Two related questions that have been on my mind in the aftermath of the Typhoon Yolanda that struck in the Philippine Visayan islands are, “Where is God?” and, “What is He doing?” May be you are asking the same questions as we continue to come to grips with the reality about this disaster. We ask these questions with pains as we see pictures and hear stories of the deadly incident that has left close to 4000 people dead, numerous persons missing, injured or displaced, and in inestimable loss and damage of property. In this time of death and painful loss, when all hope seems lost for many, the question on your minds may be something close to my lingering questions, “Where is God and what is He doing?”
In today’s Gospel passage, Jesus speaks about what we will experience in the hands of men and nature during the closing of this age. He tells us what men will do. They will fight wars against each other, they will deceive many Christians, they will seize and persecute Christians, they will hate us Christians “because of His name,” and Christians will be put to death even by their loved ones. Jesus also tells us how nature will act and affect us. “There will be powerful earthquakes, famines and plagues.” If men will do such things and nature will act thus, where is God and what is He doing?
Jesus answers the questions on our minds when He states that all these things, i.e. the evil that men do and the havoc of nature can never be the final word. But these events, in a way known by Him alone, “will lead to us giving testimony” to Him to the very end of our lives. Jesus Christ, “in whom are all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge,” (Col 2:3) is so close to us at those painful moments that He “will give us a wisdom in speaking that all our adversaries will be powerless to resist or refute.” By virtue of Jesus’ closeness to us even at those moments, we will participate in the same Holy Spirit that filled the soul of Jesus and draw from Him all that we need to be faithful to Jesus to the very end of our lives.
Jesus was “led by the Spirit,” (Mt 4:1) went around “in the power of the Holy Spirit,” (Lk4:14) and, by this same Spirit, He remained faithful to the Father’s will till the end of His earthly life, offering Himself to the Father through the same eternal Spirit. (Heb 9:14) By our union with Him now, Jesus has made it possible for us to be children of God led by the same Spirit (Rom 8:14) and He has granted us access in His Spirit to everything that we need to be faithful to Him to the very end. In order to “secure our lives,” we must persevere till the very end in our faithfulness to Him. We may not be delivered from the natural and man-made tragedies of life, but Jesus remains close to us to give us all that we need to persevere in fidelity to Him to the end of our lives.
A few months ago, I visited a religious sister in her religious community’s home for the aged and infirm religious sisters here in the Philippines. She was confined to bed, experiencing so much body pains. When she told me that she was 97 years and had been a religious sister for over 78 years, I thought to myself, “Thank God, at last I have met my first living relic!” I was curious when she asked me to write down my full name for her. Then she held up her rosary beads (I did not dare to ask how old that rosary was) and said to me, “I still have my apostolate of praying for priests.” I was deeply edified. She can no longer go on foreign missions, or lead her religious community, or teach classes in schools, or give religious seminars, or help the sick or teach catechism like she used to do before. But even in her pains and in her frailty, she still held on to her apostolate of praying for priests. That is what it means to be faithful to the very end. We know where God is and what He is doing. God is with her and He is giving her all that she needs to be faithful to Him to the very end of her life so that she can secure her life.
St. Paul addresses a similar message to the Christians in Thessalonica. They had grown weary of anticipating the Lord’s return and had become lazy and disorderly in their conduct. They do not realize that they have been endowed by God for faithfulness to the end and not for idleness or disorderly conduct. St. Paul reminds them that he never ceased being zealous for the Gospel while he was with them and that he and his companions worked “in toil and drudgery, night and day.” The Apostles remained faithful to their mission from God even when this work became tedious, unpleasant, or monotonous. He called them to return to an ordered and faithful discharge of their duties till the very end.
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, here in the Philippines, in this time of pain and death, we may be asking, “Where is God and what is He doing?” He is with us in these dark moments and He is giving us all that we need to be faithful to Him as His disciples to the very end of time. Our hurting brothers and sisters will come to us in need and ask us the same question: “Where is God and what is He doing?” We, the people of faith, are the ones who are to share this Good News with them and help them realize that Jesus, the Great Emmanuel, “God with us,” is so close to us that we have access to all things needed for perseverance in His Spirit.
In the words of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “The world we live in often seems very far from the one promised us by faith. Our experiences of evil and suffering, injustice, and death, seem to contradict the Good News; they can shake our faith and become a temptation against it.” How can we connect with the fact that God is with us giving us all that we need to be faithful to Him? The Catechism continues, “It is then that we must turn to the witnesses of faith… to the Virgin Mary, who in her “pilgrimage of faith”, walked into the “night of faith” in sharing the darkness of her son’s suffering and death.” (CCC164-165)
Mary walked into that “night of faith” to the fullest, standing at the foot of the Cross and still believing the words of the Angel Gabriel that God was with her. She never asked, “Where is God and what is He doing?” But she knew that He who was drawing His last breath on the Cross was also her God who was giving her what she needed to stand firm at the most painful moments and be a witness to others that we are never abandoned by God in our trials and pains. Let us turn to Mary at these moments and she will walk with us in our dark moments and assure our hearts that we are never alone and that everything will lead to us giving testimony – the evil of men and the natural disasters. By giving testimony to the end of our lives, we too will be securing our lives.
St. John reminds us that “Jesus loved His own in the world and He loved them to the very end.” (Jn 13:1) St. Mathew’s Gospel ends with Jesus saying, “Behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.” (Mt 28:20). Christ’s abiding and active presence is made concrete to us as we encounter Him in this Eucharist. We are never alone. We know the evil that men will do. We know how nature can affect us. But now we know where God is and what He is doing. He is with us giving us all that we need to be faithful to the very end of our lives and thus secure our own lives.
Glory to Jesus!! Honor to Mary!!