Bottom line: Trusting in God's perfect plan does not does not make suffering disappear. But it can enable us to pray in good times and bad. Because of Jesus, we can have gratitude even in the midst of affliction.
We are at week five in our summer series on gratitude. We've talked about gratitude for small things and gratitude for great things: fatherhood, children and country. Today we shift gears and consider how we can be grateful even when experiencing affliction.
Last week we heard St. Paul say, "a thorn in the flesh was given to me, an angel of Satan, to beat me, to keep me from being too elated." We don't know exactly what the "thorn" was. Some think it may have been a form of depression. In Catholic Guide to Depression, Dr. Keriaty explains that the word depression does not do justice to the affliction. It suggests a slight dip on a flat surface like a depression in the road. Dr. Keriaty responds, "The experience of depression, by contrast, is not just a dip but a dark and miserable pit. It is an intense and serious cause of mental, physical and spiritual suffering."
We know the feeling of helplessness when a loved one suffers depression. Dr. Keriaty and Fr. Cihak show that help is available. Some people think that Christians should just rely on faith. Well, part of faith involves seeking natural remedies God provides - in this case, medicines, doctors and therapies.
At the same time, we recognize that God allows affliction for a purpose. Dr. Keriaty tells about Catholics and other Christians he has treated. He shows how spiritual practices like meditation, Mass attendance, the rosary and Bible reading can be part of a person's recovery. Suffering, when it stops short of despair, can lead a person to God.
In today's Gospel Jesus sends disciples with power to drive out demons and heal the sick. A person suffering depression can receive prayers, including laying on of hands and the anointing of the sick.
St. Paul suffered multiple afflictions including that constant thorn in his flesh. Still, he says, "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavens..."
What are these blessings? A big part involves knowing where came from and where we are going. Paul says, "For in him were created all things in heaven and on earth, the visible and the invisible..." And today St. Paul tells us that God has "a plan for the fullness of times, to sum up all things in Christ, in heaven and on earth." No wonder prayer works in good times and in bad. It works when life is a bowl of cherries. It also works when we are in the pits. Prayer joins us to God's plan: "thy will be done".
In the misery of our world, God is at work in Christ to bring all things together in his perfect plan. Because of that perfect plan, St. Paul can make this declaration: "For this momentary light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison..."
Besides depression there is another form affliction, that is, conflict. Sometimes conflict can be invigorating. But it can also be stressful, especially if it involves people we care about. Next Sunday we will talk about gratitude in times of conflict. We will explore what St. Paul means when he says, "Jesus is our peace." You will find it helpful. As I say, "don't miss it."
For this Sunday, take home this. Trusting in God's perfect plan does not does not make suffering disappear. But it can enable us to pray in good times and bad. Because of Jesus, we can have gratitude even in the midst of affliction. Amen.
Spanish Version (Word document)
From Archives (15th Ordinary Sunday - Year B):
Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C
Audio Files of Homilies (Simple Catholicism Blog)
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Other Priests' Homilies, Well Worth Listening:
Fr. Kurt Nagel
Fr. Frank Schuster
Fr. Brad Hagelin
Fr. Jim Northrop
Fr. Michael White
Fr Pat Freitag (and deacons of St. Monica)
Bishop Robert Barron
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MBC - Mary Bloom Center, Puno, Peru