Recently I attended, online, the funeral of an 87-year-old Benedictine priest. At the solemn Mass of the Resurrection, in the monastery’s cavernous church, the masked monks sang these words from Psalm 119, verse 116, as they carried the simple wooden casket to the nearby gravesite:
“Uphold me, O Lord, according to your promise and I shall live. And do not confound me in my expectation.”
The deceased monk had spent 73 years in religious life, having entered the minor seminary at age 14.
He lived these years with the promise of life eternal with God. At the point of death, which we each will face, this priest-monk, I am sure, did not want to be “confounded” in his expectation.
The chanted plea speaks to our deepest human longing…to be cared for by God in death. It is the promise of our faith that Christ has conquered death, which we fear more than anything. Belief in this victory is foundational to all Christian tenets, as written in today’s reading from Hebrews, “…we have confidence on the day of judgement…”
And yet, at this funeral, the recessional hymn of the monks gives evidence that even a community of holy men, who have vowed to live lives totally dedicated to Christ, offers hint of not being 100 percent sure that the promise upon which they are living every moment, might not hold up… “do not confound me in my expectation.”
We all, even holy monks, doubt faith. We get scared thinking about our tomorrows, our own deaths.
In this passage from Mark’s Gospel, Jesus knows his disciples had a long way to go to understand his core message of absolute trust in Him. He lets them stay on the rough sea until it was near dawn (the fourth watch of the night). Then he passes them by until they reveal their primitive fears in shouts and a delusion of Christ being a ghost.
But at the right moment, he calms them, reassures them: “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.”
The demands of our faith are great. We are called to discipleship, to be ambassadors for Christ in a world crying out in fear, including our own fears. The pandemic, the political and racial divisions, the ever widening gap between the elite and the masses, the destruction of our climate, water, top soils and species of life, the chemical addictions, mental and physical illnesses, the arms races and the destruction of networks of charity and fellowship all are occasions to panic in our tiny boats and become delusional.
But the demand of our God is all encompassing and true: “Take courage. It is I; do not be afraid.”
To step back from the excessive stimulations about us, the noise that breeds confoundment, is essential for the grace of God’s presence to transform our hearts. In God’s wisdom we are cared for every moment of our lives. We need not panic. Christ offers the peace we seek at our deepest levels.
Perhaps a few moments of silence today will open a space for God to comfort and reassure us that God is upholding us right now, according to God’s promise. We are alive. And God will not confound us in our expectations.
Jim Wayne is a board member of the Passionist Solidarity Network (PSN), and author of The Unfinished Man. He lives in Louisville, Kentucky.