

In our simple gifts, we find the sacrament of our life with God.

May the sacrifice we offer here
nourish in us a hunger, a desire
to know God's love for us
and for life forever with God.

Post Scriptum:
The alternate opening prayer for this Sunday's Mass echoes the words of Paul and Ignatius and how I've tried to weave them together in my homily:


God our Father,
gifts without measure
flow from your goodness

to bring us your peace.
Our life is your gift.
Guide our life's journey,
for only your love makes us whole.
Keep us strong in your love.

-ConcordPastor

8 comments:

Soutenus said...

What a beautiful, heartfelt, wise and inspiring post! Thank you.

And -- Betty and her family are in my prayers.

Anonymous said...

I could be Betty - thank you for the post! She and her family are in my thoughts and prayers.

mary said...

Betty sounds like a wonderful and courageous woman, who has fought life's battle's with the knowledge that God is with her. She may have had to have someone give her a nudge now and again, but it sounds like she never gave up on God. My prayers are with her family and friends. Without even knowing it, Betty has taught and shown many how "faith" can help us through times of crisis. God is here now, tomorrow, and always. We just have to take the time to "see" Him.

Anonymous said...

I live with, or survive with, real, clinical, Major Depression. Yes, this sometimes makes me feel separated from the love of Christ.
But, more often, I feel a strange and scary, very deep connection with God.
It is 'strange and scary' because rather than helping me want to LIVE and have hope, it makes me want to die-
to go be with God, who is so loving and kind and gentle and forgiving.

Anonymous said...

I am at Hartford Hospital tonight awaiting the results of a brain operation on a loved one. I want to believe Paul's words...and you are right.. they are ultimately all we have tonight. I am praying that we all have the faith to make it through this. I ask for your prayers and those of all your readers...

ConcordPastor said...

Anonymous: I trust that you have counseling assistance in living with and surviving depression and I pray that you find healing.

As a priest, I have some idea of how many Christians feel separaed from the love of Christ and some, like yourself, may pray to be with God. The challenge for all Christians is to learn and deepen our faith in believing that we ARE with God, even now, even in our pain and depression, and that God never leaves our side.

I believe your feelings are very muc like Christ's who, in the hour of his greatest need, cried out, "My God, my God - why have you abandoned me... into your hands I commend my spirit..."

Even Jesus felt abandoned... Every day, each of us, regardless of our emotions, need to commend our spirits into God's hands...

Please know that you are in my prayer and, I"m sure, in the prayer of many of my readers...

ConcordPastor said...

Anonymous in Hartford: You have my prayerful support and I'm sure that of many others here, too. Be sure that you are held in prayer by many more than those who comment here - most of my readers don't leave comments, but I'm sure they don't leave this blog without praying for those who ask for prayers...

I do, indeed, pray that you and yours will have the strength and faith to make it through whatever comes your way... You do not face that future alone: Jesus is with you as are many of us here, in our prayers...

Anonymous said...

I have been thinking of Betty a lot and offering prayers for her. I know that God is with her.