In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
Our Lord Jesus was invited to a dinner, the traditional way that has been since the time of our Jewish ancestors to break bread with someone. There was a man there with dropsy, which is manifested by a great sense of thirst. But the more they drink, the more acute these symptoms are, so they can’t relieve themselves. Jesus healed this man on that Saturday, which was questionable in the eyes of those Pharisees. That’s why Jesus put the question to them, “Is it lawful to do a good deed,” especially in times of urgency or necessity. And the gospel writer says they held their peace. They couldn’t object so they kept quiet, but in their hearts they kept continually condemning Our Lord, as we know, because this was one of the charges brought against Him at the trial. They changed the laws.
Then Jesus asked them the question, “Would you not draw out the poor animal that had fallen into a ditch or hole on the Sabbath? Yes, they would. So He gives them the example, the exception to the rule which is always strengthening the basic law. The gospel writer tells us that these were the chief Pharisees, these were the leaders of the people who knew the law in and out. And, yet, they were in need of learning, and Jesus, our teacher, was giving them a lesson two ways, one we just explained, and the other one by humility, which ties in beautifully with the epistle section today we have from St. Paul to the Ephesians.
St. Paul penetrates the mystery of suffering and the death of Jesus after Jesus had suffered and died, and now Paul is in prison. Prison is not a happy time, meals are skimpy, freedom is short, there is suffering in prison. And, yet, Paul is filled with joy, which reveals to us that he penetrated the mystery of suffering. When Jesus said, “I have many more things to tell you, …” when He was teaching the apostles while He was on earth, before St. Paul, “…but you are too weak to understand. But the Holy Ghost whom I will send you will instruct you in time.”
Today, as we are entering into the dark age in a very critical moment in our American history, suffering is very much hanging over our head and around us, surrounding us, almost swallowing us up. Our freedom is being threatened from inside. The enemy is within, and we Catholics are part of the cooperation of the enemy to succeed, because there are so few or no one raising the warning, waking people up. So, suffering, as many of you are hurting also because of finances, is very much an issue. None of these things happen without God knowing all the details, and the outcome, and the purpose, and the meaning, including our weakness. We need to learn.
So, these two readings, both the gospel, along with the epistle, are very instructive for us, very apropos. The humility that Jesus talks about and the suffering are very much connected. When you look at the crucifix, which is our power and glory and solace of salvation for eternal life, it has a profound lesson in it, constantly teaching us, who, hopefully, under the guidance of the Holy Ghost, are willing to learn. The death of Jesus, the epitome of suffering, is not a helpless event. It is the beginning of a source of glory. Unless Jesus died, He could not have risen from the dead. He must die. His humanity, as yours and mine, struggled with that. That’s why we have in the gospel saying, Jesus, on His knees pleading with the Father, “Let this cup pass me by”. He was praying as a human, as you and I. As human nature, He shared in our human nature. He struggled with accepting the Divine will that was in Him. That’s why Catholic theology teaches that Jesus had two wills, He is unique. You and I have only one will, our human will. We are infused with God’s grace and opening up God’s will in our life by instruction. We can have access to God’s will, but Jesus had the human and the Divine will within Himself. And that is instructive for us, because His learning to deal with the reality of God’s will, takes and invites us to struggle for a fight, to win. And, as we know, Jesus won. That is the Divine will in Him.
“Let not My will, but Thine be done”. Examine yourself how difficult it is when you are battled and you are confronted with things that you do not want, you want to run away from, you want to avoid. How weak we are in the face of a will contrary to ours. We are helpless. We fight, we resist, we curse, we damn. How weak we are.
So we have to learn. And Jesus said, “The time will come when the Holy Ghost will teach you”, all of which He revealed and began to open up for us, the mystery of God, the mystery of life, the mystery of death and life, the mystery of suffering. St. Paul understood that, along with St. Ignatius of Antioch. Antioch was the place where the followers of Jesus were first called Christians, Antioch. Antioch was a place from which the Bishop Ignatius, having been condemned by Roman authorities, was to be brought to Rome to be executed, to be burned. And Ignatius, like St. Paul, understood the mystery already of suffering, and he longed to be burned, to suffer death with all his might, filled with grace. Only with grace he could do that, with a profound faith that he had, as St. Paul has this profound faith in Him in this prison in Rome, while he is writing to the Ephesians this letter of which we had that little part to read.
