Today’s readings remind us once again that we are not the ones in control but with faith, all things are possible. Further, they remind us that the outcomes we pray for are not necessarily what we receive rather the outcomes are what we are meant to receive.
The first reading is clear in letting us know that life is not a bowl of cherries but as we read over and over again, we are not alone in these trials and tribulations. As I read about the different pairs of characteristics, I thought about the story of the butterfly struggling to release itself from its cocoon. A kindly man watching decided to relieve it of its struggle by enlarging the exit hole. Indeed, the butterfly slipped easily through, no more struggling through that narrow slit. However, many of you remember that without that struggle through the narrow passageway, the butterfly emerged deformed and misshapen. The so-called easy exit did not result in an easier life for the butterfly, quite the contrary, the swollen body and wilted wings were not the fate designed for the butterfly. That fate could only be accomplished through the struggle – the beauty of the butterfly and the gift of flight are the results of struggling. So as it is with us, “we are afflicted in every way.” But we are hardly alone in this affliction; we are guided and supported throughout it all, if we only open our hearts. How often have we asked “why me?” Rather than the woe is me of “why me?” perhaps we are better served to ask why – what am I to learn from this, what strength am I to gain from this struggle. Nothing is a mistake; there are no coincidences with God. I am not denying that at times our willfulness and selfishness may lead us away from God. It is through opening our hearts and souls that we can find new meanings in our afflictions.
The responsorial psalm continues the concern for our afflictions and shows us that even in our death we are free when we believe. Actually, it is probably most in our deaths that true freedom comes as we bask in the glory of God. We do have opportunities as we offer sacrifices of thanksgiving to experience freedom as well. What experiences are more fulfilling than those we make for others out of love? Is not Jesus manifest in those outpourings, big and little? The short note sent to those we know are in pain, the smile to the patron sitting alone in the restaurant, the extra courtesy extended to someone waiting in line. All of these are ways to demonstrate our love of Jesus and manifest that love in our actions. Of course, there are larger ways to display our faith and love, but all are significant. When I was small my mother taught me to always say a prayer when you pass an accident scene or you pull over for a rushing ambulance. A quick prayer for the persons involved that they will be safe and in God’s care. A small gesture, yet I believe a meaningful one when said with love and belief.
The gospel truly challenges us in our everyday life to face our sins and our short comings. We need to take that “moral and fearless inventory” that those in 12-step programs know so well. We need to hold that mirror in front of ourselves and see the whole image there. Not easy for any of us. Certainly, we would all find flaws and “afflictions.” The difference with this inventory than perhaps those are used to where the listing is the completion of the inventory, is the opportunity to change what is at hand. As we take count of stock, we can not only recognize what is there but embrace what could be there. If we do not like what we see, we can, with the love and support of our Lord, change it. We can repent and amend our lives. The Act of Contrition is a beautiful prayer that allows us to call our sins to mind and to vow to change.
I will close with some lines that accompanied the butterfly story and I apologize for not knowing the source. These lines have often provided great comfort for me and served to always remind me that I am, in the words of Ken Blanchard, “a spiritual being having a human experience” and that human experience is blessed, indeed, when I heed the Word and surrender my will.
I asked for Strength.........
I received nothing I wanted;
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