Some had the usual first Confession jitters, but they all seemed pretty happy by the time they headed back to class. One parent emailed me to say that her son told her “I like it when Monsignor tells funny stories! And Father Giovanni does too. Priests have good stories!”
That review from a young critic was very welcome—because it’s been a rough week. The cold I’d managed to shake before my vacation decided to come back with a vengeance, meetings and appointments seemed endless, and I felt more pressure than a certain Minister of Justice.
But a bad week and bad days can be a big help to good preaching. Because I really feel called to emphasize the darker side of our readings today.
The dark side of these Scripture texts, like the dark side of our lives, is rarely central. But it’s there, and I think we should take a look at it.
The first reading is about the glorious covenant God makes with Abraham and the Chosen People. But if we take a close look, we notice that it’s not all sweetness and light. As Abram sleeps, “a deep and terrifying darkness descended upon him.”
The Gospel is more glorious still, as Jesus reveals his glory and his plan for salvation—a second Exodus and a new covenant sealed in his own blood.
But smack in the middle of this awesome revelation, Peter, James and John are scared out of their wits: “they were terrified as they entered the cloud.”
Even the second reading, which grants us heavenly citizenship, a passport to paradise, speaks of “the body of our humiliation.” That phrase is also translated “our lowly body.” Until the glorious day when our bodies are transformed, we are weighed down by earthly reality.
And that reality includes the complex chemistry of our brains, our physical reaction to pain in mind our body, and other things that can be confused with our faith in God.
We sometimes think we’re entitled right now to the rewards Christ promised his disciples. I hear people say things like “I wouldn’t be depressed if my faith were stronger” or even “if God loved me I wouldn’t be living in this darkness.”
I don’t blame anyone for thinking this way; I think that way myself when I’m feeling miserable or things aren’t working out. Since we thank God for peaceful and blessed times, it’s not surprising that we blame him in dark and difficult times.
That’s especially true in times of physical illness and depression. We get confused about where God is, and what he is or isn’t doing. And then we blame ourselves for being confused.
The Psalm today is a spiritual reality check. Whoever wrote Psalm 27 was very human, even if it’s part of the inspired Word of God. First, he professes faith in God, who is his “light and salvation.” Half a second later he talks about being afraid, and crying aloud.
The Psalmist worries about God hiding his face and turning away in anger, even about being cast off. It’s a pretty good picture of depression.
And yet by the end, he affirms his faith—“I believe I shall see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living”—and offers us some powerful advice: “Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage.”
I don’t know if I would dare to say those words to someone in the grip of depression or a painful illness. The healthy must be careful what they say to the sick. But I could probably work up the courage to share one word, the word the Psalm repeats twice: “wait.”
Wait. It’s not over till it’s over. Yogi Berra spoke those words when his team seemed to have no chance of capturing the division title, though they went on to win. For us, the wait is longer—but the promise is surer.
Jesus gave his three disciples a glimpse of his glory for a reason. It was a powerful way of saying one word: wait. When you are terrified on Holy Thursday, wait. When you see me hanging on the cross, wait.
Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage.
It is not here on earth that God fulfills all his promises to us; we expect a Saviour from heaven who will transform our sorrows into joys, and bring peace to our troubled hearts.
There is no spiritual formula fancier than the two words at the end of St. Paul’s exhortation to the Philippians: “stand firm.” Hang on.
In the meantime, we neither pretend the darkness is light nor rant against it.
I listened this week to the wonderful podcast called Way of the Heart with Jake Khym and Brett Powell. Brett quoted a line from the French writer and diplomat Paul Claudel. I want to end with it:
“Jesus didn’t come to do away with suffering or explain it. He came to fill it with his presence.”