5th Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)
7th February 2021
St. Colman’s Cathedral, Cobh
“My life is but a breath…”
A blessing often prayed over newly married couples took the form of wishing on them the special gifts given to major figures of the Old Testament – so it went
“May you be blessed with the wisdom of Solomon
May you be blessed with the patience of Job and
May you be blessed with as many descendants as Abraham!”
Those light-hearted good wishes come to mind with our 1stReading from the Book of Job. These verses from Job’s experience of suffering and sickness rest easy in the hearts of many individuals and families who have experienced the effects of Covid 19. To speak of life as no more than” pressed service” or “hired drudgery” is strong language. Equally strong is his description of time as “months of delusion and grief”. The experience of time as endless was how we described the month of January. We thought it would never end. And then we sense that it has flown by and we wonder where it went so fast.
So, the experience of Job though thousands of years in the past has a very contemporary ring to it. To-day we might speak of the absurd nature of life as being without meaning – much in the way Samuel Beckett wrote in his play “Waiting for Godot” or Albert Camus, wrote in his novel “The Absurd” and Bishop Robinson declared in his book “God is Dead”.
This experience of emptiness or meaningless is no respecter of age, intelligence or profession. We can all fall victim to it due to the ravages of loss, sickness or dissolution of hopes and dreams. These moments are truly akin to the “dark night of the soul” leaving us at risk of standing on the edge of the pit of despair.
But Job’s story does not end with his questions about the seemingly wasteful and empty experience of suffering. Job is remembered not for his hopelessness rather for his patience before the inscrutable ways of God. He stayed faithful, though tempted, did not despair. So he prevailed.
What kind of spiritual insight can we take from Job that might speak to our current experience of sickness, suffering and loss?
Job wrestled with his faith in God – he did so vigorously – he did not shy away from it. Indeed, some of his friends jeered at his ‘foolish’ forbearance. Long before St. Paul put words on it Job had the gift, grace to know that he would not be tested beyond his limit. St. Paul would say “my grace is sufficient for you, my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor. 12.9).
Was it not something of that same faith in the hearts of those who brought Jesus to visit the sick? They trusted in the balm of his healing heart – we are told “he cured many who were suffering from diseases of one kind or another”. “Everybody is looking for you” he was told and his response was to move on to other towns so that he could preach there too. The message of healing and hope was needed by others too.
The weariness and frustration that comes with suffering of any kind, physical or emotional does not admit of easy answers or slick solutions. Right now, there are several different levels of weariness, frustration and suffering being experienced. For some it is the challenge of facing illness, that can lead to death – then you have their loved ones making that journey with them. For others, there is the weariness and frustration of being confined to home – by comparison this is more like an inconvenience. For many young people it is the frustration of having their life plans being disrupted by way of school or college. For many in business it is the stress of not knowing whether they can survive this unforeseen catastrophe.
For parents of school going children – there is a frustration and anxiety from trying to juggle work and education.
These strains being experienced are at different levels of importance in the long scheme of things. Spiritually it is important for us to keep our particular experience in perspective and not exaggerate its scale compared to others. Many of us can say that while the experience is tiresome and irritating, we are ok. And indeed, we can be thankful. That will keep us mindful of those for whom this time is really affecting their mental health.
The figure of Job, his faith, forbearance and resilience can be a real inspiration for those who feel being dragged down by the bleakness that enshrouds their experience at this time. While meditation and yoga are highly recommended neither can touch the power of pure pleading from the heart for the healing balm of the presence of the Lord Jesus in our time of need. You will do well to make time each day individually or as family for such moments of placing the concerns of life consciously in the presence of the Lord.