Trusting in God

St. Luke tells us that on one occasion our Lord was preaching by the shore of the Sea of Galilee and so many people wanted to listen to him that he had to ask for help. Some fishermen were washing their nets on the shore. They had finished the bulk of their work and were tidying things up, surely with the idea of getting home as soon as possible to rest. Jesus got into one of the boats, that of Simon, and from there continued speaking to the crowd.

The evangelist does not tell us what our Lord taught. He wants to draw our attention to other aspects that contain important lessons for our Christian life.

Struggle and trust

Perhaps Peter and his companions thought that Jesus, after finishing speaking, would return to shore and go on his way. But instead he turned to them and asked them to take up anew the work they were about to set aside for the day. They were surprised, but Simon had the greatness of soul to overcome his fatigue and reply: Master, we toiled all night and took nothing. But at your word I will let down the nets . [1]

They had worked all night—with nothing to show for it. They knew their work well, since it was their job and they had a lot of experience. But all this had not been enough to guarantee success, and they had returned tired and empty-handed. We can easily imagine their discouragement. Some, overcome by a feeling of uselessness, might even have been thinking of giving up that business entirely.

We know that the narrative ends with an abundant catch of fish. If we look for the difference between their success and the previous night’s failure, the answer is clear: the presence of Jesus. All the other circumstances of the second attempt seem less favorable than those of the earlier one. The nets not fully cleaned, the wrong time of day, the fishermen’s physical and mental exhaustion.…

Our Lord makes use of all this to give them, and us, a very important spiritual lesson: without Christ we can’t achieve anything. Without Christ, our struggle will yield only exhaustion, tension, discouragement, a desire to give up; without Christ we will try to fool ourselves by blaming circumstances for our lack of effectiveness; without Christ we will be overcome by a feeling of uselessness. But with him, the catch is abundant.

Sanctity does not consist of fulfilling a set of norms. It is Christ’s life in us. Therefore, rather than “doing something,” it consists of “letting something be done,” letting ourselves be led—but responding fully. “You are a Christian and, as a Christian, a child of God. You should feel a grave responsibility for corresponding to the mercies you have received from the Lord, showing careful vigilance and loving firmness, so that nothing and nobody may disfigure the distinctive features of the Love he has imprinted upon your soul.” [2]

When we struggle to be saints, the thread of our will meets the thread of God’s will and interweaves with it to form a single fabric, a single piece of cloth that is our life. This woven fabric has to become fuller and fuller, until the moment comes when our will is identified with God’s, and we are unable to distinguish one from the other, because both seek the same thing.

Almost at the end of his life on earth, Jesus told St. Peter: Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you girded yourself and walked where you would: but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will gird you and carry you where you do not wish to go . [3] Before, you relied on yourself, on your own will, on your strength; you thought that your word was surer than mine. [4] And now you see the results. From now on you will depend on me and want what I want…and things will go much better.

Interior life is a work of grace that requires our cooperation. The Holy Spirit fills the sails of our boat with his wind. In responding, we have, so to speak, two oars: our personal effort, and trust in God, the certainty that he will never leave us. Both oars are necessary and we have to employ both arms if we want our interior life to advance. If either is lacking, the boat will start turning in circles and be very hard to control. The soul then, as it were, “limps along;” it fails to make progress and becomes exhausted, and easily falls.

If an effective decision to struggle is lacking, piety becomes sentimental, and virtues become scarce. The soul seems to be filled with good desires, but they prove ineffective when the moment comes to make an effort. If, on the other hand, everything is entrusted to a strong will, to a determination to fight without relying on our Lord, the fruit is dryness, tension, exhaustion, distaste for a battle that fails to draw any fish to the nets of the interior life and apostolate. The soul finds itself, like Peter and his companions, in a fruitless night.

If we notice that something similar is happening to us, if at times we fall into discouragement because we are depending too much on our own knowledge or experience, on our own will-power… and too little on Jesus, let us ask our Lord to come into our boat. Much more than the results of our own efforts, we are in great need of his presence. We see that our Lord did not promise them a great catch, and Simon did not expect it. But he knows that it is worthwhile working for our Lord: in verbo autem tuo laxabo retia , [5] at your word I will let down the nets.

