Chances are that we, ordinary people, can still list our successes, because they are limited in number. But even in their limited number they can give us some reassurance that the future will be better. Actually, to be more precise: ordinary people without faith can be reassured that their future will be better, based on their past successes.
We, believers, should be certain that our future will be better on this earth as a foretaste of an endless future of glory in heaven. To strengthen such certainty, today, again, we gather, as we do every weekend, to be aided by divine grace and be nurtured by our God. We assemble to celebrate His love poured out in our hearts so that we can see clear signs, all around, that we are FAMILY, God’s family! And, oh yes, also to receive confirmation from our heavenly Father that a future of glory awaits us.
All this, though, with a divine twist: God has prepared the best of times for all of us if only we trust, not in our human skills, know-how and resources, but in His divine shepherding and limitless compassion. In other words, we are offered a repeat, done upon us on this day, of what we hear in our readings for the Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time.
This offer is given to realize that we, who once were far off have become near by the blood of Christ. (Ephesians 2:13) We have been reconciled and made into one Body, the Body of Christ, and have access in one Spirit to the Father. (Ephesians 2:18)
Accordingly, the Lord Jesus calls us into a deserted place, away from, perhaps, unfounded optimism stemming from our meager human successes. Because of the dire and harrowing condition of most people around us, because of their longing for Christ to pity them and touch them with his grace, that deserted place to which Jesus wants to take us, could turn out to be a little boat on a lake. Today, it is the little boat of our church on the menacing sea of this world.
Yet, even that short time spent all by ourselves, a relatively small, selected group with the Lord, is sufficient to hearten us. In here, as in a little boat on the Sea of Galilee, we realize that all the powers we have, were given us by Jesus. We become realistic as to the extent of our human capabilities enhanced by grace. We are confirmed as members of his family. We are energized and refreshed by his undivided attention. We bond with him with renewed trust and joyous familiarity.
In here, we are urged to eat his Body and drink his Blood. In here, we shall enjoy the full extent of his compassion for our frailty, for our weaknesses, for our spiritual poverty. Thus, we should not feel jealous when the time of intimacy with our Lord, as on a lake, will be over and we will have to share him with a massive crowd anxiously waiting for him by the shore.
Practically speaking, besides time spent in church, we must carve out some time, every day, to be alone with our Lord. This is absolutely necessary also for the busiest mother of many children. The calmness, the stillness, the warmth that Holy Communion and meditation on God’s Word offer will make us more focused, more energized, more motivated and more open to whatever other people might need from us. Daily moments of intimacy with the Lord will make us better parents, better workers, better children, better students, better retirees, better in whatever our calling in life is.
Yet, those waiting anxiously “by the shore” are people who might hurt more than we do, and might need the Lord more desperately than we do. Having been “in the same boat with the Lord during the crossing,” chances are that he might want our help to attend to the needs of those “by the shore.” Due to this real possibility, we should anticipate with eagerness future moments of intimacy with him so that, in him and through him, our successes achieved in helping him out may multiply. At the same time, though, in humble acknowledgement of our real spiritual condition, we shall desire to mingle among the crowd by the shore, to be ourselves the objects of the Lord’s compassion, tenderness and shepherding.
Speaking of Jesus’ compassion, biblical scholars are quick to point out that the Hebrew word for compassion is a cognate of the word for womb. Thus, what Jesus feels for us, today, and for all shepherd-less sheep out there, is that unique pain that only a mother can feel for her children and, by reflection, for all children of all mothers, who are disoriented, heading mindlessly toward deadly danger, hurting, lost, listless, exhausted. Hence, no matter how hardened by the trials of life we might think we are; no matter how seasoned and toughened we deem ourselves to be, humanly speaking, we need to know, daily, that the Lord is moved with pity, with tenderness and compassion for our real condition, especially whenever our vulnerable, weak side is exposed or severely tested.
Now, looking at the Crucifix, we are confronted by the intensity of Jesus’ compassion for us all. Today, we learn that, in the future, we will have to treasure and make the most of any short time of closeness and intimacy we might have with him. But, today, we open our minds and make our hearts receptive of all the words of life he will speak to us while we are assembled, expectantly, in our church.