In the Our Father we learned to pray: “Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.” A better translation would be: Do not subject us to the test.
I have yet to find a single person on the face of the earth who likes to take tests, and exams. They can all be unforeseeable, unpredictable, and unpleasant. The prophet Habakkuk (1:2-3; 2:2-4) knew a thing or two about the tests of life and how they can weigh us down, even crush us at times: How long, O LORD? I cry for help, but you do not listen! I cry out to you, “Violence!” but you do not intervene. Why do you let me see ruin; why must I look at misery? Destruction and violence are before me; there is strife, and clamorous discord.
To withstand the test, in his infinite love for us, the Lord helps us develop genuine faith the size of a mustard seed. A mustard seed is so small that it is practically invisible, yet, we are assured, it would be sufficient to move a mulberry tree, say, from our backyard to the nearest sea. Thus, it would be quite sufficient to get us through the most trying times of our life.
Presently, our faith could be so small and so shaky, that we go for days, or weeks, or months, or even entire years, feeling crushed by what is staring us square in the face and ruining our existence. Of course, with some extreme exceptions, we do not state openly that the Lord must have forsaken us but, deep down in our heart, this could be exactly how we feel. “The Lord is not listening; the Lord ignores me; the Lord is far away from my anguish.”
We do not always feel this way, but this could be the prevailing thought. Hence, after short reprieves, we would fall back into our old doldrums and would feel even worse.
Today, we are helped to question our perception of God’s apparent absence and deafness to our pleas. Let us use an example from everyday life. As soon as parents notice that their toddler has enough leg strength, can pull himself up, and take a few hesitant steps along the edges of the furniture or inner walls, they hide and look anxiously to see if he would dare to leave the safety of walls and furniture and take a step or two on his own. Often, he would stop, turn around looking for his mom and dad with a deep frown on his face and might even begin to whimper anxiously until, hopefully, someone would show up and help support him.
Are his parents distant? Are they cruel? NO, they are simply acting wisely to help their child learn to enjoy more freedom with every new risk he takes.
The Lord places tests and hurdles in our life to help us learn genuine freedom by guiding us to face with courage and trust in him the challenges and the dangers of life. The Lord is never distant. Truly, he is closer to our inner self than we are. Of course, we already knew that, up here, at the mental level.
The problem for us is to cover the longest foot there is: the foot from our brain to our heart and gut. We wonder: “Where is the evidence of God’s boundless love for me, for my family, for my Church, for my Community?”
The Crucifix is the ultimate proof of this. And there cannot be anything else, ever, that would prove to us better than the Crucifix how much God loves us. Yet, the Crucifix is hardly ever sufficient to give us confidence enough to face the tests of life, to be productive citizens of our country and true disciples of Christ.
We also need evidence of God’s almighty power and unparalleled care for us. And that, my fellow believers with tiny seeds of faith, is the Resurrection! The Resurrection is that unique, unrepeatable, historical event that separates what God alone can do from what we can do alone by ourselves, as a group or together with him. Here, too, we cannot wait for anything more earthshaking than the Resurrection to prove God’s almighty power and unparalleled care for us. We need FAITH in God’s love and unlimited power.
Speaking of whatever makes us worried and anxious, FAITH means believing that there is absolutely nothing and no one that can match or outdo God in his love, power, and care. Whenever we allow our life to be poisoned by fear, anxiety, and restlessness, we prove our irrationality: we show that, viscerally, we think that there is something or someone that is stronger than God and his love. Here is St. Paul to set us straight:
What will separate us from the love of Christ? Will anguish, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or the sword? … No, in all these things we conquer overwhelmingly through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:35-39)
We get this kind of FAITH the same way athletes get more stamina and stronger muscles: by proper, daily training. Whenever we feel that something in our heart and in the gut is amiss, we should ask ourselves:
“How free am I at this moment?” “What is keeping me from enjoying life, from bearing good fruit?” “Did I abandon myself trustingly into the Father’s hands, or am I stubbornly trying to make it on my own?”
A loving gaze at the Crucifix and a sincere act of surrender into God’s hands will help us every time. All will unfold exactly as the Father has planned it according to his mysterious, painful at times, design, but always, at the end, filled with what is best for us.