Life in this world continues to be tough. While I immersed myself in the news earlier on in this pandemic, I’m watching fewer newscasts these days. I’m also scanning the daily newspaper and reading it a bit more selectively. It’s simply too difficult to acknowledge all of the suffering around us. My misery hit a crescendo with the recent resurgence of COVID-19 cases. Ongoing inequities place our more vulnerable neighbors at risk of illness and so much more. This adds to my angst. While news reports loudly echo more of the same, the voice of reason seems only a whisper. Crime continues to disrupt the lives of innocent people simply trying to make their way through another day. Add to that another round of wild fires assaulting California. Though I’ve turned my eyes heavenward more often than ever, I’ve found it impossible to speak. What can I say about these things that God doesn’t already know?
I’ve trusted God all of my life. This began when I observed my parents turning to God in the best and worst of times. When I was happy with my circumstances or those of my loved ones, I looked upward to offer thanks. When I was frightened or saddened about these things, I looked upward and prayed with even greater intensity. This conversation between God and me continued through elementary school and my family’s move to a new neighborhood when I began seventh grade. Though God never actually spoke aloud to me, I always knew deep down that God was my greatest ally. During my often emotional teens, I sometimes ran the other way. Still, God persisted in touching my heart with encouragement and love. When all else failed and I felt abandoned by the people who should have cared most for me (though they never actually abandoned me), I held onto my belief that God remained at my side.
Fortunately, throughout high school and college, God persisted in shadowing me through those around me, some great authors and a renewed church. When I took my first job, I rushed out of school and headed to work. Though I ran twenty-four/seven to manage my studies, employment, life at home and a boyfriend or two (yes, Mike is aware), I continued to make time for worship. I had great reverence for the Latin hymns and prayers which filled my childhood. Eventually celebrating the liturgy in English thrilled me. On weekdays, I often attended noon Mass at college to energize myself for what lay ahead. Though tough times and tragedy punctuated those years, I emerged with my inner peace intact because I held onto that relationship with God which had begun two decades earlier.
Much to my dismay, the onset of adulthood brought the realization that many people don’t rely upon God for much of anything. While I’d worked hard to prepare for life in this world, I had also found great consolation in God’s company along the way. Apparently, I was naïve is this regard. I was truly shocked by the “God is dead” discussions which emerged during my philosophy and theology courses during college. I attributed what I heard to each speaker’s need to rebel or to shock rather than to his or her actual beliefs. How wrong I was! I eventually understood that these sentiments had resulted from this world’s seemingly endless misery. Some of my contemporaries believed that it is up to God to solve humanity’s problems. When nothing happened, they surmised that God is indeed dead. As for me, as upsetting as our human condition has been throughout my life, I’ve never actually expected God to fix it. It seemed to me then, just as it does today, that it is we who need to roll up our sleeves and to do something.
I share all of this because today’s excerpt from Matthew’s gospel (16:21-27) addresses a turn of events which frustrated Peter even more so than my classmates had been. Jesus had begun to prepare his friends for the ordeal which would take him from them. Peter pulled Jesus aside because the last thing he wanted to hear was that Jesus was going to suffer and he told Jesus as much. Jesus returned poor Peter’s concern by scolding, “Get away from me, Satan. You are an obstacle to me.” Jesus insisted that anyone who wished to follow him must take up a cross and lose his or her life to find what matters most. While I understand Jesus’ intent, I also understand Peter’s distress. Things had finally gone right in Peter’s life. Peter knew without a doubt that Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah. Then, before Peter could fully enjoy his good fortune, Jesus took it away by acknowledging the cross which awaited him.
I think it’s time to turn my eyes upward once again. After giving thanks for the goodness in my life, I will list the troubles which engulf us. Then, I will ask God’s help as I determine what I can do to improve things, both nearby and far away. Just as Peter eventually did, I need to accept that there are bumps in the road. Just like Peter, I must decide whether to jump over those bumps, to walk around them or to get my feet dirty by walking through them. Though his words seem harsh, Jesus’ message to Peter and to us is steeped in absolute love and absolute confidence. Jesus is convinced of our ability to do something to change this world for the better. Like Peter, let’s do it!
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