A few years ago, I served as Chaplin at the Catholic House at the Chautauqua Institute. I was there for a humor week. Each week the priests at the house give a lecture on a topic. Being a week on humor I spoke on Catholic humor. (Some of you heard my talk last summer as the patio talk), the other priest chose to speak on the Humor of Jonah, but when we got there the flyer said the Humor of Job, he rewrote his talk and found some humor in Job. Today’s first reading from Job has little humor or even hope in it.
As you know, the book of Job tells the story of Job who unlike Hercules goes from Hero to zero. All Job has is taken away and he spends lots of time on the ash heap as his friends keep asking him what sin he has committed to be so punished.
What Job says today rings true for anyone who has been on this globe for a period. None of us are free from struggles and often life can seem like a flash that is over all too soon. The words of Job are words spoken by one who has lost hope. He doesn’t allow his friends to console him. He moans and mourns his situation but seeks nor receives consolation.We have all been there. Job is in desolation. In life we easily find desolation, but we may have to seek consolation.
Years ago, St. Ignatius of Loyola spoke about these two experiences. He said we experience both desolations and consolations, and they will follow one upon the other. It is easy to identify desolation. Bad news seems to travel faster than good news. We may have to seek consolations, but they will present themselves.
Consolations can be as simple as a warm hand shared with another.
In the gospel Jesus reaches out and takes the hand of Peter’s mother-in-law. (let’s call her Amatatllah, which means “servant of God.”) Other than physical healing she needed the comfort of human touch. Illness can be an isolating experience. I recently heard an interview with a doctor, she told how when she visits people in the hospital, she takes a seat or asks permission to sit on the bed, this way she is level, eye to eye with the person. Reaching out to grip Peter’s mother-in-law’s hand helped to bridge the gap between her and Jesus. They are now more or less on an equal footing. I learned when I was sick how much energy small talk can take, this is why I usually keep my visits short. I was thankful to my mom who simply sat with me and didn’t engage me in conversation.
Let’s get back to desolation and consolation. St Ignatius said they would come together. I have found that when I am experiencing desolation consolation will soon follow. Often it is something as simple as a warm hand or a kind voice. Sometimes it is necessary to look for consolation, desolations seem easier to recognize, yet consolations will come soon. When they come, they make the desolations tolerable.
Poor Job needed consolation, yet his friends simply accused him of wrongdoing as if he brought his difficulties upon himself. The book of Job rehashes many of the old, trite explanations on why bad things happen to good people. Finally God appears and speaks to Job, mainly what God says is I am God and my ways are not your ways you are not to understand. Simply place faith in me and in time all will work out.Illness helps us to understand this. When we are ill we are reminded that we are not in charge, God is in charge, and my faith reminds me that my God loves me and all will work our in the end. Peter’s mother-in-law was ill and then she met Jesus and was well. Her healing came through the intercession of her family and friends. God sends us people to aid us in our times of need.
I am standing here before you, able to see, due to the prayers and support of many people. I felt the comforting hands of many of you. Your hands and prayers provide consolation in my time of need.
John Updike summed it up well in his poem Fever
Let me share with you his words:
I have brought back a good message from the land of 102 degrees:
God exists. I had seriously doubted it before;
but the bedposts spoke of it with utmost confidence,
the threads in my blanket took it for granted,
the tree outside the window dismissed all complaints,
and I have not slept so justly for years.
It is hard, now, to convey how emblematically appearances sat
upon the membranes of my consciousness; but it is truth long known,
that some secrets are hidden from health.
After mass today we will pray for the intercession of St Blaize to deliver us from illness. The blessed candles placed on our necks will be used to intercede with God for continued health. Like Job and Peter’s mother-in -law we experience the healing power of our God.
Let us give thanks and praise to our God who delivers us from our desolation and provides us with healings and consolations.