The great test is Tribulation

Fr. Marion Charboneau, OSB

Fr. Marion Charboneau, OSB

A Homily by Fr. Marion Charbaoneau

In last Sunday's Gospel, we met a widow.  This is a powerful image in Israel. The widow is a symbol of everyone who is weak, vulnerable, powerless.  As you all can tell from the parable, her protector is God. Her justice will come from him.   

This widow leads us to the central point: God’s vindication. God upholding, justifying, exonerating, confirming the believer. We remember that – we live in a world that’s increasingly hostile to our faith.

Unmistakably, though, this widow, and for that matter, Moses, gives us another message. We center on persistence in prayer.  This is foundational for every Christian life, but truly part of the very definition of the monk, of a monastery, of St. Benedict’s Abbey. A few years ago, the tourism people gave us an honorable mention as one of the eight wonders of Kansas, customs category. For our prayer, every day, seven days a week, for over 150 years.  If nothing else this parable  reminds us to pray for those in the position of this widow, to say “Render a just decision for me” on their behalf. 

Poverty and racism are two things to bear in mind—the end results of them lead to the deaths of blacks and police. Frankly, I don’t have the solutions other than to say placing the problem before God, is the necessary start.

All of this is linked to the fundamental test for the People of God: The great test is Tribulation. Rather than say as we did in the psalm “Our help is in the name of the Lord who made heaven and earth,” people convince themselves that God isn’t listening. God doesn’t care. Even monks, despite all of our formation and theology, can nonetheless entertain such nonsense.
It produces great evils. This thinking produces desperation and hopelessness. For the most wicked men, this becomes their boast. God doesn’t care, doesn’t listen, God doesn’t matter – God does not even exist.  In truth, they have the spirit of the judge—fearing neither God nor man. Lesser versions of this start when we conclude that just for a moment that communion with God can be set aside or ignored. The greatest versions leave people dead on the street — violence, even unto murder, that cannot be accepted.

People facing Tribulation are tempted to seek easy solutions, and that is the evil spirit that we battle in our witness as Christians and monks. In the end, the Great Apostasy that will be the church’s supreme trial is nothing more than an easy solution. We eliminate God, we substitute ourselves and we make him unnecessary. This is nothing less than the spirit of the Antichrist. 

Paul, on the contrary, says “Remain faithful to what you have heard and believed.” For Paul, faithfulness is built on recognizing the source. It came from Christ through him.  Paul adds that Scripture is useful for teaching, correcting, and reproving. Jesus in the Gospel posed the question, “When the Son of Mans comes again, will he find faith on the earth?” The short answer, if you’re following 2nd Timothy, is Yes. Scripture and the proclamation make us useful to God. That is the kind of person he upholds and champions, and imagine if that person is praying the Scriptures, believing in them, and trying to be faithful and loving. God delights in these things.
It’s true, “We do not pray as we ought.” However, the Spirit does pray that way, and our prayers release the Spirit as they did the day at Pentecost.  When we say, “Render me justice,” that is our hope.

And if we are a church calling for justice, we might remember the election. Controversial candidates and all of the wild headlines obscure that Justice for us is the freedom of the Church. That is what we seek and what we vote for.  

To review a little recent history, essentially, the Obama administration flip-flopped on a promise to Cardinal Dolan and other bishops that the health care law would have conscience protections. Instead, it was "faces fines if your duty to charity doesn’t serve a political agenda," doubly and triply reprehensible when the agenda was contraception and abortion. Also, we were told what would qualify as a catholic hospital, institution, or charity--- in other words, the church---would be defined by a secular authority, and certainly not on the criteria of one, holy, catholic, or apostolic. The hostility continued all the way to the Supreme Court. Thankfully, justice was rendered, but this is not over. 

The justice we seek is for the church, and we seek it by recalling the Justice that was rendered to Christ, what this story of the widow and the justice rendered to her really represents. Jesus was unjustly treated, condemned, crucified, but in raised up in life everlasting in the God’s righteous judgment. 

Remember how they learned of this. After the crucifixion, two followers of Jesus fled Jerusalem in terror for the safety of Emmaus.  Jesus, of course, caught up to them, his true identity concealed, and listened to them in fear and recrimination and finger-pointing. 

Jesus eventually asked them, “So what were you arguing about on the way?” They reacted as if Jesus had been living under a rock. How could anyone in Jerusalem have not heard about Jesus being crucified. “We had hoped he was the Messiah,” and in doing that they had been made into fools.

Jesus remarked, “Oh, how foolish you are!” It was if Jesus was saying to them, “Yes, you really were foolish, you just don’t know the reasons why.”  

Jesus explained, “Didn’t you know it had to happen that way?” And he explained the scriptures to them. Maybe it went this way: “Remember the Exodus. Do you remember when Aaron and Hur had to hold up Moses’s arms in the battle with Amalek. Did you not notice that the cross in Jerusalem did the very same thing with Jesus’s arms? Moses had help from human beings to overcome Amalek evil that people represented. The Messiah, however, had to overcome the worst of the world, but could have no help the power of God.  That is why there had to be the Tribulation of the Cross, and because you did not understand that, it is why you abandoned him. Let me assure you that there is more here than meets the eye. Now, enough of this and let us break bread.” 

Of course, in the breaking of the bread, they recognized him. This is the mystery of the Mass and we are in it, too. The Gospel of this widow comes to life in us. By faith, by the Holy Eucharist, Jesus renders his decision. The life he gives in is body and blood is even greater than mere justice on earth, and along with it comes the hope he will come again when absolute justice is established for his people once and for all.