Abandonment

Let us backtrack a bit and turn our attention to Jesus’ request. Put out into the deep, and let down your nets for a catch . [6] Duc in altum .Steer your boat into the deep water. To enter deeply into interior life, we need to give up keeping our feet on solid ground, totally under our control; we have to go where there might easily be waves, where the boat will rock and the soul realize that it doesn’t have control over everything, where we might sink if we fall into the water.

Wouldn’t it be safer on the shore, or where the water doesn’t come above our knees or waist, or at most our shoulders? Perhaps we would feel safer there. But on the shore no worthwhile fish can be caught. If we want to cast our nets for fish, we have to take the boat into the deep water and throw off our fear of losing sight of the shoreline.

How often Jesus chided his disciples for their fear! Why are you afraid, O men of little faith? [7] Don’t we too merit the same reproach? “Why don’t you have faith? Why do you want to control everything? Why is it so hard for you to walk when the sun isn’t shining in all its splendor?”

The soul instinctively tries to find reference points, signals that confirm it on its path. Our Lord often gives these to us, but we will not grow in interior life if we become obsessed by the need to measure our own progress.

Perhaps we have the experience that in moments of unease, when we aren’t sure of our course of action and are overcome by the desire to seek an answer at all costs, we end up attributing to some small circumstance an importance it doesn’t objectively have—a smile or a serious look, a word of praise or a rebuke, a favorable circumstance or a setback, can color with their bright or dark hues things with which they have no objective relation.

Growth in interior life does not depend on being sure of God’s will. An exaggerated desire for certainty is the point where voluntarism joins up with sentimentalism. At times, our Lord allows a lack of certainty which, well focused, helps us to grow in rectitude of intention. The important thing is to abandon ourselves in his hands, for it is by trusting in him that peace is found.

The goal of our struggle is not to provoke pleasant feelings. Often we will have them; other times not. A brief examination can help us discover that perhaps we are seeking them more frequently than we think, if not for themselves, then as a sign that our struggle is being effective.

We will find this, for example, in feeling discouraged when faced with a temptation to which we have not given in but which persists; in becoming upset because we find something hard and, we think, it shouldn’t be difficult for us; in noting displeasure because dedication does not bring with it the warm feelings we would like….

We have to struggle in what we can struggle in, without worrying about things that are not under our control. Our feelings are not totally subject to our will and we cannot try to make them so.

We have to learn to abandon ourselves, leaving the results of our struggle in God’s hands, for only abandonment, trust in God, can overcome this unrest. If we want to be successful fishermen, we have to take our boat in altum ,where we cannot reach the bottom. We have to overcome our desire to seek reference points, to be sure that we are going forward. But to attain this we have to rely on contrition.

Beginning again

Simon and his companions followed our Lord’s advice and they enclosed a great shoal of fish; and . . . their nets were breaking . [8] Those who came to help them also benefited from their daring, and the two boats were filled to overflowing, almost to the point of sinking. Such an extraordinarily abundant catch led Peter to realize the closeness of God and to feel himself unworthy of such familiarity: Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord . [9] Nevertheless, a few minutes later, they left everything and followed him . [10] And they were faithful till death.

Peter discovered our Lord in that extraordinary catch of fish. Would he have reacted the same way if his work the previous night had gone well? Perhaps not. Perhaps in an especially generous catch he would have recognized Christ’s assistance, but he would not have realized how close God was and that he owed everything to him. In order for the miracle to touch Simon’s soul, it was good that things had gone so badly the night before despite all his sincere effort.

Our Lord makes use of our defects to draw us to him, provided we make a sincere effort to overcome them. Therefore, in struggling, we have to love ourselves as we are, with our defects. Upon becoming man, the Word assumed the limitations that are part of the human condition, those against which we ourselves sometime rebel. On the path of identification with Christ, a key area is accepting our own limitations.

