Ordinary Time 05, Year B-2009

From Vincentian Encyclopedia
He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds (Ps. 147:3)

“A moment’s affliction,” reads Sir. 11:27 “brings forgetfulness of past delights.” This saying, it seems to me, finds confirmation in Job’s claim that life is but a sheer drudgery and means hard labor, prolonged misery, loathsome disease and utter hopelessness.

But Job’s very lament that he shall not see happiness again surely implies past experience of happiness. After all, Job must have taken delight—before undergoing the testing—in his seven sons and three daughters as well as in his prosperity (Job 1:1-3). It may not even be farfetched to suggest that he delighted in his blamelessness, uprightness, fear of God, and avoidance of evil. Life, then, consists of not just sorrowful mysteries but also joyful, luminous and glorious mysteries.

Still, if the book of Job tells me anything at all, it is that I must recognize—both in the light of my experience of the sorrowful mysteries and in the light of God’s omniscience and omnipotence—life’s tears, fundamental fragility, littleness, poverty, state of not-knowing and despair. Job teaches, moreover, that the ordinary precariousness or instability of life, its relative character and its insecurities, should point me towards the extraordinary and ultimate source of wholeness, greatness, prosperity, knowledge and hope. Experience of poverty, distress, abandonment, weariness and universal scorn should lead to prayer (cf. the non-biblical reading in the Office of Readings of the Liturgy of the Hours for the memorial, on February 8, of St. Jerome Emiliani). Keenly aware of my boat being so small and the ocean being so big, I must cry out, “Lord.” Or better still, I should ask for help and say, in the company of either the terrified and sinking Peter of Mt. 14:30, or of the disciples, in Mt 8:23-25: “Lord, save me!” or “Lord, save us! We are perishing!”

For the Lord Jesus, indeed, is the image of the invisible all-knowing and all-powerful God (cf. 2 Cor. 4:4; Col. 1:15). Like the Almighty in Job 40:6 ff., Jesus speaks too out of the storm, or the wind, in order to save those who feel threatened and overwhelmed, and also to question them for their doubt or lack of faith. Anointed with the Holy Spirit and sent to bring the good news to the poor, Jesus goes through all the towns and villages; he teaches in their synagogues, preaches the good news of the kingdom, and heals every disease and illness (cf. Mk. 1:39; Mt. 4:23; 9:35). And being the model that he is for the apostle Paul and, needless to say, for St. Vincent de Paul, Jesus makes himself all things to all people (cf. Common Rules of the Congregation the Mission, II, 12). He becomes like us in every respect and thus is able to sympathize with our weaknesses, with our being subject to temptation, too, although, on his part, without sinning (Heb. 2:17; 4:15).

In other words, Christ is the answer to the question that we—in our joys and hopes, our griefs and anxieties—are. It could be that Jay Leno was, besides being funny, being too simplistic and failed to see the difference between religion and religiosity when he reportedly quipped, “With hurricanes, tornadoes, fires out of control, mud slides, flooding, severe thunderstorms tearing up the country from one end to another, and with threat of bird flu and terrorist attacks, are we sure this is a good time to take God out of the Pledge of Allegiance?” Yet there is no gainsaying that, from the point of view of Christian faith, our mystery as human beings takes on light only in the mystery of Christ, himself the perfect human being, who fully reveals human beings to human beings themselves and makes their supreme calling clear, and through whom and in whom the riddles of sorrow and death grow meaningful (Gaudium et Spes, 22).

Such meaning, however, is not necessarily the explanation that I, like Job and his friends, am seeking. It is not sufficiently explained to me why there are brokenhearted people who are in need of healing and whose wounds require binding. I ask why the Lord does not get rid of battlefields, slums and insane asylums (cf. Madeleine L’Engle, The Irrational Season, chapter 3, “Rachel Weeping,” [New York, NY: The Seabury Press, Crossroad Books, 1977], pp. 28-38). And the answer I am given is the crucified Christ who, according to 1 Cor. 1:23-25, is “a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are called, Jews and Greeks alike, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.”

Not only should affliction, then, not make me forgetful of past delights. Nay, I ought to say that the bread of affliction—of tears, fragility, littleness, poverty, state of not-knowing and despair—is endowed with all delights and suited to every taste (cf. Ps. 80:5; Wis. 16:20).