Tuesday, July 15, 2008
Tuesday in the 15th Week of Ordinary Time (II)
Memorial of St. Bonaventure, Bishop and Doctor of the Church
Facing the Terrors of the Night
Readings: Isaiah 7:1-9; Psalms 48:2-3a, 3b-4, 5-6, 7-8; Matthew 11:20-24
Picture: CC Cayusa
It’s quite a matter of common sense that one doesn’t do the same things in the night as one does in the day. For example, one needs to switch on the lights at night, but not so much in the day. And one must also be more careful if one chooses to venture out in the dark, especially if one lives in an unsafe neighborhood. Like it or not, one has to adjust one’s behavior according to the time of day.
Something similar is necessary in the spiritual life. Here too there are moments of light and moments of darkness. There are times when God seems close, illuminating our way with the radiance of his smile. And all is bright and cheery. But there are also occasions when, for whatever reason, the divine Sun seems to hide its face, when the road ahead is shrouded in darkness and danger, and our hearts are seized with a sense of foreboding and dread. What can we do to face the terrors of the night?
It is this question that our readings invite us to consider today. For in both readings night has fallen. In the first, the kingdom of Judah faces the desolating darkness of military threat. A formidable foe – consisting of the allied armies of Syria and Israel – is besieging Jerusalem. In the gospel, the night is one of hardness of heart, a stubborn refusal to accept the Word of God. But, as terrifying as the situations may be, all is not lost. When faced with the perils of the night, steps can yet be taken to survive, and even to thrive.
At a time when Ahaz, the King of Judah, might be inclined to panic and to give in to despair, the prophet Isaiah counsels patience and calm. Pay attention, keep calm, have no fear, do not let your heart sink. At a time when the people might be sorely tempted to turn, in desperation, to idolatry and to rely on worldly powers, the prophet counsels steadfast fidelity to the One True God. If you do not stand by me you will not stand at all. As difficult as it may be to carry out, such advice has stood the test of time.
The words of the prophet resonate, for example, with the Rules for the Discernment of Spirits of St. Ignatius Loyola: When one is in desolation, he should strive to persevere in patience. This reacts against the vexations that have overtaken him… (Spiritual Exercises, #131) In time of desolation we should never make any change, but remain firm and constant in the resolution and decision which guided us before the desolation… it will be very advantageous to intensify our activity against the desolation. We can insist more upon prayer, upon meditation, and on much examination of ourselves. We can make an effort in a suitable way to do some penance. When one is in desolation, he should be mindful that God has left him to his natural powers to resist the different agitations and temptations of the enemy in order to try him. He can resist with the help of God, which always remains, though he may not clearly perceive it… (SpEx, # 318-320).
Measures such as these seem also to be what Jesus is trying to help his listeners to take. In the gospel, the darkness faced by the people of Chorazin, Bethsaida and Capernaum, are clearly the result of their own negligence and stubbornness. In such a situation, Jesus prompts them to remember the miracles that have been worked in them. In the terminology of the Spiritual Exercises, Jesus is inviting the people to examine themselves, to meditate upon the times in the past when God has smiled upon them, and to allow the feelings evoked by such memories to spur them on to repentance. These are the appropriate activities for a time of darkness.
What measures do we take when faced with the terrors of the night?
Posted by Fr Chris at 9:51 am