3 April 2009 Friday of the 5th Week of Lent
Jeremiah 20, 10-13; Psalm 18; John 10, 31-42
The responsorial psalm functions as a bridge from the first reading to the next; or it summarizes the readings. Today, it is the latter. It says, “In my distress, I called upon the Lord, and He heard my voice.” Jeremiah, in the first reading is in distress. Brought to despair because his friends abandoned, denounced and threatened to kill him, Jeremiah contemplates to abandon his mission as a prophet. But then, he admits that God’s word is like a fire in his bones that he can neither hold in or endure (verse 9), and so with confidence in God, prays to avenge him from his enemies. He knows, despite his difficulties in the mission, that God is with him and his persecutors will not be victorious (v. 11). And true enough, the Lord hears his pleas.
The experience of Jeremiah holds true to many of us Christians. It is not easy to become an active, participative and faithful Christian nowadays. If we take seriously the demands of the faith, we are most likely to become counter-cultural and therefore would be prone to derision, betrayal and abandonment. In offices where graft and corruption has become common practice and a deeply embedded culture, those who would be steep in their faith are accused of being “self-righteous” or “holier than thou”. In a world that has grown to be too secular, where religion is dismissed as irrelevant, or when Catholics face the ridicule of evangelicals, it is sometimes easier to abandon Catholicism and go with the flow. Some have even become apologetic of their beliefs. Or they turn to religion when it is necessary and convenient: these are the people who come to church only on baptisms, weddings or deaths. Or as ministers of the church, we feel betrayed when we hear of scandals in the church. With our disappointments and discouragements, our commitment to ministry weakens. And like Jeremiah, to abandon our ministry does sometimes cross our minds.
In distress, we sometimes find it hard to see God, or to have faith in God. In the story of the Resurrection, Mary Magdalene rises early and goes to the tomb, and in her sorrow and tears, she does not recognize Jesus. It is true: often when we are in the middle of our distress and we are right at the center of the problem, we often find it hard to recognize God --- and see the bigger picture. That is why, when we are in the midst of these painful experiences, it is often helpful to give ourselves time: time to cry, time to pour out our sentiments, time to mourn, time to just let our frustrations out, time to let our wounds prepare for the healing. And as Jeremiah in the first reading, he goes through a simple and honest confession of his difficulties and doubts in his ministry.
But then, despite all these, Jeremiah admits that God’s word is like fire that refuses to die; even if it begins like embers. Little by little, when our tears dry, we begin to see clearly the face of Jesus as Mary did in the resurrection. But even then, the Gospel tells us an advice from Jesus who said: “”But if I perform them (my Father’s works), even if you do not believe me, believe the works, so that you may realize and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father." Thus, Jesus said that when our faith weakens, we can first believe in His works, so what we may believe in Jesus again. Many of us keep memoirs from our lives. I keep a scrapbook which contains my letter of acceptance to the vocation workshop in high school, and then the letter of admittance to the novitiate, including the things to bring for my first stage in Jesuit life. I also have the letters of my father before he passed away. I have the Christmas and birthday cards people gave me which I have cut into small pieces but labeled them with the name of the giver and the date given. I have the notes of the people I love and cherished. In the course of my ministry as a Jesuit priest, there were times when I was like Jeremiah, and as Jesus advised, I would look at the pages of my scrapbook and remembered how the Lord has been faithful to me throughout all of these years. These memories led me to believe in Jesus deeply, lovingly and devotedly. Our memories of God’s work help us recognize the Giver and His love. That is why, despite the distress, Jeremiah took all his courage and appealed to God in prayer. And the Lord answered Him. When in distress, think of the times when God answered our prayers, and we can muster all our courage to take on the mission again.