How often it is precisely the calm awareness of our own unworthiness that leads us to discover Christ at our side, because we see clearly that the fish we find in our net are not due to our own skill, but to God. And that experience fills us with joy and convinces us once more that it is contrition that leads us to advance in the interior life.

Then, like Peter, we throw ourselves at Jesus’ feet, and we leave behind everything—including the extraordinary catch—to follow him, because only he matters to us.

Prompt contrition marks out the path of joy. “Your interior life has to be just that: to begin…and to begin again.” [11] What deep joy our soul experiences when we discover in practice the meaning of these words! Never getting tired of beginning again: this is the secret of effectiveness and peace. Those who foster this attitude allow the Holy Spirit to work in their souls, cooperating with him, but without trying to take his place. They struggle with all their strength and with complete trust in God.


J Dieguez | Link

Footnotes: [1] Lk 5:5.

[2] The Forge ,no. 416.

[3] Jn 21:18.

[4] Cf. Mt 26: 34-35.

[5] Lk 5:5.

[6] Lk 5:4.

[7] Mt 8:26. Cf. Mt 14:31.

[8] Lk 5:6

[9] Lk 5:8.

[10] Lk 5:11.

[11] The Way , 292.

 

 

FINDING TRUE WISDOM IN GOD WHO IS TRUE LOVE


SCRIPTURE READINGS: Wis 7:7 – 11; Ps 89:12-17; Heb 4:12 – 13; Mk 10:17 – 30

Like the rich man in today’s gospel, we are all seeking for true happiness in life.  Like the rich man, we too ask, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?  Indeed, the truth is that many of us are like this man, so desperate to find the fullness of life.  This is particularly true for those of us who have already achieved much in life, especially in terms of career, business, wealth and pleasure.  The irony is that after spending all our energy, time, efforts and labour in securing wealth, power and status, we still find our lives empty and meaningless.  In spite of the fact that we have everything, we are not happy.

Sad to say, after so much striving, we only arrive at the realization that power cannot bring security.  Look at all the so-called powerful people around us, they are the most insecure.  They need security guards wherever they go.  They have no privacy. They need to hide from the public, especially the paparazzi.  And even when they have so much power, they never seem to be satisfied with the power they have.  Often, they feel threatened by others and so would always look at every person with fear and apprehension that one day they might snatch power from them.

If power cannot bring security, money cannot bring happiness as well.  True, money can provide a comfortable living and a life of pleasure.  But pleasure cannot bring happiness.   What is enjoyed is over the moment the pleasure ends.  Then one begins to feel empty and bored again.

What about glory, status and prestige?  They too cannot bring happiness.  If our lives are so dependent on what people think of us and how they look at us, then we will always live under the threat of rejection.  We become slaves to public opinion.  We spend our energy trying to stay popular in opinion polls.  We are not in control of our lives but the world and the public control us.  We do not do what we are convinced about or what we believe in.  We are prisoners and have no freedom of our own.  We do not overcome low self-esteem just by seeking popularity. Happiness begins with self-acceptance. When we cannot accept ourselves, even if the whole world congratulates us, we will never believe that we are good enough.  So the problem lies within oneself; not what the world thinks of us.

What is even more frustrating is that not only does happiness elude those who seek the things of the world, but even those who are supposedly faith believers cannot find happiness.  Many law-abiding Christians and Catholics, like the Jews in the gospel, are not happy.  They obey the laws but they do not appear to be happy and joyful.  They are obeying out of fear and with hidden hostility against God.  Life seems to be a tiresome set of rules to be followed, or one risks being punished by this vindictive God.  This was the case of the rich man.  When Jesus queried whether he had obeyed the commandments, his answer was in the affirmative.  Then why was he still not happy when he had fulfilled the laws.  Something was still missing.   Indeed, as Catholics and Christians, we must ask ourselves whether we are happy, joyful, liberated people. If we are not an alleluia people, then it shows that Christ has not set us free and He is not our savior.

