Sunday, September 06, 2015

God’s Blessings: Yes, They Sometimes DO Come through ‘Raindrops’

Martin and Laura

(Twenty-third Sunday of the Year (B): This homily was given on September 6, 2015 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani.  Read Isaiah 35: 4-7; Mark 7: 31-37.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Twenty-third Sunday 2015]

Laura Story is a 37-year-old singer and songwriter.  If you listen to Christian radio stations like K-Love, you hear her music quite often.  In 2006, her husband Martin was diagnosed with a life-threatening brain tumor.  The couple had been married only a year at the time.  Thankfully doctors were able to remove the tumor, but there were complications that resulted from the treatment they gave him, and to this day Martin suffers from vision and memory problems caused by those complications.

Laura’s faith, not surprisingly, has really been put to the test through this experience.  Early on her attitude was, “Why didn’t you just fix it, God?  You’re all-powerful and all-loving …just fix it!”

I think that’s a prayer that most people of faith have said—at least once or twice.

But God didn’t “just fix it” for Laura and Martin.  At least not totally.

And he still hasn’t.

Yet Laura has been able to perceive the Lord at work in the midst of it all.  And that perception of God’s presence motivated her to write a song—a song that went to number 1 on the Billboard Christian chart and won a Grammy in 2011.  It’s entitled “Blessings,” and here are some of the words:

 We pray for blessings; we pray for peace; comfort for family; protection while we sleep. We pray for healing, for prosperity; we pray for your mighty hand to ease our suffering.  And all the while, you hear each spoken need; yet love is way too much to give us lesser things.  
'Cause what if your blessings come through raindrops? What if your healing comes through tears? What if a thousand sleepless nights are what it takes to know you're near? What if trials of this life are your mercies in disguise?  
We pray for wisdom, your voice to hear; We cry in anger when we cannot feel you near. We doubt your goodness; we doubt your love--as if every promise from your word is not enough. And all the while, you hear each desperate plea, and long that we'd have faith to believe.  
'Cause what if your blessings come through raindrops? What if your healing comes through tears? What if a thousand sleepless nights are what it takes to know you're near? What if trials of this life are your mercies in disguise?  
What if my greatest disappointments or the aching of this life is the revealing of a greater thirst this world can't satisfy? What if trials of this life--the rain, the storms, the hardest nights--are your mercies in disguise?

I mention this at Mass this morning because in today’s gospel reading Jesus works an incredible miracle: he heals a deaf man.  He takes the man away from the crowd, touches his ears, touches his tongue, gives a command that his ears be opened—and the man is set free from his infirmity.  Immediately!  This, of course, is the kind of thing we read about over and over again in the four gospels.  Jesus performed many signs and wonders like this during his 3-year earthly ministry, in fulfillment of the messianic prophecy of Isaiah that we heard in today’s first reading:

Then will the eyes of the blind be opened, the ears of the deaf be cleared; then will the lame leap like a stag, then the tongue of the mute will sing.

As Catholic Christians we worship a God who can do—and who sometimes does do—the miraculous!  I can attest to that: I’ve seen a number of extraordinary occurrences take place during my (almost) 30 years as a priest.

But, more often than not, God, in his infinite wisdom, does not choose to act in miraculous ways (at least by our standards of evaluating such matters).  In other words, most of the time, our experience in this life parallels Laura and Martin’s experience in dealing with Martin’s brain tumor.  We ask; we seek; we pray—but the Lord does not do precisely what we ask him to do, in precisely the way that we ask him to do it.

So even though it’s very important that we believe in the power of God to actually work miracles and do extraordinary things in this life, it’s just as important—maybe even more important—to pray for the ability to see God at work in those instances when he chooses not to perform a miracle or act in an extraordinary way.

In other words, we need to pray for the grace to recognize the blessings that the Lord gives us through the raindrops—and the tears—and the sleepless nights: blessings like a deeper faith (which is often a byproduct of suffering); blessings like a greater trust in God (which often comes in these situations as we’re forced to rely on the Lord and not on ourselves); blessings like a more grateful heart (when we suffer—and especially when we suffer a loss of some kind—we tend to become more thankful for what we still have); blessings like a healthier set of priorities (trials often motivate us to re-prioritize our lives so that we begin to focus more on the things that are most important: faith, family, friendships, etc.); blessings like a forgiving heart and a desire for reconciliation with others.  How often have you seen estranged family members, for example, come together and reconcile in a time of crisis?  It happens all the time.

Sometimes when we’re in the midst of a trial it’s hard to find God, and hard to see blessings like these that are coming to us in the midst of it. 

Laura Story knows that as well as anyone.  And yet, as she makes clear in her song, it’s possible for us to learn to recognize these blessings clearly—these “mercies in disguise” as she calls them.

So I’ll give the final word in my homily today to her.  When she was asked in an interview a couple of years ago about the message of her song, “Blessings”—the message she wanted people to internalize through her words—Laura responded by saying this:

Life is filled with things you don’t expect, but the Bible tells us to respond by trusting God and continuing to worship him. Martin hasn’t received complete healing, and that can be hard when we view God as all-powerful and all-loving. But here we are now saying, “Yes, this is how faith works. God has proven to be faithful.” 
We have been truly blessed out of a circumstance that at first didn’t seem like much of a blessing at all. God is love. He tells us so repeatedly in the Bible. Yet sometimes it doesn't feel like he loves us. What if we pray for our loved ones to make it through, but they pass away before we even say goodbye? What if we pray for our children to grow up healthy but instead we watch them suffer a life-threatening illness? What if we pray for that little extra money to make ends meet, but we end up losing our home?
It's devastating when we don't see God's answers to our prayers. "We cry in anger when we cannot feel you near” [as the song says]. [But] what if the very thing that is best for us isn't the same as what we're praying for? All the while, God hears each spoken need. He loves us way too much to give us lesser things. God is watching over [us] always, directing every moment we experience. So if he isn't answering our prayers how we think he should, does that mean he isn't answering? Or could it be something else? Could it possibly be that he's really blessing us?
Heavenly Father, today we pray for blessings.  We pray first for the blessings of the miracles we desire: for ourselves, for our loved ones, for Laura Story’s husband Martin, for all your people.

But if we cannot have the blessings of those miracles (at least at the present moment), then please give us the blessings we need to deal successfully with our trials, the blessings we need to grow in our faith, the blessings we need to become better, stronger disciples of your Son, Jesus Christ.  We ask this through the same Christ, our Lord.  Amen.

(To download "Blessings" from iTunes, follow this link: Blessings)