by f. Luis CASASUS, General Superior of the men’s branch of the Idente missionaries.
New York/Paris, February 07, 2021. | V Sunday in Ordinary Time.
Book of Job 7: 1-4.6-7; 1 Corinthians 9: 16-19.22-23; Saint Mark 1: 29-39.
In these times, we are all impressed and sensitized by the sanitary emergency the world is going through. Each of us has lived painful experiences, some very close or personal, of what pain and illness is, and at the same time we see how the Holy Spirit takes advantage of this situation, which does not come from God, to touch hearts.
The First Reading and the Gospel speak to us today of situations of illness and pain and in the Second Reading St. Paul already gives us a concise instruction on how the disciple of Jesus should behave in the face of the pain and limitations of others: To the weak I became weak, to win over the weak. On another occasion, Paul summarizes his attitude toward the suffering of others in this way: To weep with those who weep (Rom 12:15). This is very different from what we sometimes do: sometimes ignoring or playing down the suffering of others, other times falling into sadness and discouragement at our inability to help them or to alleviate their pain.
To weep with those who weep is, in reality, what God himself did and does with us: Love is: also the fullest source of the answer to the question of the meaning of suffering. This answer has been given by God to man in the Cross of Jesus Christ (SalvificiDoloris).
Once during Queen Victoria’s reign, she heard that the wife of a common laborer had lost her baby. Having experienced deep sorrow herself, she felt moved to express her sympathy. So she called on the bereaved woman one day and spent some time with her. After she left, the neighbors asked what the queen had said. Nothing, replied the grieving mother. She simply put her hands on mine, and we silently wept together.
It is clear that we feel limited when we face the pain and illnesses of ur neighbor. As the Greek physician Hippocrates (460-370 BC) said, the duty of medicine is sometimes to heal, often to afford relief, and always to bring consolation.
Job’s story is particularly illustrative, for it presents us with a good person, who is afflicted not only by illness, but by something even more painful, which is separation from the people he loves and estrangement from his friends. Even his wife is disgusted and in an uncontrollable rage, shouts: Do you still hold on to your integrity? Curse God and die! (Job 2:9).
Job receives no explanation of the reason for his tribulations. In fact, at the end of the Book of Job we read we read these words of Yahweh: Who is this that obscures my plans with words without knowledge? (Job 38: 2).
However, God’s answer comes clearly, in the form of facts, at the end of Job’s life. Yahweh entrusts him to pray for his friends and they are forgiven and comforted. In the Epilogue we read: My servant Job will pray for you, and I will accept his prayer and not deal with you according to your folly. There we have an example of the redemptive value of pain: it changes the hearts of others, even though many times suffering or witnessing suffering begins by producing discouraged indignation or even abandonment of faith. But God has plans for our happiness and for joining us that no tragedy can derail.
It is a masochistic, sadistic or thoughtless attitude to say that pain, in itself, can be good or, worse, that God produces it to teach us something. On the contrary, today’s Gospel text tells us that Jesus was obliged to soothe the desperate suffering of people, healing them, so that they could receive the Good News: He went into their synagogues, preaching and driving out demons throughout the whole of Galilee. Jesus did not get involved in theoretical disquisitions on pain. His solution: evil exists and is not to be explained, but fought.
Jesus recognized the claim of everyone. Whenever there was trouble Jesus was close to them. There are many ways to be close to people who suffer and it is the responsibility of the disciple of Christ to discover the most appropriate one at every moment, when many become discouraged and believe that nothing can be done. But even small gestures can change everything if Providence decides to use them.
This news appeared a some years ago in a newspaper:
Douglas, a 15 years old boy, had been feeling bad for several days. His mother took him to the hospital where he was diagnosed as having leukemia.
The doctors told him in frank terms about his disease. They said that for the next three years, he would have to undergo chemotherapy. They didn’t sugarcoat the side effects. They told him he would go bald and that his body would most likely bloat. Upon learning this, he went into a deep depression.
His aunt called a floral shop to send the young man an arrangement of flowers. She told the clerk that it was for her teenage nephew who had leukemia. When the flowers arrived at the hospital, they were beautiful. Douglas read the card from his aunt without emotion. Then he saw that, in the envelope, was another card. His mother said that the second card must have been placed in the envelope by mistake; it must have been meant for another floral arrangement, for another person.
But the card said: Douglas, I took your order. I work at Brix Florist. I had leukemia when I was seven years old. I’m 22 years old now. Good Luck. My heart goes out to you. Sincerely, Laura.