Well, if religion cannot set us free and make us happy and give us fulfillment, then perhaps, doing humanitarian works might help.  This seems to be what Jesus was suggesting to the rich man when He said, “There is one thing you lack. Go and sell everything you own and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.”  Indeed, there are many philanthropists and those who have sufficient resources doing voluntary social work.  Although initially they might feel passionate and happy, but along the way they become resentful because of organizational, institutional, political and inter-personal clashes.  Also, sometimes the poor are not so easy to please either.  They can be rather demanding and unreasonable.  Caregivers in attending to them often feel exasperated and get hurt in the process.

What, then, is the crux of the problem?  Because we lack true wisdom! What is true wisdom?  This is what the author says about true wisdom.  “I esteemed her more than sceptres and thrones; compared with her, I held riches as nothing.  I reckoned no priceless stone to be her peer, for compared with her, all gold is a pinch of sand, and beside her silver ranks as mud. I loved her more than health or beauty, preferred her to the light, since her radiance never sleeps. In her company all good things came to me, at her hands riches not to be numbered.”  The day we come to see that riches, honour, health, beauty, etc are just illusions and are transitory, then we know what true wisdom is.  We will then not hanker after such things and even if we have them, they are not possessions to be hoarded but to be shared and given away or used for love and for mercy.

What can be even more lasting than the things of this world if not authentic love and lasting relationships?  But alas, even relationships today are so fragile.  True and lasting love is rare.  Beautiful relationships and even marriages break down.  So much so many of us are skeptical of relationships.  This explains why many have given up on marriage even.  Most are contented with passing relationships.  That is why even love alone cannot suffice, if we are seeking real happiness.  Human love, even if it were lasting, cannot make us truly happy because one of the partners will also die.  At any rate, total unconditional, caring love is rare today.

So what is the secret?  It is to follow Jesus.  The rich man was not simply told to give up his wealth.  Giving up your resources to the poor might not make you happy.  In fact, one might end up feeling short-changed and cheated that one has given up everything for nothing.   When we experience bitterness in service and ministry, we end up giving up faith completely in goodness and in human beings.  For this reason, Jesus did not say that the rich man would be happy if he were to give up everything.  The giving up of his wealth was a condition and preliminary to the following of Jesus.  Only in following Jesus, can the man be truly happy, not so much in giving up his wealth to the poor.

But in following Jesus, he will find happiness in giving up his wealth to the poor because he will live a life of true freedom and unconditional love.  He begins to live like the Lord, in love and in total dependence on God, detached from the things of this world.  The whole creation becomes his. He enjoys what he is given but not missing what he has not.  Indeed, the true wisdom is Christ Himself.  He is the wisdom of God in person.  Anyone who possesses wisdom has put on the mind of Christ.  When we discover Christ as the wisdom and the love of our life, and when we give ourselves totally to Him, we will find lasting and true happiness.  Only Christ can fill the emptiness in our hearts and only Christ can enlighten our minds.  Only Christ can fill us with the divine love of God and His inner peace and joy.  Living in and from Christ, we will find true joy and peace.

How, then, can we find Christ as our Wisdom?  Not by our own strength of course.  This is what the Lord told the disciples when they said, “In that case who can be saved?” Jesus gazed at them and said, “For men, it is impossible, but not for God: because everything is possible for God.”  Indeed, we cannot give up our wealth and follow Jesus without His grace.

The book of wisdom says we need to pray for His grace. “I prayed, and understanding was given me; I entreated, and the spirit of Wisdom came to me.” The psalmist prayed and his prayer was answered. Prayer indeed is the gate to the wisdom of God.  If we want to find Christ and His love, we need to pray.

Most of all, we are called to pray the scriptures.  Only the Word of God can enlighten us in the truth about love.  The author of Hebrews describes the power of the Word of God.  He wrote, “The word of God is something alive and active: it cuts like any double-edged sword but more finely: it can slip through the place where the soul is divided from the spirit, or joints from the marrow; it can judge the secret emotions and thoughts. No created thing can hide from him; everything is uncovered and open to the eyes of the one to whom we must give account of ourselves.” So if we are serious about true wisdom, distinguishing the illusory values of the world from what is true, lasting and valuable, we need the Word of God to help us and to guide us.  Most of all, only the Word of God can expose our deceptive ways of thinking, of which we may not even be conscious.

