1 Jeremiah 18:1-6
There are many perspectives in Christian spirituality that attempt to make sense out of the perennial question, why does a loving God let suffering coexist with a world we say is created by God, saved by the Son of God, and is destined for an eternal participation in the Kingdom of God?
This summer, while spending my summer vacation at home with my brothers and sisters, I am also doing double-duty, filling in for the hospital chaplain at the Catholic hospital where my sister is an RN, because their chaplain is on vacation.
Daily, I am asked to visit a patient or patients who ask for the sacrament of the sick; many of them are quite conscious and want to share their feelings with me. For many, the question is there, perhaps not "up front," but in their doubts, their fears, and in their uncertainty about the future. Why me?"
Reading today’s scripture text from the prophet Jeremiah, I hear echoes of the question-"Why me?" and I sense that God not only wants us to ask, to question, but also to glean wisdom from the response God makes to our hearts.
We need to remember that asking a question in response to God’s action in our lives is not a sign of lack of faith, or of a refusal to accept God’s will. The incarnation, Jesus’ becoming human, taking on the form of an unborn child in the womb of Mary, follows on Mary’s question to the Angel Gabriel, "How can this be…?" Mary’s question is posed in order to be able to respond generously to God’s will as presented by the Angel Gabriel.
I went down to the potter’s house and there he was,
working at the wheel.
Whenever the object of clay which he was making
turned out badly in his hand,
he tried again,
making of the clay another object of whatever sort he pleased.
Then the word of the LORD came to me:
Can I not do to you, house of Israel,
as this potter has done’ says the LORD.
Indeed, like clay in the hand of the potter,
so are you in my hand, house of Israel.
God instructs Jeremiah to see in the rise and fall of the fortunes of the chosen people a necessary re-forming, re-shaping, re-modeling of the people who are no longer faithful to the image first seen in the eye of the potter, and then fashioned into clay on the potter’s wheel.
I am reminded of two other examples used by the Prophet Malachi to describe the purifying work of God, the refining of gold and silver, and the whitening of the cloth by the work of the fuller.
Thus says the Lord GOD:
Lo, I am sending my messenger
to prepare the way before me;
And suddenly there will come to the temple
the LORD whom you seek,
And the messenger of the covenant whom you desire.
Yes, he is coming, says the LORD of hosts.
But who will endure the day of his coming?
And who can stand when he appears?
For he is like the refiner’s fire,
or like the fuller’s lye.
He will sit refining and purifying silver,
and he will purify the sons of Levi,
Refining them like gold or like silver
that they may offer due sacrifice to the LORD. (Malachi 3:1-4, 23)
It has been two days since the historic achievements of United States’ swimmers and gymnasts in the London Olympic games. What an achievement, for which we can stand in proud amazement. They would be the first to say that were it not for the hours of dedicated practice, practice and more practice, with coaching and parental support, they might not be there on the victors’ podium. That regimen of practice is like "the refiner’s fire, or like the fuller’s lye".
When we struggle against our illness, our aging bodies, or our fading memories, we are in a process of purification, submitting ourselves to the refiner’s fire, to the fuller’s lye, and to the potter’s wheel. God will create in us a new experience of life, better than anything we’ve yet known, and ready to be presented before the Divine Majesty on the last day.
Fr. Arthur Carrillo, C.P. is the director of the Office of Mission Effectiveness for Holy Cross Province. He lives in Chicago, Illinois.