|Rev.Fr. Augustine Vallooran V.C.|
What is most deafening to the human consciousness is the silence of God. We hear the psalmist crying out, “How long, O Lord? Wilt thou forget me for ever? How long wilt thou hide thy face from me? How long must I bear pain in my soul, and have sorrow in my heart all the day? How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?” (Psalm 13:1-2) Greater than the trials in his life is the faith that ensures his triumph – a faith that makes him consider the unchanging nature of God’s Love. “But I have trusted in thy steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in thy salvation.” (Psalm 13:5) It is this faith that will ensure the victory that lies hidden in every seeming defeat. This is the indeed the purpose of our faith.
“Who Ever Called Upon Him And Was Overlooked?” (Sirach 2:10)
Often, we are lost wondering why God should be so indifferent to our prayers and our problems. We believe and we pray because we have the Scriptural exhortation - "Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you.” (Matthew 7:7) This is a promise that the Lord Himself urges us to take on and yet there are moments when we ask and nothing is given; and when we knock and the door of Heaven seems tightly shut. Often we look for His Face and God seems to be far away from us. The song of the psalmist strikes a chord with our situation, “For thou art the God in whom I take refuge; why hast thou cast me off?” (Psalm 43:2) When things go wrong with our lives we are upset and we are unable to understand how this could be so – after Him promising that He is there all the time - waiting to answer our prayers. We feel like complaining as Martha did, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” (John 11:21) Scripture however continually assures us that God gives us promises that have the in-built certitude of fulfillment. “God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change His mind. Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it?” (Numbers 23:19) There is a mystery here and this is the mystery of faith!
There is a very moving passage in the Gospel that unveils this mystery of faith. It is the incident where a Canaanite woman approaches Jesus seeking a healing for her daughter who is possessed by demons (Matthew 15:21-28). A desperate mother meets with an indifferent Lord! Apparently rejected, she perseveres in her faith and wins the Lord’s Favour and the daughter’s life. The evangelist records that Jesus withdrew to the Canaanite region of Tyre and Sidon when this pagan approaches Him for a healing. He seems strikingly indifferent to the cry of this poor Cannanite. Here is a woman in her misery crying out to the Lord, “Master, son of David, my daughter is tormented by a demon. I can’t see her suffering like this, have mercy on me.” Jesus would seem impassive and unmoved and there is not a word from Him in response. Even the disciples appear more sympathetic towards her and plead her case, “Please Lord, do something for her. She’s calling after us.” The response of Jesus sounds like a discordant note from the compassionate disposition of the Rabbi they had all along walked with: “I have been sent only for the lost sheep of Israel. This is a pagan woman who does not qualify for my attention or for heaven’s graces.” Undeterred, this woman rushes to Him begging Him, “Please Master, have mercy on me.” The Lord gets even harder as He now takes on a despising tone remarking that “The bread of children is not thrown for the dogs.” Even then the distressed mother does not take offence but continues to plead, saying, “Master consider the poor dogs. Where will they go? They wait for the little scraps falling from the table of their master.” At this moment Jesus turns to applaud her, “Woman, great is your faith, let it be done for you as you wish.” (Matthe 15:28) One is kept marvelling what the singular greatness of the woman’s faith could be. Her faith becomes remarkable for she was ready to wait upon the Lord and to cry until the Lord would answer her. She did not rebel in anger or walk away in despair. She did not slide into self-pity. Faced with this seemingly adamant attitude of the Lord ignoring her plight and her plea, she did not question the Lord. Rather it was a deep and profound faith in the Lord that sustains her. “The prayer of the humble pierces the clouds, and he will not be consoled until it reaches the Lord; he will not desist until the Most High visits him, and does justice for the righteous, and executes judgment.” (Sirach 35:17) In this Canaanite woman, we see a humble and patient waiting and an unquestioning belief in what God can and will do for the seeker. She is rejected yet she continues asking, knocking at the door, seeking until her prayer is answered. This firm and determined adherence to the Lord marks the greatness of her faith. She was not tired of praying or impatient in waiting. She continued to have her trust in God. If she had followed her senses she would have thought that the Lord had no intention of saving her. But the depth of her faith was superior to the great challenge before her! Jesus exemplifies this as the faith for every one of us claiming to believe in Him.