The result of prayer and discernment is to know the truth of God and His love for us.  We become freer in love and for love.  Because we know that our destiny lies in God ultimately, we no longer cling to this world and its possessions.  Because we know our destiny is to share in the life of God, we begin to live this life already.  That is why, like the apostles, we already have a foretaste of the kingdom that is to come.  Possessing nothing, we own everything.  This is what the Lord promised the apostles when they asked, “What about us? We have left everything and followed you.” Jesus said, “I tell you solemnly, there is no one who has left house, brothers, sisters, father, children or land for my sake and for the sake of the gospel who will not be repaid a hundred times over, houses, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and land – not without persecutions – now in this present time and, in the world to come, eternal life.”


Written by The Most Rev William Goh
Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore
© All Rights Reserved

Retweeted Posts

A collection of tweets from Twitter

  • Let us love! We can do no great things; only small things with great love. Blessed Teresa of Calcutta 
  • God never leads us where He cannot keep us. His grace is always sufficient for us in any and every circumstance of life. ‏@LovLikeJesus
  • t’s time to rise above those negative circumstances and believe what God says about you. You are blessed, favored, loved…
  • When you focus on God’s promises instead of the problems, you’ll notice your thoughts will be healthier and filled with peace. 
  • Consider it pure joy, whenever u face trials of many kinds, because u know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. -Jame 1:2 

THE DYNAMISM OF THE GOOD NEWS

SCRIPTURE READINGS: Col 1:1-8; Lk 4:38-44

The scripture lessons of today speak about the Good News of God.  Unfortunately, the fact is that today the Good News we proclaim does not sound like good news.  Not only in our preaching but even in our lives, we reflect not only stale news but even at times bad news.  But stale news is a contradiction in terms.  News, to be news, must be new.  If it is no longer new, then we can hardly call it news.  But it is not just news that we are called to proclaim, but the Good News.

How is it that our Good News has become stale or bad news?  The reason given in today’s gospel is simply this:  we want to domesticate the good news of God.  In the gospel, the people wanted to keep Jesus all for themselves.  So they tried to prevent Him from leaving.   Jesus must have been tempted to stay back in the village where He had healed many people.  He had indeed become very popular and well-sought after.  In fact, when things were going on so well for Him, it would not have made sense for Him to leave the place.  Yes, Jesus must have felt the temptation to build His own kingdom.  After all, who would want to leave a place when one is loved, known, idolized and always the center of attention?

There is a great temptation for us today to domesticate the Good News by insisting that everything remain unchanged.  Indeed, in the world today there is an opposition between the traditionalists and the progressives.  On one hand, there are those who do not want to see the Church changing to adapt to the new situations and the demands of our time.  They want the gospel to remain as it is and face the danger of redundancy as the message no longer resonates with our people.  Truth of course cannot be changed, but we need to know whether we are holding on to the truths or simply the facade.  Truths need to be applied to new situations because of new challenges.  Truths need to be represented in a new language and in a new context.

The demons too wanted to domesticate the good news by deceiving us into believing that we know Jesus when we do not.  That was why they proclaimed Jesus publicly as the Son of God.  Of course, Jesus rebuked them.  Why?  One might wonder.  Simply because Jesus knew that if the people heard from the demons that He was the Son of God, they would have been blinded from searching for Christ themselves.  The people would have deceived themselves into thinking that because they knew about His origin, they also knew Him personally.  Then they would not be bothered to seek Jesus for a deeper relationship.  It is just like those who have attended some talks on prayer and leave the seminar thinking that they now know all about centering prayer when in truth they have never even put it to practice on their own.  They have mistaken an intellectual knowledge of God and prayer for personal knowledge.   Indeed, for many of us who have been long in the faith, we think we have heard everything and that there is nothing more for us to learn.  We are no longer docile, receptive and teachable.   Those of us who study too much theology have a danger of thinking that we know much about God when our knowledge is mere cerebral knowledge, a knowledge that does not even affect the way we live our lives.  When there is no radical conversion or integrity of life in accordance with what we know or teach then we should be wary of thinking that we have the Good News.

