Friday, January 22, 2016

Joy In Suffering

Our first reading from 14 January 2016, does not fill us with enthusiasm; it, instead, could possibly referred to as depressing:
At that time, the Philistines gathered for an attack on Israel. Israel went out to engage them in battle and camped at Ebenezer, while the Philistines camped at Aphek. The Philistines then drew up in battle formation against Israel. After a fierce struggle Israel was defeated by the Philistines, who killed about four thousand men on the battlefield. When the troops retired to the camp, the elders of Israel said, “Why has the Lord permitted us to be defeated today by the Philistines? Let us fetch the ark of the Lord from Shiloh that it may go into battle among us and save us from the grasp of our enemies.” So the people sent to Shiloh and brought from there the ark of the Lord of hosts, who is enthroned upon the cherubim. The two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, accompanied the ark of God. When the ark of the Lord arrived in the camp, all Israel shouted so loudly that the earth shook. The Philistines, hearing the uproar, asked, “What does this loud shouting in the camp of the Hebrews mean?” On learning that the ark of the Lord had come into the camp, the Philistines were frightened, crying out, “Gods have come to their camp. Woe to us! This has never happened before. Woe to us! Who can deliver us from the power of these mighty gods? These are the gods who struck the Egyptians with various plagues in the desert. Take courage and act like soldiers, Philistines; otherwise you will become slaves to the Hebrews, as they were your slaves. Fight like soldiers!” The Philistines fought and Israel was defeated; everyone fled to their own tents. It was a disastrous defeat; Israel lost thirty thousand foot soldiers. The ark of God was captured, and Eli’s two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, were dead. [1]
The responsorial Psalm could possibly drive our spirits lower:
But now you have rejected and disgraced us; you do not march out with our armies. You make us retreat before the foe; those who hate us plunder us at will. You make us the reproach of our neighbors, the mockery and scorn of those around us. You make us a byword among the nations; the peoples shake their heads at us. Awake! Why do you sleep, O Lord? Rise up! Do not reject us forever! Why do you hide your face; why forget our pain and misery?
Hence, we cry out, “Rise up, help us!
Redeem us in your mercy.”

God does not desire that we be downtrodden; He desires that we rejoice, be joyful. Therefore, it is necessary that He chastise those that He loves. When sin does no longer bothers us, when we begin to think that particular sins are not bad, He must allow the consequences of those sins to disturb us, to turn us back to Himself, and goodness and happiness. It is through suffering that we are made perfect, just as the Author of our faith, Jesus, was made perfect through suffering, as we are told in the epistles to the Hebrews. If the Head must suffer, the Body must also suffer, including its members. When we “fight” the sin(s) in our earthy bodies, suffering takes place. Also, many times, in many places, the Church suffers outside persecution. This is the Body suffering as its Head suffered. Nonetheless, we must not disparage, for our Hope is “on the other side.” As one early Church Father surmised, “The sooner we live this world, the sooner we escape sin (paraphrasing).

Our Gospel reading is from St. Mark:
A leper came to him [and kneeling down] begged him and said, “If you wish, you can make me clean.” Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand, touched him, and said to him, “I do will it. Be made clean.” The leprosy left him immediately, and he was made clean. Then, warning him sternly, he dismissed him at once. Then he said to him, “See that you tell no one anything, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer for your cleansing what Moses prescribed; that will be proof for them.” The man went away and began to publicize the whole matter. He spread the report abroad so that it was impossible for Jesus to enter a town openly. He remained outside in deserted places, and people kept coming to him from everywhere. [2]
Now, leprosy reminds us of sin, that we are sinners. St. Mark, in his gospel, is telling us that it is His will that we be made clean and that He will make us clean when we come to Him for cleansing. We do have our sins washed away in order to remain empty; we are cleansed and then filled with the Holy Spirit in order that we may do good works, the works of our Father, loving our neighbor as ourselves because of the love we have of Him because of what He has done. Because of the concupiscence that is in us, we still suffer, fighting that tendency to sin. Where our first reading and the responsorial Psalm might be depressing, the Gospel reading shows us how to have joy in that suffering.

All week, we have been in the first chapter of St. Mark. The evangelist begins with Baptism, which is a portrayal of Jesus’ death and resurrection, reminding us that we die with Him and are raised with Him. Therefore, his Gospel begins with Jesus’ death and resurrection and ends with His death and resurrection, and our ascending with Him to the Father. Because we are ascending with Jesus to the Father, we are not saved for our sakes but for the Father’s. This is why we have joy in suffering.

St. Mark, in the first chapter of his Gospel, mentions three miracles. What St. Bede sees in these three miracles is very enlightening. The first miracle was casting out a demon; the second, the healing of the fever of St. Peter’s mother-in-law; and, of course, the third, the healing of the leper in today’s Gospel reading. In his “Catena Aurea – Gospel of Mark,” St. Thomas Aquinas quotes St. Bede as to the first miracle:

“Since by the envy of the devil death first entered into the world, it was right that the medicine of healing should first work against the author of death; and therefore it is said, ‘And there was in their synagogue a man [with an unclean spirit; and he cried out]’…”

As to the second miracle, St. Bede is quoted, “First, it was right that the serpent’s tongue should be shut up, that it might not spread any more venom; then that the woman, who was first seduced, should be healed from the fever of carnal concupiscence. The health which is conferred at the command of the Lord, returns at once entire, accompanied with such strength that she is able to minister to those of whose help she had before stood in need.”

With regard to the third miracle: “Again, if we suppose that the man delivered from the devil means, in the moral way of interpretation, the soul purged from unclean thoughts, fitly does the woman cured of a fever by the command of God mean the flesh, restrained from the heat of its concupiscence by the precepts of continence…After that the serpent-tongue of the devils was shut up, and the woman, who was first seduced, cured of a fever, in the third place, the man, who listened to the evil counsels of the woman, is cleansed from his leprosy, that the order of restoration in the Lord might be the same as was the order of the fall in our first parents.” St. Bede, of course, is applying these miracles to the Fall of mankind in the Garden. It needs to be noted that these healings come through Baptism, because of Jesus’ Passion and Resurrection. Joy comes through suffering. Suffering comes as a result of sin, and joy comes from the suffering of dying to sin. When we fail to die to sin because of our frailty, we have the recourse of getting back up and continuing on the Way through the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Joy through suffering.
--Tommy Turner

[1] New American Bible, Revised Edition., (Washington, DC: The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2011), 1 Sa 4:1–11.
[2] New American Bible, Revised Edition., (Washington, DC: The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2011), Mk 1:40–45.