Sunday, February 05, 2012

The Job Syndrome

Job after his 'bad day'

(Fifth Sunday of the Year (B): This homily was given on February 5, 2012, at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani.  Read Job 7: 1-4, 6-7.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Fifth Sunday 2012]

You could call it, “The Job Syndrome”—after the man who spoke the words we just heard in today’s first reading.

The Job Syndrome is a very common ailment of the soul, although most people who have it probably don’t realize that they have it.

It typically afflicts you when you’re going through difficult times: for example, when a close friend or relative dies; when you lose your job; when you find out that you or someone you love has a serious illness; when a friend or acquaintance betrays you.

It’s named for the Old Testament figure Job, because he definitely had a very serious case of it, as is clear from this text we heard a few moments ago.

Job, as most of us know, was a man who initially “had it all” when it came to the blessings of this earthly life.  The Bible indicates that had good health, a large, loving family consisting of 7 sons and 3 daughters, lots of sheep and camels and oxen—and he had a great relationship with God to boot!  He was a good, pious, devout, righteous man.

And then he had a bad day—a REALLY BAD DAY—and he lost everything: all his animals were either stolen or killed; all his children died when the house they were in collapsed during a terrible windstorm, and he himself was afflicted with a horrible skin disease in which painful boils appeared all over his body.

For Job, it was a time of intense physical, emotional and spiritual pain.

And he struggled to makes sense of it (as I’m sure we all would in similar circumstances). 

It’s in the midst of that internal struggle that he says those words we heard in our first reading.  Listen to some of them once again:

“Is not man’s life on earth a drudgery?  Are not his days those of hirelings?  He is a slave who longs for the shade, a hireling who waits for his wages.”

Here we see the first characteristic of people with the Job Syndrome: the tendency to look to the past and see only the bad, the negative, the evil.

Think about it, my brothers and sisters, Job’s life before his “bad day” was not a drudgery!  It was anything but a drudgery!  It was awesome!  It was almost perfect.  He didn’t live like a hireling or a slave back then; he lived like a king!  He experienced a superabundance of graces and favors and blessings from God.  And yet, in the midst of the pain he was in when he spoke these words, all poor Job could remember from the past was the bad, the negative, the evil.

Skip down now a few lines to the words Job says at the very end of the text.  He says, “Remember that my life is like the wind; I shall not see happiness again.”

I don’t know about you, but after reading that line, my question is this: How did Job know that?

How did Job know that he would never, ever, ever experience happiness again in his life?

The answer is: He didn’t know that!  He couldn’t possibly have known with absolute certitude that he would be miserable and unhappy for the rest of his life.

(And, of course, he wasn’t—as we find out at the end of the Book of Job.  You’ll have to read it at home to get the details!)

This, then, is the second characteristic of people with the Job Syndrome: the tendency to project the suffering of the present onto the unknown future.

Hopefully you now see why I said at the beginning of my homily that the Job Syndrome is a very common ailment of the soul.

When we suffer, it’s human nature—that is to say fallen human nature—for us to look to the past and get focused on the negative aspects of our lives, and then to look ahead and imagine that the sufferings of the present will always be with us (and perhaps even get a lot worse!).

So, in reality—since we all have our crosses—the Job Syndrome is something we all have to battle against constantly!  I’ve certainly had to fight against it in dealing with Parkinson’s Disease.  How easy it would be for me to fall into a pattern of thought where I begin to look to the past with regret (regret for things I would like to have done but wasn’t able to do) and then look ahead to the future with fear (What will I be like in 10 years?  In 5 years?  In 1 year?  What will my speech be like?  What will my balance be like?  What will my tremor be like?).

We all have issues in our lives that can cause us to think in this way—which is why our relationship with the Lord needs to be our number 1 priority!

Only the grace of God can help us to overcome the Job Syndrome.

I think it’s providential that this gospel text from Mark 1 was also read at today’s Mass.  There Mark tells us that Jesus, after a night of ministering to people, rose early the next morning—before dawn—and went to a deserted place by himself to pray.

Imagine, the Son of God, the Savior of the world, the Eternal word made flesh— felt the need to pray!

How much more do we need to?

If we commune with God on a regular basis, he will help us, over time, to do 4 things with respect to our past: number 1, he will help us to be grateful for our past blessings; number 2, he will lead us to repent of our past sins (and he will prompt us to go to Confession to get them taken away); number 3, he will help us to draw positive lessons, even from our negative past experiences; and, number 4, he will help us to “let go” of the rest.

And, with respect to our future, he will help us to trust and to hope: to trust that he will always be with us, that his grace will always be sufficient for us, and that he is always in control (even when things seem out of control!).  And he will help us to keep our eyes, in hope, on the eternal prize that will be ours if we are faithful.

And in the process of all that, he will help us keep the Job Syndrome out of our lives.

So we need to pray—every day.

Let me end this morning on a lighter note (although still on point): As I was preparing this homily for Super Bowl Sunday, I thought of many of the Patriot and Giant fans that I had conversations with during the NFL regular season.  You came to mind, specifically because many of you, I believe, had a form of the “Job Syndrome” with respect to your favorite football teams!  (You see, this ailment is so prevalent that it can even manifest itself in our recreational lives.)

For example, about mid-season I had a number of Patriot fans say to me, “Sure Fr. Ray, the Pats have a great offence, but their defense has been terrible.  Did you see how many yards they gave up in the past 2 or 3 games?” (Notice, there, the first characteristic of the Job Syndrome: focusing on the negative in the past.) Then they’d go on, “And I’m not so sure how well they’ll do in the playoffs this year.  You know, defense usually wins championships and the Patriots defense leaves a lot be desired.” (There you have characteristic number 2: projecting the suffering of the present onto the unknown future.)

And some of you Giant fans were even worse in your assessment of your team and your team’s chances to get to the big game this Sunday.

Well, I’m sure you’re all happy today that you were wrong.

And the good news is that one group of you will still be happy later tonight!

May the best team win.