Sunday, February 3, 2013

God Always Wins

Readings for Sunday, February 3/ 4th Sunday in Ordinary Time:
Jeremiah 1:4-5, 17-19
Psalm 71:1-6, 15-17
1 Corinthians 12:31-13:13
Luke 4:21-30

As I was praying with the readings for this weekend and reflecting on the various feasts that we are celebrating in the coming weeks, one thought kept coming back over and over: God always wins. No matter how bad a situation might be, no matter where we find ourselves, God always wins. And He is inviting us to join in that victory.

We see it first in the prophet Jeremiah, whose calling is recounted in our first reading. Jeremiah who was formed in the womb of his mother by the Lord and destined to be a great prophet of the Lord is called forth by God to become that prophet he was created to be. He must certainly have had some reluctance in his heart because to be a prophet meant speaking the truth to a people who didn’t want to hear it, which often resulted in violence, as we see in the Gospel. But Jeremiah was given the great commission by the Lord to speak that truth and call the straying people back to the Lord. To encourage him in this, the Lord gives a most consoling message. “Be not crushed on their account,” says the Lord, “as though I would leave you crushed before them; for it is I this day who have made you a fortified city… They will fight against you but will not prevail over you, for I am with you to deliver you.” What a message of hope! The Lord tells Jeremiah that he will endure suffering and persecution – he will be crushed – but that he will not leave him in that state, but rather will raise him up to glory once more. The Lord will deliver him; the Lord will win the battle. He is always victorious.

The psalm today calls us, like Jeremiah, to turn to the Lord and make him truly our rock of refuge, our stronghold, our strength. If we remain in the Lord and His love, then we have much cause for hope and no reason to fear – the Lord will deliver us the same as He did with Jeremiah and the other prophets.

St. Paul in his poetic writing on that greatest of gifts, love, speaks of the many attributes of love – that it is patient, kind, not jealous, and so on. But most importantly, he notes that love bears all things, love endures all things, and love never ends. If we connect St. Paul with St. John, whose letter tells us that God is love, then we can also make the connect that God bears all things, God bears all things, and God never fails. He always reigns victorious.

Then we come to the highpoint of the readings in the Gospel. Today Jesus is seen in His own hometown, where one should expect Him to receive a warm welcome and indeed He does, at least to start with. The people are amazed at His gracious words and sit in awe of what He speaks, but not because they are filled with faith but rather because they are anticipating some great healings to come. They think, because they are Jesus’ hometown, that while other places had great miracles worked in them, they surely would receive an even great outpouring of healings. When they are informed of the opposite, when the Lord identifies their lack of faith and charity, they are led to fury and rage, whereupon they seek to cast the Lord off the cliff to His death. Here is where the Lord shows once again His power. This whole mob of people are entirely focused on the Lord, consumed with rage to the point of murder and yet somehow the Lord “passed through the midst of them and went away.” You would think with all of those people focusing only on Him that someone would have noticed and tried to stop Him, and maybe they did, but the end result is simply that the Lord passed through the midst and left. God won. Christ knew He was to die on a hill, but not on that one, so He pressed forward toward fulfillment of His mission. These are just a few of the many stories in the scriptures that show over and again the power of God and the fact that He is always victorious and will never be outdone. The beautiful thing is that as Catholics we not only have the scriptures to encourage us but we also have the lives of the saints, of those many men and women over the years whose lives have shown us the power of God and given us a blueprint to work from in shaping our own lives after the Gospel call.

One powerful example is that of St. Paul Miki and his companions, whose feast we will celebrate this coming Wednesday. St. Paul isn’t one of the more notable saints like St. Therese or St. Francis and the like, but his story is a helpful one for us today. In the 1500’s St. Ignatius of Loyola, one of the founders of the Jesuits, went to the Orient to spread the Gospel, making his way to the Philippines and Japan. The conversions were coming thousands at a time. The priests had almost no time to sleep, eat or pray for the number of baptism, weddings, and Masses they were celebrating for the people. This great increase in converts to the faith began to cause some tension and fears in the hearts of the Japanese leaders, who were still practicing their Buddhist faith. At one point, a man accused the missionaries of bringing artillery in to begin war against the Japanese government. The accusation was entirely false but it was enough to begin greater persecution of the Church. Twenty-six people, including several priests, religious brothers, lay men, and even children, were taken and marched a thousand miles across the country before being put to death. Along the journey the persecutors would stop in towns where the faith had spread and would torture the twenty-six by beating them, cutting off their ears, and various other manners of abuse as a sign that following the faith would earn them that fate. But at each town, St. Paul Miki, one of the twenty-six would pray for the people, forgive his persecutors, and unite himself to the Lord in his suffering. This went along for over a month before they arrived at their final destination, the hill at Nagasaki. There all of them were crucified and pierced with lances, the same as our Lord. St. Paul, himself a religious brother, with his last words forgave the Emperor who incited the persecution, forgave his torturers, and prayed that by his death they would experience conversion, seek baptism and find salvation through Jesus Christ. These men and children were not the only ones killed. As many as 50,000 others were killed during that time of persecution. Additionally, all foreign missionaries were sent back to their home countries. For nearly three hundred years this opposition to the Christian faith was present in Japan. So when in the 1800’s Catholic missionaries returned to Japan they expected to find nothing of the faith, having to start from scratch. But as they settled in the towns and cities and got to know the people, they came to find that the faith had survived three hundred years with no priests, catechists or the sacraments. Indeed, it survived and had continued to grow quietly by God’s grace and through the witness of so many Catholics since the days of St. Paul Miki and his companions’ deaths. The government leaders thought that they had won the battle in the hearts of the people, but it was God who had truly won.

Every single one of us has trials in this life. It might be something happening in our family. It could be a particular sin we are fighting against or a past that haunts us. It could be a situation in our community, state, country or the whole world that causes some unrest within us. The devil wants to use those things to sow in us seeds of doubt, fear, and despair. But the truth is that Christ has already won the battle and that while we might have to endure some suffering for a time, the Lord will deliver us if we but place ourselves in His loving care. So let us pray for that grace today, that by receiving the Sacrament of God’s Real Presence we might be emboldened with great hope in our God and continue to look forward to sharing in the spoils of our victory at the heavenly feast and in doing so give witness to the world around us that our God is faithful and will never fail us. 

A shrine to the 26 Martyrs of Japan on the Hill at Nagasaki