Getting accustomed to looking beneath and beyond the words of bible readings to find their real meaning, what would you say is the message of the three we just heard – the first from the Hebrew bible, the next from a letter of St. Paul, and the third from the gospel, this particular excerpt from St. Luke’s version? The word urgency came to my mind from all three: that we resolve now to remain conscious of the presence of the Spirit of God in whatever we are doing, saying or thinking. That’s a fairly good definition of a spiritual person: not a holier-than-thou fanatic who goes around in a daze of personal devotion that makes everyone uncomfortable, but a person who views life and all its parts through the lens of the Spirit within and around him or her.
I recall in this connection that it was Pope Celestine the First who, in one of the earliest centuries of the church heard that some priests were dressing in distinctive ways to distinguish them from ordinary people. He wrote to them and said he found this disturbing because priests should be distinguished not by what they wear but by their conversation and their love.
But, we all ask, where is God when a bloody war is raging, as is still happening today all over the globe? Where is God in the drug-abuse scene? Where is God when conflict tears a family apart? Where is God on Death Row? Where is God in AIDS or cancer? Countless millions of persons have found reason to say, “I turned to you, Lord, but you did not answer me.”
It’s our concept, our image of God that is the problem. God is not a person like us, however bigger and better. God is pure spirit; God is force; God is energy, God is love. When we deliberately align ourselves with that benign force, with that energy, that love, our own human powers are enhanced, they are magnified.
How God “answers” and when God answers are not for us to say or even to know. Our part in the pact is to maintain unyielding faith in the goodness and the love of God.
A high school classmate of mine, at the funeral of his young daughter many years ago, said to the overflowing crowd of mourners assembled in the church that day, “My wife and children and I thank you for being here today to celebrate the life and mourn the death of our beautiful daughter. It must be that God loves her more than we do, because God gave her to us in the first place for these too-short 19 years. At this time of sorrow, God asks of us only faith and love. In this tragedy, too, God is only good.”
Who would dare to limit the power of God especially in the troubles of our life?
There may be no time or circumstance in our ordinary lives when we more need that awareness of Jesus’ presence than when things are not going well for us or for those we love. He says to us, “Come to me, you who are burdened, and I will refresh you.” The “refreshment,” by that or any other name, may be just the vision of light at the end of the tunnel, and restored confidence because Jesus is leading the way — Jesus, who called himself “the way.”
Faith can falter even in the most convinced and loyal believer. There’s no shame in that. We are, after all, only human and very limited. We live in a kind of darkness, a shadow in which not everything is perfectly clear. To trust in a Jesus we have never seen is no small challenge at times. But, if we make the commitment, no matter how feeble it may occasionally be, our faith in him will grow by experience. We will increasingly sense his real presence in and with us and we will be only the stronger and the more at peace for it.