And St. Ignatius pleaded with his followers, “Do not interfere, do not stop this. Allow me to go through with it. I desire to be crushed as seeds of wheat that I may be honored to be like the Body of Jesus, crushed”. What a profound faith Ignatius must have had to be able to face his death with such joy and desire, and seeing the privilege of ascending to the height, to the depth of the faith that Jesus is giving us, of which St. Paul talks about.
To understand God’s designs, His holy Will, for us to suffer, including death, reveals to us the mystery of God in its’ height, in its’ breadth, its’ width and its’ depth. St. Paul understood that. That’s why he was joyful and pleading, “I pray you not to faint at my tribulation…”, the passage began this morning, “…which are for your glory. It comes from the Father, from whom all paternity on earth and in heaven has been named after.” And he prays to the Holy Spirit, “The Holy Ghost may enlighten your hearts to grasp the mystery of suffering.”
Catholic theology tells us that our salvation, the mystery of our salvation consists in rising above our nature, which is to pass away, to the supernatural, the super nature, which will be eternal. This is salvation, to pass from this world to that world, which we can do now already, because at our baptism we have been introduced into that process and God’s power, His grace has been given to each one of us being baptized into Jesus. And St. Paul understanding that, he says, “Those of us who have been baptized into the suffering of Jesus, we shall also benefit and share in His power of resurrection, in the glory. Easter Sunday follows Good Friday. Life follows death, which is already in the fact of creation. There was nothing before God created everything. Life proceeds from God, filling the void for death. Life follows suffering, so do not be afraid of suffering. Get on your knees. It requires great faith, I grant you, which Jesus said the Father wants to give you, but you must ask for it. “Ask and you will receive. Seek and you will find. Knock and it will be given to you.” And those of us who are designed to live in this day should consider ourselves blessed, because the saints that will emerge out of all these sufferings are told by our prophets will be greater saints than any time in the history of the church. The world has not seen the saints that are about to come, because they will understand what Jesus’ mystery is all about, why He came to earth, to die that you and I may live forever.
Dear faithful, God knows your sufferings, all the details, and He wants you to hear what you hear, if your heart is open. If your faith is weak, I want to ask you to get on your knees and beg God to give you that faith. But you must do what St. Peter says, “Run from the world.” The world and Jesus don’t mix. Sin and holiness do not mix. St. Peter says, “Run from the world.” Jesus said, “The whole world will hate you because of Me.” It’s about to happen, seemingly very soon.
So we need to arm ourselves with that faith and the light of that faith that God wishes to shower upon you and infuse in your hearts. As Jesus said, “I desire with great desire that it might ignite.” These are the words of Jesus. “I wish that the flame I brought may ignite in your hearts to illumine your mind, move your will to see what God sees, the beauty of your growth, your transformation from sin to grace, from selfishness to sanctity, which begins with humility. That is what Jesus was teaching to the Pharisees, to the leaders, the experts of law. It begins with humility, which is very graphically shown to them. Jesus was using the event that got them together. See how you are grabbing the first place of honor. That’s not the way. Take the lowest. You see, that’s humility. What is humility? It’s to make room first for God and for others. That’s humility. You come last, that God be first and others before you. That’s humility. That’s the secret to going to heaven.
The poverty of the soul Jesus talked about in the beatitude is that. Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is now the kingdom of heaven. They will not inherit heaven. They have it already. So those who have been baptized and have grasped the mystery of God and follow and practice their faith daily, they have an inkling. They know, they have God’s knowledge. For Jesus said, “Knowing God is eternal life”.
So, let us to continue to reflect on these words which you have just heard. Suffering is not a helpless event, not a curse, but, as St. Paul and St. Ignatius discovered as promised by Our Lord Jesus, it is the beginning of wisdom, and the beginning of eternal life. It is a great grace from God. If accepted, one’s defenses are shattered and God’s glory begins to shine. Jesus’ resurrection began at the moment when He said, “Thy will be done”. He overcame His human nature, and the Divine reigned already in Him. It was a question of time. God chose it to be three days. And Jesus gloriously rose with body and soul, body glorified to the level of the supernatural spirit. That is what you and I are asked to accomplish, to begin to accomplish, not without God’s constant help and His constant grace that sustains us, and you and I need, without which no one can work, no one can make progress, nothing would exist.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.