How, then, can we preserve the Good News so that it will always remain good and fresh?  We can do so only if we recognize that God and life are dynamic.  Anything that is static is dead.  They are found only in the cemeteries and museums.  Anything that is alive is always dynamic.  Therefore, we must avoid the danger of settling down to our comfortable and set ways of living.  This can manifest itself in many ways.  For example, many of us get used to the routine of Church practices; the routine of parish life; the routine of prayer life.  Faith has become merely a culture, a way of life that we live without thinking or understanding.  We are doing what good Catholics must do, observing all the customs and laws but often without understanding and personal conviction.  At other times, it could be the set ways of thinking, the fixed ways of praying and understanding God in our lives; the lack of courage to change, to take risks and to venture out.   Undoubtedly, it is less risky to maintain our status quo than to take up new challenges in life.  But the fact is that, when we settle for a perpetuation of our status quo, we are settling for less in life.  Life will remain stagnant and there will be no growth.

On the other hand, those who do not enslave God and enslave themselves to their comfort zones and are willing to dance with the dynamism of life, will always find life alive.  Take the Christians in the first reading for example.  They were really living the Good News because they were in love with each other.  Of course, love is always creative and dynamic.  That is why people in love are always full of surprises.  When we fall out of love, creativity also dies.  Indeed, Jesus was a man who was truly alive because He had this deep love for His fellowmen.  That was what motivated Him to move on and to declare in no uncertain terms to those who wanted Him to stay that “To other towns I must announce the good news of the reign of God, because that is why I was sent.”  Indeed, if Jesus had chosen to stay, and even if He had been of use to the people there, it would have been more for Himself than for His fellowmen.

For this reason, we need to let go.  To the extent that we are willing to let go of our security and our needs, to that extent we will find life challenging and exciting.  But we can let go only if, like Jesus, we withdraw daily and often to re-examine our motives for doing things.  Prayer helps us to keep our perspectives right and prevent us from settling down to our neat concepts about God and life and our daily living.  Indeed, when things are getting too comfortable for us, perhaps, it is time for us to change.  In a nutshell, the Good News can retain its vigour and power only when we realize that we are pilgrims along the way.  Like Jesus, we must always move on in life, for that is the very nature of life and our calling.

Written by The Most Rev William Goh
Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore
© All Rights Reserved

Quotes from the Saints

Padre Pio 14

“You must follow him along the way of the cross, choosing to be crucified in his way, not yours”

St. Catherine of Siena

Pope Francis 4

“Do not presume to choose your own way of serving instead of the one I have made for you.”

St. Catherine of Sienna

“Remember then how our fathers worked out their salvation; remember the sufferings through which the Church has grown, and the storms the ship of Peter has weathered because it has Christ on board. Remember how the crown was attained by those whose sufferings gave new radiance to their faith. The whole company of saints bears witness to the unfailing truth that without real effort no one wins the crown.

St. Thomas Becket

“I plead with you! Never, ever give up on hope, never doubt, never tire, and never become discouraged. Be not afraid.”
– St. Pope John Paul II

Insp31

 

Like Our Lady, remain at the Cross of Jesus, and you will never be deprived of comfort.

– Padre Pio

Insp20

Do your best to conform always and in everything to the will of God, in all eventualities, and do not fear. This is the sure path to Heaven.

– Padre Pio

“Let us be neither dogs that do not bark nor silent onlookers nor paid servants who run away before the wolf. Instead let us be careful shepherds watching over Christ’s flock. Let us preach the whole of God’s plan to the powerful and to the humble, to rich and to poor, to men of every rank and age, as far as God gives us the strength, in season and out of season.”

– St. Boniface, Bishop and Martyr

Truth suffers, but never dies.

-St. Teresa of Avila

Oh, how everything that is suffered with love is healed again!

-St. Teresa of Avila

If we would advance in virtue, we must not neglect little things, for they pave the way to greater.

