Reflection for April 3
Readings: Jer 20:10-13; Jn 10:31-42
In the first reading today we hear about the plots the people had hatched against the Prophet Jeremiah; some of these people had been his friends. They wanted to denounce him, trap him, and take their vengeance upon him. There are two things Jeremiah says in response to these threats. First, that the Lord is with Him, like a mighty champion. Second, his persecutors will stumble; they will not triumph. In their failure, they will be put to utter shame and lasting confusion.
We know the Lord is with us, but Jeremiah adds one further piece of information that is critical for us: “O Lord or Hosts, you who test the just, who probe mind and heart.” Anyone with faith will be able to acknowledge God’s presence with us. We know He will not abandon us, but sometimes He allows us to feel abandoned by Him. Sometimes He allows doubts and questions to come into our minds regarding the truths of the Faith or about God’s love for us. These doubts and questions will either undermine our faith or they will strengthen our faith.
If we entertain the doubts, they will slowly pull the fibers of our faith out from underneath us. On the other hand, if we can continue to acknowledge the truth, even when there are doubts, our faith is strengthened. By themselves, there is nothing inherently wrong with questions about the Faith. The real issue is whether or not we want the answer. If we have doubts or questions, we can look up the answers or speak with someone who has the background to answer the questions. In other words, don’t just ask your friends or coworkers. You would not ask them about a medical or dental questions; why would we trust them with questions of the Faith?
There are other doubts, however, that are not so easily answered; in fact, there is no answer other than a simple act of faith. For instance, if one feels abandoned by God, all the study we can do can confirm that what we feel is normal, but it cannot take the feeling away. Think of someone like St. Teresa of Calcutta who was in darkness for fifty years. Everything she did for the Lord was outstanding, yet she did not feel His presence and, actually, felt abandoned by Him for years. This lifted only in the last couple of weeks prior to her death.
She had to act solely on faith at that moment. Not only did God allow her to feel abandoned, but He allowed many types of suffering to take place in her life. In this way, her faith, hope, and charity were tested and purified. Most of us, on good days, will be able to profess our faith and trust in God. But when things are difficult, when we feel abandoned, when we are being tested, that is when it may be very difficult to profess those same virtues of faith and trust. However, if we can continue to profess these virtues in the trying times, that is when they grow and develop.
If you decided you want to run a marathon, you cannot simply show up on the day of the race and think you will have the strength and stamina to complete the race. It requires many days of running, of pushing the limits of your ability to keep going further. If you persevere, you will be able, eventually, to run the marathon. This is similar to what happens in the spiritual life. God tests us to develop our strength and stamina so that when the final trial comes we will be able to endure it.
When we consider the other points Jeremiah makes, first, that his persecutors will stumble; they will not triumph, we have to be able to look beyond the surface. It may be, as it occurred with our Lord, that those who plan evil will be allowed to carry it out. People lie, steal, murder, etc., and God allows it. It seems they do not stumble and, worse, they triumph. As we have considered in some our reflections of the past days, the ultimate triumph comes after this life. Going back to St. Teresa of Calcutta, she once said; “the only ones who are a success in this life and the ones who succeed in getting to Heaven; the only ones who are a failure in this life are the ones who fail to get to Heaven.” If God allows the persecutors to “succeed” it is only because He will use it to bring about growth in us. If we grow in holiness by their persecution, we are the ones who triumph. This is why the Saints rejoiced at the persecutions and difficulties they faced.
Jeremiah then says his persecutors will be put to same and lasting confusion. When we look at the Gospel reading today, we see Jesus putting those who want to stone Him into confusion. They want to stone Him because they said He was blaspheming by saying He was God. In His line of questioning the people, they became confused and Jesus simply walked away.
However, we know the ultimate confusion and shame came only after our Lord’s resurrection. Once again, it appeared that the persecutors were successful when they managed to put Jesus to death. However, their “success” turned into failure because in the resurrection, Jesus now had a life that could not be destroyed. As we saw a couple days ago, He destroyed sin and death, so there is nothing left to fear. The devil has nothing to threaten us with if we can keep our focus on God. He is with us “like a mighty champion;” what we need is to learn from Jeremiah to not take the matters into our own hands but, as he did, to entrust our cause to God.
In the present circumstances, God is giving us all an opportunity to work on this. If you are like most people, you will give everything over to God, then take it back seconds later. You may find yourself trying to be in control. Not only will this not work, but you will find that the more you try to be in control, the more out of control you will become. So, keep giving everything to God. Know that He is with you and will not abandon you. If you take back what you have given Him, give it to Him again. Do this as many times as is necessary. Eventually we will learn how to truly give Him everything, truly trust Him and have faith in Him, and see the triumph of God within our own self.