His mother said, For the first time since he had been in the hospital, he had gotten some inspiration. He had talked to so many doctors and nurses. But this one card, from the woman at the florist`s who had survived leukemia, was the thing that made him believe he might beat the disease.
It is interesting: Douglas was in a hospital filled with the most sophisticated technological equipment. He was being treated by expert doctors and nurses with competent medical training. But it was a sales clerk in a flower shop, a young inexperienced woman, who, by taking the time to care, and by being willing to go with what her heart told her to do, gave Douglas hope and the will to carry on.
Pope Francis, in a few lines, summarized today’s Gospel teaching, saying:
Prayer was the rudder that guides Jesus’ course. It was not success, it was not consensus, it was not the seductive phrase everyone is searching for you, that dictated the stages of His mission. The path Jesus charted was the least comfortable one, but it was the one by which He obeyed the Father’s inspiration, which Jesus heard and welcomed in His solitary prayer.(November 4, 2020)
But what Jesus really comes to do? He refuses to limit His ministry to one place or to encourage the belief of a coming worldly Kingdom of God, responding to Simon, He said: Let us go the neighboring towns so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do. And Jesus travels throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message of the spiritual Kingdom of God in the synagogues and cast out demons. So Jesus came to do three major things in His ministry as examples in our lives: He heals, He prays and He announces.
He is concerned with the problem of suffering in all its forms because He cures people who are afflicted in various ways. Even Himself has to undergo terrible sufferings. It seems that all the sufferings of Jesus where those inflicted on Him from the outside like: ridicule, insult, persecution, cruelty of His enemies, the Cross and the unfaithfulness of His friends but never bring about by internal organic illness.
He spent a lot of time with people. He walked with them. He ate with them. He traveled through cities and villages to go where people were in need. But before Jesus did anything, before he preached; before he healed; he always prayed. He never preached, or healed until he knew His Father’s Will. He was a man after His Father’s heart and for that reason alone, he knew why he was on this earth.
We all know that authentic prayer is, above all, listening, not talking too much. But this listening and this silence, paradoxically, begin with a cry. Little is said about the meaning of shouting in prayer, which of course does not mean speaking with a loud voice. When a person shouts, he is making it clear that the only thing he is interested in, the only thing he wants to transmit is what is coming out of his lips at that moment. It is a shout linked to crying, like a child who wants to attract the attention of his mom or dad and whose message is: I am only interested -and very much so- in what I am crying about, such as the pain after having fallen, or doing some activity that he considers very important. The prayer of Job is made of cries and tears.
There is great power in prayers fueled with tears. Those who go out weeping, carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with them (Psalm 126:6).
This is the testimony of our Father and Founder (In the Heart of the Father):
I say about myself, in spite of all my faults or defects, that all my life has been a shout of love and supplication to the Father. This is my prayer:
–Father, I have always loved You, and I will always love You; I have spent my whole life begging You for help!
Every human being possesses the dispositional of grace to be able to have or to acquire this conscience of love and of help. In order to receive it, you need to be disposed to love, to reach the extreme of not deliberately committing any fault, and to exclaim every morning upon awakening:
–Father, I beg Your forgiveness for my mistakes, for the possible faults that I could commit today!Fernando Rielo, En el corazón del Padre
Children are masters of prayer, they give a clear sign of what their interest is, and that is the first thing we have to do in our prayer, showing that nothing can distract us, that we are, therefore, ready to listen. That is the cry of our heart, not of our mouth. For example, St. Cyprian tells us: God does not listen to the voice, but to the heart. That cry of the heart we express at the beginning of the Eucharist with the Penitential Act, confident that God will accept our lament, as he accepted the prayer of the publican (Lk 18: 10-14). Jesus had no sin, but to give a clear sign of attention, obedience and priority to listen to the will of the Father, he withdraws to a deserted place to pray. Afterwards, and only afterwards, will come any other activity.
If after our silent prayer, we do not come up with any interesting ideas, nor do we feel stronger, then we have certainly received the most important thing: the conviction that only God can change our lives and He does so when He judges it opportune and in the way that is truly convenient for us.
At the end let us reflect on what Pope Saint John Paul II in his ad limina address to U.S. Bishops on December 3, 1983:
Only a worshipping and praying Church can show herself sufficiently sensitive to the needs of the sick, the suffering, the lonely especially in the great urban centers and the poor everywhere. The Church as a community of service has first to feel the weight of the burden carried by many individuals and families and then strive to help alleviate these burdens. In prayer the Church is confirmed in her solidarity with the weak who are oppressed, the vulnerable who are manipulated, the children who are exploited and everyone who is in any way discriminated against.Saint John Paul II in his ad limina address to U.S. Bishops on December 3, 1983