St. Paul had every reason to be discouraged by the situation in the Corinth Church. Things only seemed to get worse after his first letter to them. He was now the victim of the merciless criticism and personal attacks by those who wanted to discredit him and his missionary style. His reputation was being ruined and ridiculed and the community was turning against him despite his love and care for them.
Yet he says emphatically, “We are not discouraged.” He wards off all discouragement by choosing carefully what he focuses on, “We look not to what is seen, but to what is unseen; for what is seen is transitory, but what is unseen is eternal.” He does not focus on “what is seen,” i.e. the “momentary light affliction” from his wicked adversaries; but he chooses to focus on “what is unseen” i.e. God acting in the depth of his soul in a hidden way to “produce for him and eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.” He does not focus on “the outer (visible) self that is wasting away” but on the “(invisible) inner self that is being renewed day by day.”
The Gospel shows us that Jesus Christ remains the only way for us to gain any insight into and communion with “what is unseen.” His relatives in His native place see Him attending to the crowd without time to eat. Focusing only on the visible, they conclude, “He is out of His mind.” The scribes from Jerusalem condemn Him as being “possessed by Beelzebub.” Jesus does not get discouraged with them but highlights and leads them to be aware of the “things that are unseen,” which includes His victorious struggle and triumph over Satan and our liberation from Satan’s dominion, “No man can enter a strong man’s house to plunder his property unless he first ties up the strong man.” What is unseen is that the one who was unjustly condemned as a crazy possessed rabbi is actually the one who entered into combat with Satan for our liberation and prevailed.
Our struggle against discouragement and despair demands that we too be particularly aware of and focused on the enduring “what is unseen” while engaged with the transitory “what is seen” and perceptible to the human senses and faculties. There are some things that we want to focus on if we are going to overcome the many forms of discouragement.
- God’s loving presence and action in us. Discouragement is usually accompanied by the sense of being alone and unable to face the struggles of life. We remedy discouragement by connecting to the Triune God within us and cooperating with the eternal divine plan to bring us to glory through the royal road of suffering and pain. Our “momentary light afflictions” become preludes to an “eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” when we choose to focus on the divine presence and action within us rather than being fixated on our agendas, wounded egos, and painful life experiences.
- Our immortal soul and the need to feed the soul with truth and grace. Our consumeristic and materialistic age can easily lead us to forget to feed our souls with revealed truth and divine grace and just focus on the needs of the body, a body that would eventually be the food of worms in the grave. We pamper and beautify the body while the soul languishes. A soul that is devoid of the love of God and His grace cannot but succumb easily to discouragement and despair in the face of life’s struggles. It is genuine love of God that moves us to resist discouragement at all cost because we want to give ourselves to God completely.
- The reality of heaven and hell. We can only face discouragement and its attendant confusion when we know where we are heading to: heaven or hell. A life without a sense of direction or purpose is a futile existence that does not have a chance against discouragement. We must live with that conviction that we are children of God now, that Christ has prepared a place in heaven for us, that He is leading us home to Him now and that hell still remains a possibility for us while on this earth if we reject divine love and mercy.
- The existence of the devil and the reality of spiritual warfare. The evil one will do anything to separate us from Jesus and to lose the new life and hope that we have in Christ. He tempts us chiefly to discouragement and despair by reminding us of our sins, exaggerating the struggles ahead for us, and making us doubt the power, love, and wisdom of God to bring us to heaven. How can we overcome discouragement when we fail to realize that “our adversary the devil is prowling like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” We have no choice but to “resist him, solid in our faith,” (1Pet 5:8,9) by engaging in spiritual warfare through prayer, meditation on the Word of God, fasting, sacraments, and due vigilance.
- The power of doing the divine will. St. John reminds us that, “The world passes away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God endures forever.”(1Jn 2:17) The will of God, when done with love, unites us to Jesus Christ and makes us intimate with Him to the point that we begin to share in His power over discouragement. He who said, “Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother,” is the same one who “gives those who believe in Him power to become sons of God.”(Jn 1:12) Because the divine will endures forever, the darkness of discouragement is dispelled the moment we find and do the divine will, “Heaven and earth will pass away but my words will not pass away.”(Mt 24:35)
- The hidden consequences of sin in our lives. Sin is not just an offense against God who is ever ready to forgive us. The Fall of Adam and Eve show us the grave consequences of sin in our personal lives and relationships, consequences which we can never tell beforehand, especially the divisions that sins create. Sin creates inner conflict and division in us, making us afraid and dishonest, hiding from God and ourselves like guilty Adam and Eve. Sin divides us from those we should love, breeds bitter rivalry and mistrust, and fosters the blame game we see in our first parents. We lose the battle against discouragement when we try to compromise with sin, downplay its consequences, or pretend we can predict its consequences.
- The reality of the communion of saints. Jesus said that those who do the will of God are His brothers, sisters and mother. How powerfully is our hope renewed in the face of discouragement when we know that there is a “cloud of witnesses,” including Mary, the Mother of God, praying for us and cheering us to victory in our earthly struggle. Mary did the will of God as faithfully as anyone did and she is obtaining for us all the graces and support that we need to do the same always. There is no way that we can give in to discouragement when we know that we are not alone in this struggle but are in living communion with those our brothers and sisters who have walked the same path and done so victoriously.
I am pained and saddened by the death of American chef, author, and popular television personality, Mr. Michael Bourdain, who is reported to have taken his own life a few hours ago in Strasbourg, France. It is painful to see many of our brothers and sisters within and outside the Church giving in to the discouragements of life through suicide. No one of us is immune from struggles to keep on doing the right thing in life in the face of discouraging realities.
If we are going to overcome these discouragements, then we need to honestly ask ourselves, “What am I focusing on in my life today: the transitory and momentary “seen” or the enduring “unseen”?” If we choose to focus our hearts and minds on “what is unseen,” while engaged with “what is seen,” we will surely share in Christ’s power and victory over all discouragement.
Glory to Jesus!!! Honor to Mary!!!