Our own Fr. Thomas Leitner celebrated Holy Mass this morning, at the Benedictine Mission House chapel. Below is a video of his homily. Printed copy follows.
Mk 1:29-39 Job 7:1-4.6-7 1 Cor 9:16-19.22-23
focus: We cannot answer the question why humans have to suffer. Jesus does not answer it, either. But he shows us God’s loving solidarity with those who suffer.
function: It is our call to follow his example.
Dear sisters and brothers in the Lord,
Once upon a time, in a faraway land, there lived an upright and blameless man called Job. He had a loving wife, seven sons and three daughters, and the largest estate in the kingdom. He didn’t abuse the power and privilege he enjoyed. He used his wealth for hospitality and his influence for helping the needy. No one who went to Job’s house for help left disappointed.
However, Job’s piety and sanity are put to the test. In a series of disasters he loses his family, his friends, his fortune, and his possessions. Messengers keep coming to him to tell him tales of horror, of loss and of tragedy. Finally, Job is afflicted with sores from the soles of his feet to the crown of his head. Job exclaims, “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” The only thing that Job doesn’t lose is his faith in God.
That Job is depressed, however, we hear in today’s reading: “Is not man’s life on earth a drudgery? … My days are swifter then a weaver’s shuttle; they come to an end without hope.”
Why does Job have to suffer? Why should an innocent person face such a fate?
In Old Testament Times it was thought that suffering was directly connected with people’s conduct, and that anyone who suffered had sinned. Job’s friends, who come to console him, represent this view. However, Job cannot believe that he is personally responsible for all these terrible losses because of his own wrongdoing. Job has become the image of the innocent person’s suffering. None of us is sinless; but many have to go through suffering that is not caused (at least not in full measure) by their own sin.
In the end, God speaks to Job; and Job experiences God’s consoling presence. It must have been a deep experience of God. God doesn’t explain, however, why all this has happened. - There simply are things that are very difficult to understand for humans. Why do I have to endure so much loss and suffering, some of us, too, may ask, while other people seem to be spared of it?
In today’s gospel, Jesus is surrounded by a large number of suffering people. How does he respond? He is present. He approaches Simon’s mother in law and takes her by the hand. He brings healing to the sick and the afflicted. He faces the demons and commands them to leave.
Early in the morning, he goes off to a deserted place. There he communes with God, his heavenly Abba. Prayer replenishes his strength to care for the suffering. Prayer helps him also with decision-making. In this case, he realizes that he needs to go to the nearby villages in order to preach there also.
Jesus’ communion with God in prayer makes it possible that he is so totally transparent for God’s love, that God’s love becomes so visible and tangible in him. We, too, are meant to become transparent for God’s love more and more. Jesus’ “person is nothing but love,” Pope Francis wrote, “a love given gratuitously… The signs he works, especially in favor of sinners, the poor, the marginalized, the sick and the suffering are all meant to teach [us] mercy.”
Dear sisters and brothers in the Lord, We cannot answer the question why humans have to suffer. Jesus does not answer it, either. But he shows us God’s loving solidarity that those who suffer can count on. That’s why he has come. It is our call to follow his example.
Do we also set times aside, like Jesus, for personal or communal prayer, during which we open ourselves to the love of God and receive strength and inner clarity for the any activities of our day? Do we intentionally plan such times?
We can face suffering with the love of God. If we ourselves are going through a hard time, we can imagine that Jesus is present to us today in this Eucharist and is healing us, as he touches us in the Eucharistic bread and wine and becomes one with us.
And we can ask ourselves: Who are the suffering or grieving people in our families, and among the folks around us? Is today’s gospel calling us to be present to one or more of them, to listen to them, perhaps to grieve and to weep with them, and to assist them?
We can become instruments of God’s compassion and solidarity for others, we can become God’s compassion in flesh, God’s care in motion, and enduring witnesses of a God who cares. As it was with Job, so it is sometimes with us. God doesn’t seem to answer our why questions. – However God, revealed to us in Jesus, and through us to others, always can heal the brokenhearted.
Fr. Thomas Leitner, OSB