“He Has Made Everything Beautiful In Its Time” (Ecclesiastes 3:11)
Scripture assures us that if we are ready to wait upon God, we will never be disappointed. He will answer our prayers. Our waiting can never be in vain when it is the Lord whom we wait for. The evangelist John describes how Martha felt defeated when the Lord made her wait. “Master, I sent word to you. I waited for you. But you did not come. Now you arrive and my brother is dead and buried for four days in the tomb.” Jesus exhorts her to the way of faith - “Did I not tell you that if you would believe you would see the glory of God?” (John 11:40) Martha rises to believe and she indeed saw the Glory of God. To everyone waiting, the Lord gives the assurance that the glorious will be manifested. To believe in God requires of us to wait on him biding His Time.
It is often that we want things our way. We are intent on God honouring our timetable. We are puzzled why there is not God’s instant answer to our prayer because our expectations are set in a time frame of our life which we have fixed. It would be good for us to pause and consider whether we are really sure that what we have planned would be the best for us. When we thus wait giving God a space to speak into our way of thinking and living, we will mature in faith. Waiting always releases maturity into our lives. St. Paul explains this, “We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us.” (Romans 5:3-5) It is during suffering that we must wait for the Lord. It is in such maturity of waiting that our suffering can be transformed to joy.
The mark of one’s spiritual maturity is one’s singular focus in the Lord. One’s eyes are set on Him and one’s life is entrusted into His hands. I need to be totally surrendered to God’s Plan in the implicit confidence that God’s Time is the best time for me and God’s Plan is the right plan for me. There is often a childish immaturity in our hearts. The child cries when it wants something that catches its fancy and is insistent on it being given immediately. The parent, however, knows that the child’s demand cannot be complied or given in to at that instant. There must be a reason to it which is beyond the child’s comprehension. This is what often happens to us, adults though we may be. We need to wait upon God and when we do so we are told God is waiting for us. The prophecy of Isaiah gives us a beautiful picture of the spirituality of waiting. “Therefore the Lord waits to be gracious to you; therefore he exalts himself to show mercy to you. For the Lord is a God of justice; blessed are all those who wait for Him.” (Isaiah 30:18) In our waiting is our blessedness.
“Blessed Are Those Who Have Not Seen And Yet Believe” (John 20:29)
There is a commonly seen, superficial thinking which holds that if we are right with God, all things must go well with us. If things went wrong, we begin to doubt our own selves and doubt God’s own Presence with us. This was the predicament of Job, the man of great suffering, who at one point, wondered what had invited such tragedy into his life as he mourns - “If I sin, what do I do to thee, thou watcher of men? Why hast thou made me thy mark? Why have I become a burden to thee?” (Job 7:20) When we strike a bad patch and experience a difficult time, we are terrified imagining that it is an extreme test to our faith. God’s Word is there to assure us that there is a Divine Purpose behind every such trial and suffering that we are put through. It is the trial by fire, the attestation of our faith by which we shall bear the fruits of maturity. In the journey of our lives, we are bound to traverse occasions when circumstances will be unfavourable. In such moments, it is our mature, consummate faith what will enable us to hold on, never giving up on God. How can we establish ourselves on this sure foundation of a firm faith? St. Peter affirms that it is the trials of life that will prove us and make our faith a precious asset for us - “In this you rejoice, though now for a little while you may have to suffer various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith, more precious than gold which though perishable is tested by fire, may redound to honor Jesus.” (1 Peter 1:67)
One cannot speak of faith without referring to the patriarch Abraham. Abraham is a man whom God tests to the extent of being led to the readiness to sacrifice his only son. Abraham waits on God to the last moment. In fact, it is only in the last split second that God intervenes. Abraham was ready to go the way the Lord had set for him even if it meant the most painful sacrifice of his one precious son. His faith made him submit to what was God’s Will – “Though I do not understand, I believe God understands and I am ready to comply with the plan of God.” He takes his son Isaac, climbs up the mountain. Along the way, the son turns to ask the father “Dad we are going up to the top of this Mount Moriah to offer sacrifice. To burn the offering there is the firewood, to kill the lamb we have the knife, but where is the sacrificial victim?” Abraham’s heart missed a beat. Definitely he could not tell the child, “Son, you are the victim.” Abraham turns and tells his son, “God will provide himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” (Genesis 22:8) They go all the way to the top of the Mount Moriah. Abraham picked the stones, built the altar, spread the firewood and with one leap took hold of the boy. He pinned him down on the altar and tying him up took the knife and raising it up cried out to Yahweh. The next moment Isaac would be dead, blood would gush out of his wound, a wound inflicted by his own dad. The sacrifice of his son was his own sacrifice. But that was not to be for in that last split of a second God intervenes, calling out to him “Abraham, it’s not your son that I want. It is you that I want, your undivided heart. Now I know you love me in truth for you care for me more than for your own son.”
