Our Extraordinary Reality

As I sat at my keyboard to begin this reflection, I remembered that I needed to return a phone call to a long-distance friend. I dialed her number with the hope of offering her and her seriously ill husband some support and consolation. Though I’m not certain that I helped either of them, I assure you that my friend helped me. She calmly shared her conviction that things will unfold as best they can and as they are meant to be. This elicited a few tears on my end of the conversation. My friend has no idea that her efforts to be compassionate, wise and strong while easing her family through this difficult time also brought comfort to me. Her practical approach to dealing with her possibly life-changing circumstances gave me reason to pause. There isn’t much that is earth-shattering in my life, yet I’ve recently found myself in panic-mode. As I set down the phone after that conversation, it occurred to me that my friend had embraced two extraordinary realities. Though I’ve shared both in recent reflections, I seemed to have loosened my own grip on these encouraging truths.

When I returned to my keyboard, I lamented the fact that my friend and her husband aren’t alone in their suffering. Each of us can list loved ones near and far who are plagued with difficulties. When we consider our own struggles and those of many of this world’s people, it’s difficult to see the point of it all. In an effort to open my eyes to what my friend seems to see so clearly, I’m taking another look at those encouraging truths which make all of the difference in everything. The first is God’s presence within us. Wherever we are, God is as well. Whether or not we acknowledge God, God remains. The second truth is that a peace-filled eternity awaits each of us. When we complete our earthly journeys, we will share an everlasting home with God. The Tenth Sunday of Ordinary Time offers a timely opportunity to celebrate these gifts because they can transform our ordinary lives into so much more. When I remind myself of these things, the obstacles in my path become manageable and the joy in my life grows.

The scripture readings for the next several Sundays in Ordinary Time focus upon the ordinary and sometimes extraordinary trials and tribulations of earthly life. This week’s selections are no exception. In the passage from Genesis (3:9-15), God approached Adam and Eve after the two had eaten from the one tree in the Garden of Eden which they were told to avoid. Adam provided a classic example of our human frailty when he blamed Eve for his disobedience. Eve did the same when she blamed the serpent for her sin. Though God first turned to the serpent to deal with his wrongdoing, God dealt with Adam and Eve as well. God sent them off with the clothes on their backs and the stubborn pride they’d harbored in their hearts. “If you think you know best,” God seemed to say, “get by on your own.” In the gospel (Mark 3:20-35), Jesus exhibited a similar mindset. Some of the people questioned Jesus and suggested that he was possessed. Jesus responded by pointing out that one possessed by a demon cannot also cast out a demon because he would be fighting against himself. Jesus observed, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” The people’s comments so disturbed Jesus that he added, though all sins would be forgiven, blasphemy against God’s Spirit would never be forgiven.

Fortunately, in the second reading from 2 Corinthians (4:13-5:1) Paul put the apparent harshness of both our Creator and of Jesus into perspective. In the end, God didn’t leave Adam and Eve on their own and Jesus went on to remind the people that God’s love is absolute and that God’s capacity to forgive is unlimited. 2 Corinthians is a compilation of five letters in which Paul responded to the internal and external suffering around him and within himself. Paul reminded his followers that, regardless of the suffering we endure, God continues to renew us within. Paul added that, even when we find no inner peace here, the peace found in the hereafter is worth all of our effort.

I admit that my initial reaction to these passages was frustration. I have great difficulty with images of a vindictive and unforgiving God. In the face of these descriptors, I had to remind myself that these stern portrayals were offered to a specific audience at a specific time. Perhaps they resulted from frustration with a thick-headed people who had forgotten that God was in their midst. I also have great difficulty with the suffering of both loved ones and of all people for whom relief seems improbable. So it is that in the midst of my difficulty, I turn to the lesson which my friend taught me during that phone call earlier today: Though none of us knows what the next week or day or hour will bring, we do know that God is with us in everything. Though none of us is certain that we will find even a morsel of joy in the moment at hand or in the moments awaiting us down the road, we do know that God will shower us with eternal joy at the end of this life’s journey.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Suffer In Good Company

I was restless and exhausted. I was under all kinds of stress,
quarrels with others and fears within myself.
But God, who gives heart to those who are low in spirit,
gave me strength with the arrival of Titus.

From 2 Corinthians 7:5-7

I admit that I am stressed as frequently as the rest of humankind. This is the good news. The bad news is that there are times when I would happily trade true suffering for the daily annoyances which plague us. Still, even in the midst of the worst of this, there is joy to be found. This joy comes in the compassion I extend to others whose suffering exceeds my own at a given moment. This joy also comes in the compassion others extend to me when I need it most.

It seems to me that suffering alone is among the worst of our trials on this earth. Simply knowing that another soul understands makes all of the difference in the world. Whether we provide that companionship or someone else provides it to us, sharing our sorrow lightens our burdens considerably.

I admit that I have sometimes overlooked the suffering of others, just as others have sometimes overlooked my pain. Still, there is good news in all of this. When we fail to respond to the suffering of others or they fail to respond to us, we are not left to suffer alone. This is when our God, who gives heart to those who are low in spirit, steps in.

Loving God, thank you for being with us in our compassion and for stepping in when we overlook precious opportunities to bring your love to one another.

©2015 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved