Sunday, 09 July 2017 10:13

Navigating difficult times with the Lord’s help

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When in England, I went to visit my nephew Dominic. He lives in a group home with several other mentally challenged young adults. Dominic, with severe Down syndrome, has no speech. On this visit it was clear that Dominic recognized me and even reached out to touch me, something he never had done before. I was deeply moved. Walking back to the subway my memory took me back to the time when he was born.

Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, July 9
Zechariah 9:9-10
Psalm 145:1-2, 8-11, 13-14
Romans 8:9, 11-13
Matthew 11:25-30

When in England, I went to visit my nephew Dominic. He lives in a group home with several other mentally challenged young adults. Dominic, with severe Down syndrome, has no speech. On this visit it was clear that Dominic recognized me and even reached out to touch me, something he never had done before. I was deeply moved. Walking back to the subway my memory took me back to the time when he was born.

My sister had had a difficult pregnancy. This was her second child, and the birth of a boy was greeted with joy. However, shortly thereafter the doctors came bearing somber news: The baby had Down syndrome.

I remember the letter that my sister wrote to our mother soon after the birth. In it she gravely appraises mother of the facts and then goes on to reflect on the implications of the event. Unquestioningly she accepts this child as a gift from God especially entrusted to her.

That was 30 years ago, and my sister has died. Her life was marked by a single-minded commitment to Dominic’s welfare. Her marriage broke up under the strain, but she persisted in finding and promoting the very best for her special son. In the end she found an ideal placement for Dominic. At that point she seemed to relax, and the disease she had battled so successfully for so many years finally claimed her.

Why these memories? Because the Scriptures this weekend contain a familiar, but difficult text. “Take my yoke upon you,” Jesus says. “For my yoke is easy and my burden light.” Which one of us when carrying that yoke has not protested, perhaps silently, about the truth of those words? Was my sister’s yoke easy to bear? Definitely not. Was her burden light? No again. It was heavy, onerous, exhausting. Was the yoke made specially for her, did it fit her well? Here I have to say yes. And in bearing that yoke, she and Dominic became the best they could be.

QUESTIONS: Recall some of the yokes you have had to carry. Did you ever reflect on Jesus’ words “my yoke is easy”? Were they true for you? In retrospect, how do you evaluate those experiences? Were they for your growth?


Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, July 16
Isaiah 55:10-11
Psalm 65:10-14
Romans 8:18-23
Matthew 13:1-23

It seems as though every time I turn on the news another horrible event has occurred. One day it is war in Afghanistan or elsewhere, another day it is one more EF5 tornado tearing through one or more states, another day it is mighty rivers cresting from an overabundance of rain or wild fires because of too little.

These are the big stories that make the national news. But daily, in much less-noticed corners of the world, there is bullying and peer pressure, physical and sexual abuse, hunger and neglect, and drug and human trafficking.

Just when I am about to be overwhelmed, I read St. Paul’s message for us this week: “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are as nothing compared with the glory to be revealed for us.” I find it hard to take comfort in these words because I am afraid they somehow lessen the circumstances of all those suffering in today’s world. Yet, I know Paul is speaking from a firsthand knowledge of suffering while still holding out hope in faith.

Paul himself had been shipwrecked and imprisoned, and he lived in a time of extreme persecution of the church by the Romans, yet even in the face of such hardship and fear he found a reason to hope.

He was living the message Jesus gives us in the Gospel: “The seed sown on rich soil is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields a hundred or sixty or thirtyfold.” He knew that the seed of faith had been planted in his willing heart and thus the fruit it was bearing and would continue to bear would outweigh his current sufferings.

The mystery of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus tells us that whatever suffering comes our way is not the end of the journey; it is but a pathway to the glory of God. This does not diminish the suffering experienced, and it does not take the pain away, but it does give us a reason to hope, for while we groan here on earth, we await our redemption in eternity.

QUESTIONS: As people of faith, how do we face times of extreme suffering and unexplainable tragedy? How have you navigated the hard times in your own life?

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