On Mount Moriah, Abraham became the ‘father of all believers’. We too have such Mount Moriahs in our lives where our faith is tested towards the goal of maturity. Then our faith will become an inspiration for hundreds and thousands of people around us.
There have been times when we turned to God seeking a healing from a burdensome sickness, a crucial success in an examination, a breakthrough in a tough situation such as a financial crisis and God intervened. We rejoiced and praised God! But the crucial factor is whether when what we asked was not granted, we would still be able to praise God. Would I be able to praise God even when I cannot find God? St. John of the Cross speaks about the dark night of the soul. It is revealed how Blessed Mother Teresa of Kolkata spent months and years where she could not even feel the Presence of God. She complains to God, “God I always obeyed you. I did things the world would not understand all because I looked to Your direction. But now I am unable to go forward. I am stuck. God, where are you?” A great woman of faith who waited upon God through long dark years of spiritual dryness. She was made to go through this long sojourn in darkness to be made mature. To believe is to know that behind the darkness and the silence, God is there waiting to show favour to me. In such maturity of faith we shall become an inspiration to all.
“Although He Was A Son, He Learned Obedience Through What He Suffered” Hebrews 5:8-9)
Scripture clearly reiterates - there is but one process of maturation in faith and that is to wait in suffering. We are told that when we suffer and our prayers are not answered, we must wait patiently for God, for indeed God is counting us as His own children (Hebrews 12:5-8). The Father knows that the children are to become mature. Maturing is a painful process that involves many sacrifices. Someone who wants to run for the Olympics has to wake up early morning, day after day, month after month, year after year and run and practice so that the muscles, bones and the entire body become matured - making the person fit to run and win the race. There is a process of sacrifice to achieve the much-coveted greatness. Similarly this Scripture explains that our sonship is testified by the seal of suffering. If everything we ask for were to be granted, it could be a question mark on us as to God’s concern for us which would not allow us to be spoilt. We spoil a child by granting everything that it asks. But if we have a vision for the child’s well-being, there has to be discipline as well as restraint on the child by which alone the child could be moulded and perfected. It is for our own sake that there are times when God waits and these are times we have to suffer want, humiliation, poverty and failure. But we do not wait alone. God waits with us; watching us overcome the test and reach maturity where our lives gain beauty and value. A chosen person is called to be trained in the school of adversity. “If you come forward to serve the Lord, prepare yourself for trial… Accept whatever is brought upon you, and in changes that humble you be patient. For gold is tested in the fire, and acceptable men in the furnace of humiliation.” (Sirach 2:1-4,5) Therefore we rejoice for every adversity becomes for us the assurance of God’s Special Favour and choice for us!
Let Us Pray:
Lord God, You love us. Your dream for us is as tremendous as Your Love is. Beyond what we can imagine or understand is what You have prepared for us in Your Great Love. Yet, O Lord, there were times we could not understand or accept Your Love. All we could see and insist on was our way. When sufferings came we rebelled against You. We thought You were absent. We imagined Your silence was a rejection. But today we know You never gave up on us even when we gave up on You.
We treasure every moment trial and pain for You were with us and in Your great unchanging Love, You continue to walk with us, transforming us into Your own glorious image. We thank You, Lord, for the seal of Your Love that is upon us. Indeed O Lord, we marvel at how great Your Love is for us - that You should call us Your own children. In this confidence of love, O God, we will take up our cross and glorify You with every breath we have.