By FR. ROBERT ALTIER
Eighth Sunday In Ordinary Time (YR A)
Readings: Isaiah 49:14-15
1 Cor. 4:1-5
In the first reading today, we hear the despairing cry of Israel in the midst of its suffering: “The Lord has forsaken me. The Lord has forgotten me.” This is a complaint that has been spoken by countless people over the course of history while they are in the midst of torments and temptations of various kinds.
Two of the questions that often come up are why God is allowing these difficulties and why does He take away the feeling of His presence when we need it the most? At times the troubles are the effects of our own choices. For instance, when Israel would abandon God and follow false gods, bad things would befall the Israelites because they were courting evil.
I often think of modern-day Haiti in this regard. One hundred years ago Haiti was a beautiful, lush, green, forested area. Today none of these things can be said of it. Disaster after disaster has crushed this island nation. Amazingly, the other side of the island, the Dominican Republic, is still lush and beautiful and without all of the tragedies.
One hundred years ago Haiti was a Catholic country where the people had great reverence for God. Today, it has become the home to voodoo and other forms of occult activities. The people refuse to repent, even after being visited by so many disasters. How shortsighted we are and how confused when we expect light to come from darkness!
I do not want to point a finger at Haiti as though the Haitians are alone in offending God. I use this as an extreme example to show what happens when we reject God and reach out to evil. The fact is, all of us have offended God many times and we have to deal with the consequences of our own choices. In these cases we realize that God has not abandoned us; rather, we have abandoned Him. Because we have strayed from Him, we feel the lack of His presence. Jesus reminds us in the Gospel that we cannot serve two masters. We cannot be faithful to God and, at the same time, seek after something that offends Him.
There is another reason, however, for feeling abandoned by God. It has to do with being purified. This can be extremely painful for the soul and it feels like a punishment. It is not a punishment. Instead, it is the loving hand of God purging us of everything that is not God so that we will be truly holy and filled with God. The great saints, even those who never committed a mortal sin in their lives, suffered this kind of torment as the Lord worked to make them perfect.
In the second reading, St. Paul says that he and his companions should be regarded as servants of the Lord. I think most of us would consider St. Paul to be a very loyal and faithful servant of God, yet he suffered so greatly for the Lord. It was not for punishment that the Lord allowed these sufferings, but to let St. Paul die to self and live for Jesus.
St. Paul tells us in his Letter to the Galatians that this is what occurred in his life. What he prayed at one time would be taken away from him came to be seen as the means to more perfect union with Jesus.
It is in this light that we can apply St. Paul’s words from the second reading about not passing judgment on anyone. So often people assume that because there are difficulties in someone’s life, it must be because that person has offended God. How much better it would be if we just prayed for the person and left the judging to God.
If we are striving to be servants of God, then He will take care of our needs. Sometimes He does this in ways that seem to be the opposite of what we need. But Jesus tells us in the Gospel that if we seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, that the Lord will give us everything.
Again, some of what He gives us would seem to us to be the opposite of what we need. At other times, He might give in a way that we find repulsive or do not even recognize. If you were St. John the Baptist, would you have recognized that grasshoppers and honey were the way God provided for your food?
If grasshoppers were the only thing around, most of us would feel abandoned by God when we are trying to be His servants. If we would miss the point if grasshoppers were provided, about how many other things do we miss the point?
Following our Lord’s instruction, seek God, and trust Him; no matter how it feels, He will not abandon you.