Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Tuesday in the 17th Week of Ordinary Time (II)
Memorial of Saint Martha
Lamentation that Leads to Life

Readings: Jeremiah 14:17-22; Psalms 79:8, 9, 11 and 13; John 11:19-27
Picture: CC jomiwi

I’m no expert. But sometimes I think that there is really only one thing that sells movies these days: thrills. Of course, these will come in different forms and genres: action, sex, violence, comedy, romance, and even horror. But the truth remains that people tend, for the most part, to flock to films that excite them in some way. Such that if a serious movie-maker wishes to tap into a wider audience – instead of being stuck only with the few who may frequent small art-house cinemas – the work must be packaged in such a way that it provides the thrills even as it may explore deeper themes. Make a movie that is too dark, and people will be turned off. We don’t really go to the movies for realism, as much as to escape. And perhaps the same might be said for our approach to life in general. We tend usually to steer clear of difficult and painful issues and feelings. For the most part, ours is a feel-good generation.

Assuming this is true, we might wonder how this affects our spiritual life? What impact do our obsession with thrills and our aversion to trouble have on our relationship with God? One possible result is that, when we pray, we may well find it difficult to talk to God about the difficult feelings that we experience from time to time, feelings such as anger and grief, or anxiety and confusion. Sometimes we may not even be aware that we are experiencing these feelings, since we’re so used to habitually tuning them out. Even if we do sense them to some degree, we tend to avoid dwelling on them. We try to look on the bright side. And then, our prayer might seem to dry up. Nothing seems to be happening. Which is quite understandable, since we are refusing to look at the very issues that are supposed to be happening.

How different is this outlook from what we find in the readings today. The first reading offers us an example of a form of prayer that we don’t hear much about in this feel-good culture of ours. It is the prayer of lament. Tears flood my eyes night and day, unceasingly… The prophet grieves not only for himself, but mainly for the disaster that has befallen the people. He laments the terrible effects of the drought and famine that he sees around him. And beyond the shortage of food, quite likely Jeremiah’s tears are shed also for the famine of the Word of God. Notice how closely the prophet’s prayer reflects what is happening in reality. There is no attempt to suppress the pain that he feels, a pain that is both personal and communal. Neither is there is any embarrassment at presenting it to God. And underlying this open lamentation, this unabashed ventilation of grief, is something that gives the prayer its power: for your name’s sake do not reject us… O our God, you are our hope. The courage to lament comes from the undying hope that God will not turn a blind eye to the sufferings of his people.

We find something similar too in Martha’s conversation with Jesus at the tomb of her brother Lazarus. Martha’s grief is personal. She has lost her brother. But it is also shared. Many Jews had come to Martha and Mary to sympathise with them over their brother… And she speaks about it quite openly with Jesus. She does not feel the need to try to put on a brave front, or to talk about the weather. If you had been here, my brother would not have died, but I know that, even now, whatever you ask of God, he will grant you… And her hope in Jesus is rewarded. Her lamentation leads to life. For it is addressed to the One who is the resurrection and the life.

What do we learn from this – we who live in a pain-filled world, and yet who cling so obsessively to our need to feel good? Are we not encouraged and inspired to imitate Martha and Jeremiah? Are we not challenged to learn to face our grief with courage, and to address our prayers of lamentation to the Lord in the hope that he will lead us to the fullness of life?

How might we be helped to do this today?


  1. Dr Jean Twenge, in her acclaimed book The 'Me' Generation, asserts that those born after 1990 (i.e. The 'Me' Generation) is characterized by the attitude that everything is possible and everything is coming up roses. Pain is to be suppressed and banished from the consciousness because what's the point of dwelling on it when it only makes you miserable? The feel-good culture, as Fr Chris points out, is here. The Singaporean culture adds another dimension to it: no problem cannot be resolved by human intellect and ingenuity, or money. Why need to turn to God?

    To this cocktail of attitudes and expectations, add a dose of obsession with thrills / excitement. You have only to recall the great lengths MediaCorp artistes and even the CEO of Ren Chi Hospital go to raise money for charity. {Can you imagine Archbishop abseiling down a Suntec Tower to raise funds for the Catholic charities?}. Every time something takes our breath away, our expectations are raised a notch higher. You only have to watch award-winning TV shows like CSI, Prison Break, Heroes... to know what I mean. The blood and gore is so graphic they assailed my senses, which become numb with time. So can we blame the young for being bored with Mass which is neither thrilling nor exciting?

    And yet, spiritual life, which mirrors our ordinary human existence, is full of thrills and spills. It is as exciting, if not more so, when seen through the eyes of faith. If only we let the Holy Spirit script and direct it.

  2. The sharing is palpable since it relates to our daily existence in an increasingly secular world with all its enticing glamor and glitz. We often lose track of what is essential in which Sr. Brige McKenna aptly lament "We can be easily evangelized by the world."
    To be in the world and be out of it requires constant vigilance and ever mindfulness of our actions, as reflected in today's article by Lee Wei Ling on Pg 22 in the Straits Times. Her very struggle mirrors our own, irrespective of religious affliations.
    Just this morning, an educational program I was watching clearly espoused the view that pain is essential to growth. Shorn of the daily struggles, how can we face up to sudden mishaps they hit us with no apparent reason.
    Just look at Jesus and the lessons drawn from this Man-God who had to face the unthinkable and yet cry out "Forgive them ..." Where is the nobility of our own attempt?? Our search for meaning cannot get any higher than this.
    Lord have mercy. .. ..


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