Friday, September 26, 2008

Thursday in the 25th Week of Ordinary Time
The Crucial Hinge

Readings: Ecclesiastes 1:2-11; Psalms 90:3-4, 5-6, 12-13, 14 and 17bc; Luke 9:7-9
Picture: CC Wm Chamberlain

You are not alone!

Today, I can’t help but recall these words, uttered repeatedly by a presenter at one of a series of orientation events that I had to attend over the last several days.

You are not alone!

For me, those words seem like a hinge around which two significant interior movements were (and probably still are) taking place in me as I begin yet another new stage in my life. The first of these movements was occasioned by the massive information overload that my fellow incoming graduate students and I were experiencing. There was just so much to do and to become familiar with in such a short time. It was quite overwhelming. Have we bitten off much more than we can ever hope to chew? And yet, even in the midst of the growing realization of the immensity of the task ahead of us, I also found myself quite consoled by the sincerity and genuine concern expressed by those whose responsibility it is to welcome us and to ease our transition into graduate study, as well as by the considerable resources to which we have access.

You are not alone!

This sharing of my orientation experience is occasioned by our readings today, which also present us with two (possible) movements centered upon a hinge. We find the first movement expressed in both the first reading and the gospel. In the latter, for all his despotic power, Herod finds himself greatly perplexed by the reports concerning Jesus. And in the former, for all his obvious intellectual acumen, Qoheleth comes to the conclusion that, especially when seen from the vast perspective of history, all human effort is vain. There is nothing new under the sun… Here we find a movement from the arrogance born of a false sense of mastery and self-sufficiency to the perplexity that springs from a realization that, whatever appearances might suggest, we don’t really have a handle on the world.

But, even if this is true, we are not doomed to perpetual anxiety and despair. For our readings also speak to us of a second possible movement – one that invites us to see beyond the historical to the eternal. And, not unlike my experience at orientation, this movement also takes place around a hinge. We find this hinge in the response to the psalm:

In every age, O Lord, you have been our refuge…

Even as crisis situations – such as the one that Wall Street is facing at the moment, for example – may force us to acknowledge how small we are, and how insignificant are our efforts when viewed against the immensity of creation stretched out in time and space, the psalm prompts us to make the following prayer: Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain wisdom of heart…

Teach us to realize that we are not alone. Teach us to move not only from arrogance to perplexity, but also from perplexity to trust. Help us continue hoping in the One who is always there for us. Give us the wisdom and courage to act even when situations seem to overwhelm our meager abilities to respond…

How might the Lord be reminding us today that we are not alone?


  1. Nowadays, I believe strongly what Jesus said in John 14: That the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit is really within us. So yes, we are not alone.

    One key reason is a personal encounter a few years ago. The other reason is Fr Edwin Vaz's account of the attack on Fr Edward Sequeira in Orissa last month, as reported in ZENIT:

    [Some people came to Fr Edward's residence looking for the priest. He said, 'I am the one.' They pulled him out and about 20 people started beating him all over with sticks, iron bars, shovels and spades for about 45 minutes. Soon he had fractures on both shoulders, his right hand and the back of his skull. Meanwhile some went inside the house, set fire and came out. The assailants then locked him in the house.]

    [As Fr Edward collapsed alone inside the burning house,] he realized he was not alone. There was Jesus with him. He experienced tremendous strength at this moment. He experienced Jesus not as a separate entity from him, but, 'He in me and I in him.' He experienced Jesus suffering in him...

    He collected half a bucket of water and went and threw it in his bed room and the fire went off. Miracle?

    He filled another half bucket of water and threw it in the office and the same result. Fire in the office was put off. He had a deep sense that God was with him. He went back to the bathroom and locked himself inside.

  2. It is comforting to know we are not alone, that we are all one in Christ. In church, I would imagine that each person present is one small part and the congregation is the whole. And I look at the man across the hall, the irritatingly noisy kid behind me, the young woman answering her mobile phone and remind myself, we are all one. And God love everyone of us, as I should try to do so. Grrrrr

    Yet, we ARE alone, aren't we? When I die, I will go to Christ all by myself. I try not to think too much about this conundrum.

  3. What a coincidence! Two comments posted at exactly the same time: 3:31:00am PDT! An online confirmation that we are not alone? ;-)

  4. Ah! From "arrogance to perplexity"--how well I remember that feeling, from being the cream of the crop at "O" levels in an all girls' school to the bottom of the ladder in a premier JC. Worse still, feeling extremely shaky in medical school amongst the many intellectually superior!

    This isn't about the spiritual life, just the ego-dashing descent of a used-to-be bright academic star meeting intellectual giants along the way.

    However, such a state of humility and humiliation does wonders for ones' prayer life for the fact that there is no one else but God to depend on for hope, even if it is only a prayer of desperation!

    It was a near-failure (from oversight) in grad school that helped me travel from "perplexity to trust" , for without God's timely intervention and inspiration, I'd really be a dead duck!

    Having tasted near-failure which translated to unexpected success by God's grace on many more occasions, I can only be thankful that He is ever with me all these years in areas more crucial than academic success.

    He has come through for me over and over again through heartaches, miscarriages, SARS, bereavement, temptations, test of compassion, disappointments and grave spiritual dangers.....He IS my refuge and my everything...

    Unlike the road to academic success, meeting spiritual giants is about finding their greatness in their littleness, and learning from them all about self-emptying of vain glory for a deeper walk with God.

    Both journeys require trust, both depend on a greater Someone, but one is headed for the laurels, the other the cross.

    Still, it is to God's glory that we live life to the fullest and make the best use of all the talents given to us to extend His Kingdom.

    So for those of us still enjoying our studies, let's continue to trust and pray that all will be well if we can carry with us a prayer of gratitude (vs regret) for yesterday, a prayer of hope (vs anxiety) for tomorrow, and live today with a smile trusting that God is here.

    Maybe then, it will be OK to peek out of our blankets in the morning to face yet another unknown day.


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