This is the God who Loves

Prayer for our New Auxiliary Bishops as They Prepare for Episcopal Ordination  

Lent Prepares Us To Celebrate God’s Love and Mercy

Trusting in God in Difficult Times

The Power of Words

Word of God Sunday: The Importance of Sacred Scripture

Msgr. Joseph Prior

(Readings of the Holy Mass – Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time)

Life, at times, has its challenges. We all face difficult situations at different times in life. Sometimes they seem overwhelming. The Book of Job tells the story of Job, a righteous and devout man who had a good, prosperous life. In the story, the devil takes everything from him: his property, his family, his health and contentment. Job laments the situation he finds himself in not knowing the cause. His loss is to the extreme, more than most of us will even experience. However, when we find ourselves dealing with hardships, trials, suffering, anxiety or grief, we may feel about life as he did.

Job describes his troubles as being “filled with restlessness until the dawn.” The words remind me of when my father was nearing death. He was suffering from respiratory problems and could not sleep – it went on for months. My father’s difficulties were related to physical health. Some of you may have had that experience or care for someone in that situation. There are many other non-physical situations that cause a similar sleeplessness to which many can relate. A lot of times the resulting feelings match Job’s descriptions. He feels as though he is “a slave that longs for shade,” or “a hireling who waits for his wages” – in other words – he is anxiously waiting, waiting for this suffering to end, longing for a good night’s sleep. He is overwhelmed and seems to have lost hope. So much so that he says, “Remember that my life is like the wind; I shall not see happiness again.”

As individuals and as communities we face situations like this. It can be very challenging. The feelings of helplessness, isolation, anxiety, maybe even despair, can invade our serenity and peace. The gospel reminds us that Jesus recognizes these situations in life. He not only recognizes our suffering, as we will see later in the Gospel, He takes them on Himself. He experiences human suffering and pain.

In today’s Gospel, and in several passages we have heard so far this year at Sunday Mass, Jesus reaches out to those who are suffering. He becomes the answer to their prayers and their hopes.

In the first episode of today’s Gospel, Peter’s mother-in-law lays in bed with fever. In our times, we are so blessed to have an abundance of medical care that we tend to think of a fever as nothing too serious. Two thousand years ago (perhaps even a hundred years ago) that was not the case, it was a serious threat to life. The sick person, and his or her family, wait in anxious vigil for the fever to pass.

In the Gospel passage, Jesus is invited into the home. Perhaps there is a symbolic level to his entering the home and going to the room of Peter’s mother-in-law in that He enters. He enters into the situation of suffering. The family is anxious and upset and worried. Jesus does not stay aloof, he goes in, and, as He takes the hand of the ailing woman, the fever leaves her. Jesus heals her – and her family.

This theme carries through to the next section. This passage gives general statements about Jesus’ ministry – like painting in broad strokes. Jesus heals many people who are sick. He expels demons who are enslaving the possessed. People are coming to Him for healing, and He heals them. Perhaps it is good to recall Jesus’ first words in the Gospel, “This is the time of fulfillment. The Kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe in the Gospel.” His healings are a manifestation of the Kingdom. God heals and restores life through Jesus.

The final episode has Jesus going off to a “deserted place” to pray. In the midst of all His saving activity of healing, preaching, forming, gathering, teaching et cetera, He is never far from the Father, for the “Kingdom of God is at hand.”

In His going away to be alone in prayer with the Father, Jesus emphasizes the union He shares with the Father.

The Father works through Him and the Father is present to the needs of His people, including His Son. The love of God for suffering humanity is then, once again, brought to the fore. God is never far from those who suffer.

When Simon finds Jesus and says, “Everyone is looking for you.” Jesus immediately goes. He goes so that he can proclaim the Kingdom, to invite everyone to share in the good news. He goes to enter into their suffering and to lead them, sometimes through that suffering, to life.

The refrain for the psalm today beautifully expresses our faith in God’s presence in the midst of our troubles, “Praise the Lord who heals the broken hearted.”

Life indeed can be challenging. Sometimes those challenges seem overwhelming, cause us to lose sleep, bring anxiety, suffering, pain and a broken heart. Sometimes they can be such a powerful force that we might feel like Job. It is in these situations most of all that God sees and recognizes our needs.

In and through Jesus, our loving, compassionate and caring Father, enters into those situations.

He brings light to the darkness, comfort to the sorrowful, hope to the despairing, forbearance to the suffering, and peace to the anxious and distressed.

***

Msgr. Joseph Prior is pastor of Our Lady of Grace Parish, Penndel, and a former professor of Sacred Scripture and rector of St. Charles Borromeo Seminary.

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