Our time on earth is filled with beautiful moments. Gifts from God of incredible grandeur and also of intense simplicity flood our days and our nights. From the Great Artist painting every sunrise and every sunset, to the flowers and trees; the love of friend and family to a joyful smile from a stranger, God showers us all with the most amazing gifts.
And yet, there are times – many, I’d venture to guess – we must face things we don’t want… times we must face things which are difficult, things which we know will hurt us. From something as simple as a awkward conversation with a coworker, or perhaps an honest talk with a friend which hurt you, to more challenging things like standing up to a bully (of any age in life), or jumping in to protect the innocent. Perhaps being forced to accept a medical diagnosis you just don’t want to hear, or having to watch a parent age quickly. Losing all you have due to theft or natural disaster. It can be as terrible as being dragged through the death of a relationship, or experiencing the dying of someone you deeply love. These are all points when we have to stand on the rubble of the moment, and of all the past moments, and wonder about the journey, the purpose of it all, the plan God has for us.
As ashamed as I am to admit it, I sometimes try to run away.
No-one is immune from the horrors of this earthly life. Not St. Paul, not the Psalmist, not even Jesus. This past Sunday, Paul reflected on his situation, being imprisoned and awaiting punishment, saying “I am already being poured out like a libaton.” (II Timothy 4:6) Today, he declares “We are being slain all the day; we are looked upon as sheep to be slaughtered,” (Romans 8:36), as the Psalmist writes, “My heart is pierced within me.” (Psalm 109:22b) Even Jesus hears the warning, “Go, leave this place, for Herod wants to kill you.” (Luke 13:31)
As much as I’d rather run away, Jesus sets the ultimate example.
As terrifying and saddening as these statements – these realities – are, in nearly the same breath we are reminded to not lose hope, to be patient and to seek the great joy and love of God. Jesus replies standing up and calling Herod a “fox” (the literal translation would be closer to “jackal,” an insult in ancient Greek). He says “You go and tell that fox, ‘Behold, I cast out demons and I perform healings today and tomorrow, and on the third day I accomplish my purpose. I must continue on my way.” (Luke 13:32-33a)
We can weather the storms of life with Jesus at our side, for, as the Psalmist also writes, “He stands at the right hand of the poor man to save him.” (Psalm 109:31) Saint Paul, though, says it as completely as I think possible:
“If God is for us, then who can be against us?
All these things we conquer overwhelmingly through him who loved us.
For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities,
nor present things, nor future things, nor powers, nor height, nor depth,
nor any other creature will be able to separate us
from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:31b, 37-39)
As Passionists, as Christians, we know the glorious dawning of life which blasts forth from the tomb of darkness. Sometimes we have to wade through the muck – sometimes we have to be covered with manure – sometimes we must be nailed to the cross and face our trials. But on the other side, friends, with Jesus walking with us, is joy, love, and a new life beyond all imagination.
Dear God, thank you for the gift of all the gifts you give us. Grant us the strength to stand on the rubble, hold our heads high, and look to the light as we step forward on the path laid before us. Amen.
Paul Puccinelli is Director of Liturgy & Music at St. Rita Parish in Sierra Madre, California, and a member of the retreat team at Mater Dolorosa Passionist Retreat Center.