TWENTY-SEVENTH SUNDAY OF ORDINARY TIME (C)
Life is hard sometimes. I'm sure you don't need me to tell you that. If you have not yet experienced hardship and tragedy in your life, it is coming. That is the human condition. One of the noble aspects of the Christian faith is that it does not deny this reality. Our faith embraces it. Just look at how our first reading today begins, from the opening of the Book of the Prophet Habakkuk. The prophet is pleading with God, "How long, O Lord? I cry for help but you do not listen!"It is evident from its celebration that the effect of the sacrament of Confirmation is the special outpouring of the Holy Spirit as once granted to the apostles on the day of Pentecost. From this fact, Confirmation brings an increase and deepening of baptismal grace... it gives us a special strength of the Holy Spirit to spread and defend the faith by word and action as true witnesses of Christ, to confess the name of Christ boldly, and never to be ashamed of the Cross. (Catechism of the Catholic Church 1302-3)
Just look at how he describes his situation: violence, ruin, misery, destruction, strife, clamorous discord. What a miserable situation he must be in! And made even more miserable by the feeling the God somehow was not listening to him. "I cry out to you," the prophet says, "but you do not intervene."
Let us remember, too, that Habakkuk is not some dejected sinner who has rejected God's ways and so gotten himself into a horrible situation. He is a chosen prophet of God! He seeks only to do God's bidding! One is reminded of the prayer of St. Theresa of Avila, who once was thrown from the donkey she was riding while crossing a stream. "Lord," she cried, "if this is how you treat your friends, no wonder you have so few of them."
But God did hear the prayers of Habakkuk. He did answer them. His answer was, "Be patient. Wait." Our first reading concludes, "For the vision still has its time, presses on to fulfillment, and will not disappoint; if it delays, wait for it, it will surely come, it will not be late. The rash one has no integrity..." No doubt this was not the kind of answer that Habakkuk was hoping for. So it is with us. God knows our suffering. He knows our struggles, our pains, our frustrations. He hears all our prayers. And he always answers, even if that answer is often times, "Wait, my child."
The entrance antiphon for today's Mass is, "Within your will, O Lord, all things are established, and there is none that can resist your will. For you have made all things, the heaven and the earth, and all that is held within the circle of heaven; you are the Lord of all" (Est 4:17). The Church reminds us with this antiphon today that God is God and we are not. He is in charge, and there is nothing on earth or in heaven which is not subject to His will. This includes our suffering.
Does this mean God is the cause of our suffering? No. But He permits it, because He is able to use it for our good. He is not done with us yet. In our gospel reading today Jesus speaks of servants who spend their day working the fields. When they come in, they cannot simply sit down at table to eat. Their work is not yet done. They must prepare the meal for their master and see that he is served before serving themselves.
We may read this and think, "How unfair!" And on a human level, perhaps it is. But God has something greater in mind for us. It is not enough that we simply do "what we were obliged to do" as it says in today's gospel. Our work is not yet done. God wants more for us. He wants us to go above and beyond our simple obligation. He expects more.
How can we endure? How can we press on through difficulties and trials? Is God not asking too much? Again, perhaps on a mere human level, He is. But God asks us to endure nothing without also giving us the strength to do so. We need only to trust and rely on that gift, and perhaps that is the lesson He wishes to teach us.
St. Paul reminds us today of the gifts God has given that allow us to overcome our trials. "I remind you, to stir into flame the gift of God that you have through the imposition of my hands. For God did not give us a spirit of cowardice but rather of power and love and self-control. So do not be ashamed of your testimony to our Lord... but bear your share of hardship for the gospel" (1 Tim 1:6-8).
St. Paul speaks of "power." I opened this reflection with a quote from the Catechism about the sacrament of Confirmation. Did you know that in Confirmation God gives you special powers? (You didn't know you were a superhero, did you?) One gift of Confirmation is the power to live a holy life in an unholy world. No matter what havoc is taking place in your life, no matter what hardships you may have to endure, you have the power to remain close to God, to be a holy person, to rest in God's love and reflect that love to others. You have that gift.
The other power of Confirmation is the ability to be a witness of Christ to others; to "spread and defend the faith by word and action as true witnesses of Christ... to never be ashamed of the Cross," as the Catechism puts it. The cross is the symbol of God's love for us, a love expressed through suffering. Not being ashamed of the cross means not being afraid to suffer on that cross yourself. "God dd not give us a spirit of cowardice," St. Paul writes. "Bear your share of hardship for the gospel."
Like a superhero's powers, the powers you receive in Confirmation need to be exercised and developed to be of any use. Sadly today, many confirmed Catholics have let these powers atrophy. But that does not have to be the case. You can use these powers to accomplish wonderful things. Whenever you face hardship, remember this: God has given you the strength needed to endure it. And by enduring it for His sake, you come closer in spirit to Christ who endured suffering for you. You are not alone. If you live a life of the sacraments, then the Holy Spirit dwells in you. "Guard this rich trust," St. Paul encourages us. Foster the life of the Holy Spirit. Stir up the flame of faith. Remain close to the sacraments. Resist sin, and when you do sin, repent and seek reconciliation. Pray often. Stay close to God. Remember you are engaged in spiritual warfare, and the battle will take time. Trust in God that He has given you the power to endure.
For the vision still has its time,
presses on to fulfillment, and will not disappoint;
if it delays, wait for it, it will surely come, it will not be late.
The rash one has no integrity;
but the just one, because of his faith, shall live.