Personal statement from Dick Rento
Pope Francis has often spoken of the church as a very wide tent with room for all persons of good conscience and good will. Father James Martin is an American Jesuit priest who has written and spoken about welcoming homosexual persons into full and active membership in the church. A talk was scheduled for February 15 in Readington, NJ, but has been canceled because of angry protests from objectors.
People like me, who have friends and family members who are gay and lesbian, know how hurtful such an attitude can be.
I suggest and request that you keep this matter in your mind and heart as we begin this Sunday liturgy, praying that we may soon become the truly inclusive Christian community that Jesus wanted us to be.
Nine years ago, I received the following letter from an elderly parishioner, now deceased–
“Please ask God in your prayers to restore to me full recovery from a stroke I suffered many years ago. I need my left hand badly and have been praying 11 years and 6 months without results. So, if you favor me with your prayers, the Lord may just listen to a man of the cloth (!!). I don’t know what I’ve done to deserve such a penance and punishment from the Lord. If I knew that, I certainly would not do it again.”
Just think how revealing those words are. We learn that this good man believes that the troubles that have befallen him were given him by God. He also tells us that he hasn’t any idea why he has been so punished. He ends with the sad statement that, if only he did know what sins he committed to deserve his penalty, he would never commit them again.
He was a modern day Job, whose identical thinking was presented to us in today’s first reading. The saddest thing is that he is by no means unique among Christian believers. Dozens of times in my life as a priest I have been asked the very same thing: “Father, why is God doing this to me?” Or, “I know I must accept this cross, because it is God’s will for me.” And I have answered time & time again that God had nothing to do with their misfortunes, that God does not fashion our crosses or punish or reward us.
The truth is that life is full of accidents and human violence and disease in addition to the irrational, often deadly, forces of nature, enough to produce a climate in which all living things, including us human beings, are only too likely to get hurt — not occasionally, but often.
Unfortunately, as our first reading clearly shows, we are still stuck with a long and strong tradition that would have us believe that the Creator is in charge of what happens in this world, when actually there is not a bit of truth in such a belief.
There are reasons why we are so quick to assign to God responsibility for our troubles: to begin with, we get comfort from assuming that there is a rational cause for the terrible things that happen to us, and that the cause is God. That belief enables people of faith to shrug their shoulders, grit their teeth and say that God must have caused or allowed the tragedy for a reason that they cannot comprehend. Something deep inside them tells them that they could not survive in a world of pure chance; someone’s got to be in charge, there must be some sort of intelligent design, otherwise this is an absurd world, and we are all its hapless victims.
The truth is that our strength and consolation come from the presence of the Divine Spirit, the Creator, within us in both good times and bad. We need nothing more than our own personal resources, the support of those who love us, and the unfailing presence of the one and only God Creator, who lives within us every second of our existence.
Good men that they were, Job and my letter writer friend, they did not know that. As a result, their sufferings were needlessly made worse because they viewed them in a false context. We ought to pay close attention and be determined never to fall into the same error.
Last week’s first scripture reading, you may recall, ended with the words, “If today you hear God’s voice, harden not your hearts. We might end this Mass with the silent, simple prayer, “Come, Lord Jesus, and heal our broken hearts.”