– St. Teresa of Avila

I exhort you to speak little and to pray very much.

–St. Gaspar del Bufalo

To do the will of God, man must despise his own; the more he dies to himself, the more he will live to God

– St.Peter Claver

Set aside time, and allot certain hours to the welfare of your soul.

-St. Augustine

Persecutions serve to bring forth saints

– St. Augustine

Padre Pio 15

“I prefer a church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets…”

– Pope Francis

How often we forget to dedicate ourselves to that which truly matters!  We forget that we are children of God

– Pope Francis

Great love can change small things into great ones, and it is only love which lends value to our actions.

-St. Faustina

It is not hard to obey when we love the one whom we obey

.- St. Ignatius Loyola

 

“It is a fault, not a virtue, to wish your humility recognized and applauded”

– St. Bernard of Clairvaux

Do not grieve over the temptations you suffer. When the Lord intends to bestow a particular virtue on us, He often permits us first to be tempted by the opposite vice. Therefore, look upon every temptation as an invitation to grow in a particular virtue and a promise by God that you will be successful, if only you stand fast.
–St. Philip Neri

Let us abandon everything to the merciful providence of God

  • — St. Albert the Great

Hope means hoping when everything seems hopeless

–G.K. Chesterton

Lord, don’t let me chicken out if you have something hard for me to do

— Mother Angelica

Padre Pio 11

Padre Pio 20

Padre Pio 2Padre Pio 5

 

WRESTLING WITH GOD

SCRIPTURE READINGS: GN 32:23-33; MT 9:32-38

It is difficult to accept changes in life.  Many of us would rather mantain the status quo. Change, whether in our personal life, work or lifestyle, can be rather daunting.  Especially difficult, is when we have to adapt to changes in the organization we are working for due to restructuring, expansion or downsizing.  Change can cause us much stress and many of us cannot cope with it.  Instead of being open to the new possibilities and future benefits, we put up all kinds of resistance until we find ourselves unable to fight the changes any longer.  For many of us, change is forced upon us rather than a choice taken happily and freely.  In the scripture readings, we have two groups of people facing radical changes in their lives.

In the first instance, we have Jacob who had to make a radical change in moving back from Haran, where his uncle lived, and return to the Promised Land.  His return to his homeland was certainly not easy, for by then he had already married two wives and had eleven children.  He was also a rich man then, and had many possessions.  But what made him fearful and insecure was what his brother Esau might to do to him or his family.  He knew that through devious means, he had cheated his brother of his birthright.  He was nervous as to what his brother would do if he were to return home, since he had threatened to kill him earlier.  With all these fears and anxieties, it would have been better to stay put in Haran.  But he did not.  God’s promise to Jacob must be fulfilled.

So on the night before he was due to meet his brother, we read of how Jacob struggled with God, seeking for direction and affirmation as to whether he was doing the right thing in returning home.  During the night, he encountered an angel and wrestled with him till daybreak, resulting in a dislocated hip.  He refused to let the angel go until he was blessed by him.  He also wanted to know the name of God, which in the Old Testament signified power over the person.  Of course God would not reveal His name and allow him to have power over Him.

Instead, God gave him a new name, Israel, and His blessings as well.  The new name, “Israel” means one who contends with God.  To be given a new name is to be given a new mission as well.  In other words, through this incident, Jacob, now called Israel, is given a new vocation.  Through him God would fulfill the promises He made to his ancestors Abraham and Isaac.  Through this encounter with God, he was now assured that God was with him.  As a result of this conversion experience, Jacob was deeply changed as well in his character and life.  No longer was he devious, cunning and lacking integrity.  From then on, he became a faithful servant of God, living a life of honesty and integrity.

