The words of Job in our first reading show us a side of the legendary sufferer known for his patience we do not usually see. We see Job doing what so many of us do so well on a regular basis—complaining. How many of us see in our first reading an attitude we ourselves have expressed when everything in our lives seems to be going wrong, or when we have faced a crisis we would rather have avoided, or even when the alarm clock has awakened us much too early on a Monday morning us for a new work week? How many of us recognize in those words, “I shall not see happiness again” a sentiment to which we, too, have wanted to express from time to time?
Of course, this passage is taken from very early in the book, when Job has just begun to know what suffering is. After a life in which everything has gone right and been easy, Job begins to experience for the first time what others have experienced in their lives on a daily basis. For the first time, he experiences hunger, thirst, loneliness, alienation, and the untimely death of those whom he loves. And as the Book progresses, Job has to wade through a lot more suffering and hardship before he begins to see the light of day again. But of course, we know the end of the story. We know that in the end, in the face of hardship that would crush others, Job is able to rise above the pain to declare his undying faith in God. He is able to look at everything he has lost and to say, “The Lord has given and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the Lord.”
What faith and trust these words proclaim—trust that in spite of all that he has lost, Job knows that God is loving. He is able to proclaim that his redeemer lives—a redeemer who would never abandon him, even when everything and everyone he has known has been taken from him.
The Church, for the last decade, has gone through a period of great suffering—suffering very much self-imposed, due to negligence on the part of some bishops to care for their flocks and to protect innocent children from a handful of priests who have abused those entrusted to their care. The Church has suffered from dissent from within its ranks by those who have rejected Church teaching, by those who fail to understand the Church’s responsibility as the Body of Christ to proclaim the truth on such difficult issues as the sanctity of human life, on artificial contraception and sterilization, on euthanasia and capital punishment, on the sanctity of marriage, on poverty and war; by those who fail to understand the church’s responsibility to speak out on behalf of those who have no voice to speak out for themselves. The Church has suffered from an apathy, born in part, of course, out of frustration at the sinfulness of those who are supposed to be examples of goodness and virtue, but also, certainly, from an increased secularization of the culture around us, in which religious faith is seen as a thing of the past and the values we hold so dear and sacred are not simply laughed at but scorned and ridiculed. And we are greatly to blame for this.
We—and I include myself in that word—we have forgotten that as a the children and grandchildren of immigrants, it was often upon the church that our ancestors relied to speak out for their basic human rights and to assist them in educating their children, in feeding their families and in providing a means by which they could become mainstreamed Americans. But now that we are mainstreamed, we no longer look to the Church to speak the truth because we so often want to decide what that truth is for ourselves. And so without even trying to understand the values behind the Church’s teachings on difficult moral issues, we merely reject them, as if we ourselves were the arbiters of truth. We have forgotten that while our Church is certainly made up of sinners, it is also the visible Body of Christ in our world, entrusted with the great responsibility of preaching the Gospel—in season and out of season, whether the truth of the Gospel is popular or unpopular, whether the words of the Gospel comfort us in difficult times or challenge us to change our hearts, to change our actions, to change our lives. We have forgotten that when the freedom of the Church to BE the Church is challenged, as it is now challenged by our own government, those individual freedoms we hold so dear not just as Catholics but as Americans—freedoms guaranteed by the Bill of Rights—are at risk, as well.
When the disciples of Jesus approached him in order to ask him to return to Capernaum, because the people were asking for him, Jesus reminded them that he came into the world precisely to preach the Gospel—not to a small select group, but to the whole world. He came into the world not to tell people what they wanted to hear but to tell them, rather, what they needed to hear—that God loved them. And that because God loved them, he was calling them to greatness. He was calling them to change the world around them. Today, as members of the Church, we are called to do the same—to preach not what we want to hear but rather what we need to hear—the truth of God’s love, but also the truth of our dignity and the greatness to which God calls us, and the responsibility God has given us as members of his church and bearers of his image to do what Jesus did in his own life on earth—to feed the hungry; to give hope to the hopeless; to give sight to the blind; to proclaim freedom to those held captive and forgiveness to those entrapped by sin; to point out that which is evil in our midst not because we ourselves are without sin, but precisely out of a deep and abiding awe of the wondrous things God wants to do for us if only we are able to acknowledge Him as our Lord and Creator, our Father who loves us, and who only wants what is best for us.