10th Sunday of Ordinary Time
June 5, 2016
St. Vincent’s Hospital, Harrison, N.Y.
I'm really late posting this because I went on retreat on the 5th, and after coming back have been up to my ears in work--and packing.
“O Lord, you brought me up from the nether world; you preserved me from among those going down into the pit” (Ps 30: 4).
Our 1st reading this morning tells how Elijah revived an apparently dead little boy, and the gospel records how Jesus revived a young man being carried out for burial. Between these 2 Scripture passages, the psalmist praises God for saving his life from his enemies: the Lord has saved him “from the nether world,” from hades, from the underworld, the place where the dead go; in old English, this was translated as hell, with this meaning, and not meaning the place of eternal damnation. Hence, Christ at death “descended into hell,” the Apostles’ Creed says. In classic Hebrew poetic style, the psalmist continues with a parallel phrase, “You preserved me from among those going down into the pit,” i.e., into the grave.
Both the 1st reading and the gospel, and the responsorial psalm too, are meant to foreshadow our ultimate delivery from the grave, from the nether world of the dead—the resurrection of God’s faithful people on the Last Day and our eternal welcome into the Father’s home, that “place” or state that we call heaven. As Jesus raised the dead son of the widow at Nain, so will he raise us—not to die a natural death again, as did the son of the widow at Zarephath and the young man of Nain, but to live forever in perfect health and perfect happiness, by the grace of God.
But you all know that we use this kind of language also metaphorically: “such and such an experience was the pits,” or in humorist Erma Bombeck’s memorable book title, If Life Is a Bowl of Cherries, Why Am I Always in the Pits? In stronger language, we might refer to some awful experience as “hell”: the boss from hell, a marriage that’s hell, a travel experience that was hell (I spent 12 hours yesterday flying and not flying between St. Louis and N.Y., but I wouldn’t call it “hell.”), and of course Gen. Sherman’s class description, “War is hell.”
There are times when we feel very far from God and when we feel that our lives are in some kind of deep pit. It’s so common these days that suicide rates are rising horrendously. I dare say that that’s in part because our society has put God so far out of our lives—not you, or you probably wouldn’t be here this morning, but Western society in general.
So what can we do when we feel that God has abandoned us somehow, or perhaps that we’ve abandoned God thru our sins and fear that he won’t take us back? We can take courage in the example of Jesus, who cried out on the cross, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” He knows how we feel because he’s been there.
We can do what the widow at Zarephath did and blame God—she did this indirectly, blaming the prophet: “Why have you done this to me, O man of God?” But she was also appealing to him. Call that a prayer, if you will. And Elijah responded. The widow at Nain didn’t even have to ask Jesus for help. But we can, and we must, turn to God when we’re in the pits, when life seems desperate. We can remember, as did the psalmist, that difficult times are temporary: “his anger lasts but a moment; a lifetime, his good will. At nightfall, weeping enters, but with the dawn, rejoicing.” Everybody’s life has darkness, even Jesus’ life; but we also know that Christ is the light of the world and he remains with us. And, like the psalmist, we implore: “Hear, O Lord, and have pity on me; O Lord, be my helper.”
Another thing we can do is try to spend time with God. When St. Paul’s life was turned upside down by Jesus’ appearance to him on the road to Damascus, he “went into Arabia,” into the desert, for quite some time to reflect upon his life and what had happened to him. We need to spend time with God in prayer—all of us, regularly, not just in times of crisis.
Finally, we remember always, “God has visited his people,” as the folks in Nain exclaimed after Jesus revived the young man. God has visited the human race in the person of Jesus, and Jesus remains with us, accompanies us, leads us toward eternal life and eternal joy. We let him guide us, do our best to stay by his side. He gives us hope.