Homily, 28 February 2016, Third Sunday of Lent
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Exodus 3:1-8a,13-15; Psalms 103:1-2,3-4,6-7,8,11; 1 Corinthians 10:1-6,10-12; Luke 13:1-9—————God is with us in the mystery of suffering—————Ten years ago this spring my wife and I experienced some rather unsettling times. She was diagnosed with breast cancer and then a year later I was diagnosed with prostate cancer. All has turned out well, but at the time it was … scary.We found on a Friday afternoon that Janet’s biopsy was positive. I remember very distinctly being mad at God. “Why?” We both asked. “What did we do to deserve this?” Friday night and Saturday we were pretty stunned, anxious, and upset. Then, on Sunday morning we came to mass early and spoke with Fr. Dan. He took us into the Lady Chapel and anointed Janet with the Sacrament of the Sick, and as she was anointed all her worries and fears receded. Unexpectedly, I felt the same wave of relief pass over me. I guess the Holy Spirit is pretty generous, especially when it comes to worried husbands. As Janet said later, she realized in that moment that no matter how things turned out, it would be okay. God was with us.God never answered our question ‘why?’ And, truthfully, the question wasn’t important any longer. We had asked troubled question. God responded by drawing us closer. In place of an answer, God strengthened our relationship to him.—————Why do people suffer? It’s an age-old question and it will persist until the end of the world. Too often we think that suffering is deserved. We must have done something wrong, we think, even if were not sure what.There’s certainly a line of thought going back to the Old Testament that believes suffering is a punishment from God when we sin. That’s the thinking behind the question of those people in today’s gospel who asked Jesus about the Galileans ruthlessly slaughtered by Pontius Pilate.“Did they suffer because God punished them for their sins?” asked the people. They asked this of Jesus, who was on his way to Jerusalem where he would be beaten and reviled and crucified … and so redeem the world. He was Immanuel, God with us, and he was going to suffer.“No,” Jesus tells them, suffering is not a punishment from God for sin.When God’s people were suffering in Egypt it was not because the Lord had punished them. As he told Moses, he came to rescue them and would send Moses to do just that.Twice the Lord says “I am the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob.” He is reminding them that he has always been with his people and always will. God does not abandon us in our troubles.“For God so love the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.”The message of the Parable of the of the Barren Fig Tree is simply this: we must respond to God’s loving care for us. It is our choice. Just as he will not punish us, he will not force us into love.—————In the book of Job, Job wants God to explain his suffering, the suffering of an innocent man. As I said, it’s an old question. Job never got an explanation but a reminder that God, the creator of all things, cared for him.We would like to think that suffering is a problem to be solved once and for all, but really it’s not. Some suffering we can prevent, some suffering can be mitigated. But in the end suffering is not a problem to be solved but mystery to be endured. That God, through Jesus Christ, shared in human suffering only deepens the mystery.If suffering is a mystery, then we have to do what God did: share in the suffering of others, at least through fellowship and compassion.—————So a year after Janet was diagnosed and treated, my doctor called. My biopsy was positive. I had cancer.I was out of town that week -- at a conference. Janet had to relay the news to me. I was in room full of people after I heard the news, but I felt so alone. At the next break, I left the conference, walked over to an old church I had seen the day before, went in and sat in the quiet by myself.I think I sat in that Church most of the afternoon just talking to God.I just told him about my fears, my disappointments and my hopes. I never asked him “why?” That was all that mattered: God was with me. It would be okay.—————This Lent, indeed this year, the Church is emphasizing mercy and taking to heart the command to love our neighbor. This includes “comforting the sorrowful,” and “visiting the sick.” During Lent many people are seeking God or seeking a closer relationship with him. I suggest you go find him in those places where he is sure to be. Seek out those who suffer and share with them the simple act of companionship. God will be there too. He always is.