Sunday, February 14, 2010

A Spiritually-Mature Trust in God

(Sixth Sunday of the Year (C): This homily was given on February 14, 2010 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani. Read Jeremiah 17: 5-8.)
[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Sixth Sunday 2010]

There’s an old story told about Rabbi Goldstein, who once took a trip to a small village in a strange land. He brought with him a donkey, a rooster and a lamp. Now unfortunately, the people who lived in this particular village were anti-Semitic, so they refused to allow the rabbi to stay in one of their inns. He ended up sleeping in the woods.

Before he turned in for the night, he decided that he would read and study the Scriptures for awhile; however a very strong wind suddenly came up, knocking over his lamp and breaking it. That made it impossible for him to read. The rabbi, however, took it all in stride. He accepted it as the Lord’s permissive will and said, “All that God does, God does well.”

During the night while he was asleep a few other bad things happened: some wild animals came along and drove away his rooster, and some thieves came along and stole his donkey.

When the rabbi woke up in the morning, he realized that his rooster and donkey were gone; but once again he accepted it, saying, “All that God does, God does well.”

He then went back to the village where the people had refused to welcome him and take him in. When he got there he learned that enemy soldiers had come in during the night and had killed all the villagers. He also learned that the soldiers had traveled through the very same part of the woods where he had been sleeping. He then realized that if the villagers had not turned him away, the soldiers would have found him in one of the inns and would have killed him on the spot. If his lamp had not been broken, they would have seen him in the woods and killed him there. The same thing would have happened if his rooster had not been chased away and his donkey stolen. The rooster and donkey would have made some noise when the soldiers were near, and the rabbi would have been discovered—and killed.

Once again the rabbi said, “All that God does, God does well!”

This rabbi had the kind of trust in God that Jeremiah speaks about in today’s first reading when he says, “Blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord, whose hope is the Lord.”

Jeremiah goes on to speak there about heat and drought—periods, in other words, of intense trial and suffering. His message is clear: Those who trust the Lord in this way are able to face great difficulties in their lives and pass through them successfully. Their trust in God does not make them immune from severe trials, but it does make a big difference in their ability to deal with them.

A person with this kind of trust is, as the prophet says there, “Like a tree planted beside the waters that stretches out its roots to the stream: it fears not the heat when it comes; its leaves stay green; in the year of drought it shows no distress, but still bears fruit.”

This is a spiritually-mature trust in God—which means that it’s not as common as it should be! I think it’s safe to say that, in circumstances similar to the ones this rabbi faced, most people would be extremely upset! They would be angry!

And, from a purely human perspective, you couldn’t blame them for being upset and angry, since almost everything that could go wrong for this poor rabbi did go wrong for him! The villagers treated him like a pariah; he broke his lamp, he lost his rooster, and his donkey was stolen! But somehow God was at work in the midst of it all, and things worked out for the rabbi’s ultimate good. And that didn’t surprise him, because he had such a deep, spiritually-mature trust in the Lord. As he so often said, “All that God does, God does well!”

God does not cause evil, but he sometimes permits evil for the sake of a greater good. That’s a very important theological and spiritual truth! It’s a truth that we see illustrated in this little story. But it’s a truth that can be very difficult to believe when we’re experiencing such an evil in our own lives—because the greater good is often hidden from our view.

In fact that’s the way it might have been for this rabbi, had he not gone back to the village. Think about it. If he had gotten up in the morning and had immediately returned to his home, he might never have found out what the Lord had protected him from the night before!

Speaking of “hidden goods,” a question that has crossed my mind in recent weeks is this one: Why did God allow that terrible earthquake in Haiti? I mean, of all places! Those people had so little BEFORE the earthquake struck; now they have almost nothing!

Dear Lord, what’s the greater good here?

Well, I don’t claim to know the mind of God on this matter, but the thought has occurred to me in the last few days that perhaps the Lord allowed this tragedy for our sake—for the sake of those of us who live lives of relative comfort in affluent countries. I think you could make a good case for that.

The Bible tells us that charity covers a multitude of sins. Jesus said that whatever we do to the least of his brothers and sisters we do to him. I ask you, before this earthquake, how many people in the United States and in the affluent western world were in danger of losing their souls because of avarice and materialism? How many were on their way to hell because of their excessive attachment to the things of this world?

Well I dare say that at least some of those men and women who were on the wrong road have responded with great compassion and generosity to the poor of Haiti during this crisis. Praise God! Perhaps that’s a sign that they’ve begun to re-prioritize their lives, and seek God, and love their neighbor in a way that will ultimately get them into the kingdom of heaven.

If that’s the case, then God will have brought incredible good out of an otherwise horrible evil.

“All that God does, God does well.” May those words of trust which were so often on the lips of Rabbi Goldstein always be in our hearts—when we see the greater good that comes from our suffering, and especially when we don’t.