September 7, 2014
ORDINARY 23 (A)
Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them. – Mt. 18: 20
While applying for a job as a farmhand, a young man remarked, “I can sleep when the wind blows.” What he meant by that was he had performed his work loyally & faithfully when the skies were clear, so when the wind blew, he had no fear. He was able to sleep in peace.
Like the farmhand, God has done his work. He has sent His son to save us from the storms of destruction so that we can sleep when the wind blows. Because God is with us in Christ, we are a people of hope. The good news for us today is that there will be a tomorrow; that no matter what happens to us today, good or bad, God is in our future.
At the end of Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus says, “I am with you, even unto the end of time.” He has kept that promise by giving us the sacraments & the Magisterium, but that means two or more coming together. Being a follower of Christ in isolation is a contradiction in terms. Because He has kept His promise, we can face the future with confidence & even joy. How is that possible?
The closing scene of Sholem Asch’s novel, “The Apostle,” takes place in a dungeon in Rome. Hundreds of Christians have been lowered into the dungeon through a little trap door & they know that they will never come out except to die in the arena. Many of them die in the dungeon. The scene is described by Sholem Asch is one of darkness & horror. Suddenly the trap door opens & there is a shaft of light for a brief moment & a man is lowered. And as he is lowered into this place of indescribable death & darkness & despair, he is singing songs of praise & thanksgiving to God. The word spreads like a wildfire among the people in the dungeon: It’s Paul! It’s Paul! Paul has come!” And Paul’s joy is so contagious that before long he has all the people in the dungeon singing songs of praise & thanksgiving. A whole new spirit had taken hold of them.
This is not mere fiction. It was a well-known trait of Christians all over the Empire that they would huddle together in the middle of the arenas & sing hymns of praise as the wild animals approached them. Maximillian Kolbe did the same in the dark hole that he & nine other prisoners were thrown by the Nazis to starve to death. The only thing that could explain their joy in the face of death was their faith.
Dante in the “Divine Comedy” paints a picture of Hell: it is being estranged from God. There is a notice posted above the gate of Hell that reads “Abandon hope, all ye who enter here.” Of course! To be estranged from God IS to be without hope, since God alone is the source of all our hope.
In life, we sometimes get more, & sometimes much less than we had expected. But as a people of faith & hope, we know that it is impossible to put limits on what we can expect from God. As Paul put it in his first letter to the Corinthians, “What eye has not seen & ear has not heard, & what has not entered the human heart, what God has prepared for those who love Him.” AMEN!