Jacob’s struggle to be faithful to God’s will and trusting His divine providence is but one of the struggles of the nation of Israel in their fidelity to God.  Again and again the people of Israel were challenged to abandon their false gods and the adoption of Canaanite culture and the worship of their vegetation deities.   It is also reminiscent of all of us who struggle with God when change is required of us.  One should also note that those who were healed by the Lord were required to make changes in their lives.  Perhaps that also explains why some people do not want to get well because they are so used to having people take care of them, pampering and fussing over their needs.  The hard truth is that once we are well, we are expected to work hard and do help ourselves.  So there are some people who physically and subconsciously might not want to get well for fear that they would lose the attention of people.  Indeed, when the man with the dumb demoniac was set free, he was asked to go back and fulfill his responsibilities in life.

How then should we, in our dilemma, wrestle with the Lord?  Like Jacob, we must spend time in prayer, confronting our fears, anxieties and hurts.  Without introspection, we cannot purify our motives or conquer our hidden fears.  We cannot grow in our spiritual life unless we allow the light and truth of God to bring to light the dark shadows in our lives.  Prayer is the way to speak with God in our struggles and, most of all, seek His divine assistance, like the psalmist in the responsorial psalm.  He and his people also had to struggle in their faith in divine justice.  He said, “In justice, I shall behold your face, O Lord. Hear, O Lord, a just suit; attend to my outcry; hearken to my prayer from lips without deceit. I call upon you, for you will answer me, O God; incline your ear to me; hear my word. Show your wondrous mercies, O savior of those who flee from their foes. Hide me in the shadow of your wings. I in justice shall behold your face; on waking, I shall be content in your presence.”

Secondly, we must surrender our will and desires to the Lord.  Jesus in His healing miracles showed how He surrendered Himself to the Lord.  He, too, had to make changes in His ministry.  The gospel tells us that Jesus recognized that the mission of proclaiming the Good News to the poor could not be done by Him alone, in spite of His many tours, “through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the Good News of the kingdom and curing all kinds of diseases and sickness.”  The more He reached out, the more He came to realize the magnitude of the people’s physical and spiritual hunger.  “And when he saw the crowds he felt sorry for them because they were harassed and dejected, like sheep without a shepherd.”

In such a situation, He saw the need to change His strategy.  He decided to appoint disciples to be shepherds after His own heart.  He told them, “The harvest is rich but the labourers are few, so ask the Lord of the harvest to send labourers to his harvest.”  Following this episode, St Matthew in the next chapter recounts the calling and the appointment of the Twelve who, too, were given the same “authority over unclean spirits … and to heal every disease and infirmity.” (Mt 10:1)  Jesus was a man of courage and vision.  He was ready to change.  And this appointment, we read in the gospels, came about through deep and prolonged prayer at the mountain.  “In these days, he went out to the mountain to pray; and all night he continued in prayer to God.  And when it was day, he called his disciples and chose from them twelve, whom he named apostles.”  (Lk 6:12-13)

As Christians bearing the name after Christ, we, too, have been given a new vocation. We must be conscious like Jacob that we are called to be God’s chosen people and His instruments of unity in the world.  We must also take courage in being faithful to our calling and our status as the sons and daughters of God.  We too are called to be shepherds after the heart of Christ, whether at home, in Church or in society.  Such a task requires that we be ready to make changes in our lives, our way of ministering to our people, evangelizing and proclaiming the Good News and in our way of serving the people of God.  Those who are labourers in the world must also consider how best they can serve society so that they can bring about greater harmony, justice and peace for all.

To ensure that we are doing God’s will and doing the right thing, we must bring all our projects and plans to God in prayer for Him to approve and endorse. Without seeking the Lord’s blessing as Jacob did, we will not be able to accomplish the plan He has in store for us.  And if we find ourselves not at ease with what we are doing, it means that we need to discern further till we find peace in our decision.  And we can be certain that if we wrestle with God till we get the answer like Jacob did, we will be able to give ourselves wholeheartedly to what we are doing, even in times of difficulties because we know that God is with us.


Written by The Most Rev William Goh
Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore
© All Rights Reserved

Temptations

Do not grieve over the temptations you suffer. When the Lord intends to bestow a particular virtue on us, He often permits us first to be tempted by the opposite vice. Therefore, look upon every temptation as an invitation to grow in a particular virtue and a promise by God that you will be successful, if only you stand fast.
–St. Philip Neri