There’s a land of beginning again; where skies are always blue. Though we’ve made mistakes, that’s true; let’s forget the past and start life anew. Though we wander by a river of tears; where sunshine won’t come through. Let’s find that paradise where sorrow can’t live; and learn the teachings of forget and forgive. In the land of beginning again; where broken dreams come true.
In the 1945 movie, The Bells of St. Mary’s, Bing Crosby (Fr. O’Malley) perfectly intoned those beautiful words for the silver screen. And yet, despite this encouragement, each of us knows that beginning again is an often uncomfortable and unsettling reality of life. Given this, it is as though we are constantly fleeing an aggressor. Our response, then, is to recoil and attempt to manufacture a reality for ourselves that is free of change- especially change that is painful. So we set course. If we are studious and attend the “right” schools, we bag that dream job and begin to amass our worldly riches. With the practicality of life now firmly deposited in our duffle bag, we further pray that dreams of building a home, falling in love, and raising a family take root. And of course, who can forget, living happily ever after. If one could purchase such a life- say, in aisle five of the local grocery store, who wouldn’t?
Early on, in the Book of Job, such a purchase seemed to have been transacted. In recalling that God-fearing man, we are told that he was blameless and upright, always turning from evil.
There were born to him seven sons and three daughters. He had seven thousand sheep, three thousand camels, five hundred yoke of oxen, and five hundred she-asses, and very many servants; so that this man was the greatest of all the people of the east. [1:2-3]
To most observers, Job “had it all.” Indeed, it was a though he had won the lottery. In our day, we would certainly have read about him on the front pages of the New York Times or Wall Street Journal. But then, piece-by-piece, all that what was once thought to be “perfect” in Job’s life began to unravel. And with Satan having first assailed his character, we are informed that Job was then stripped of his property and children. During the midst of this tragedy, even his beloved wife turns on him.
“Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God, and die.” But he said to her, “You speak as one of the foolish women would speak. Shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil?” In all this, Job did not sin with his lips. [2:9-10]
Today, I gather that there are many pilgrims among us who have experienced what I like to call the Jobian dilemma: of having an “ideal” life situation subject to unexpected winds and choppy waters; whether it be through a job loss, failed marriage, health scare, or the death of a loved one. You name it.
With life turning on the proverbial dime, our reality moves from planned to unplanned. Having followed the seeming “directions” of life, we are led toward the uncomfortable and unexpected. Hence, we are tempted to ask many pointed and angry questions. “How can it be that this has happened to me? Why can’t life be the way marketers depict it to be in the Sunday newspaper advertisements- where the models always bear a cheerful smile- and the sun always seems to shine?” And as we quietly stare into the abyss, we wonder aloud whether life is no more than a random string of pearls bound by time. In desperation, our initial inclination is to be like Job’s wife and curse God. “After all, if God were good, why would He have allowed this?”
As people of faith, however, we are called to a life outlook that is both realistic and anticipatory. We know that bad things sometimes happen to good people. The life of Jesus, the words of Sacred Scripture, and the tradition of the Church provide ample testimony to this. And yet, despite the roll of human existence and life’s ups and downs, God challenges us to be faithful and to place our hope in Him. Like Jesus on His way to the Cross, we are called to hold our heads high, to walk straight, and to trust that if we do so that we will be forever changed, and challenged, too! Like Job, may our faith be strong and increase. May we pray that God sets our compass toward hope and fortitude in order that we might persevere and begin again. And from the Book of Revelation (21:5), may we always remember the words of He who sits upon the throne:
Behold, I make all things new.