by Dcn. Bob Bonomi
Do you remember those adages, those little sayings, that your mom would say to you over and over? Things like: “Don’t leave the door open – this isn’t a barn”; or "Don't run with scissors - you might fall and poke an eye out"; or "You have to wait at least an hour before you can swim"; or “You keep making that face and it’ll freeze like that.”
But one of my mom’s favorite, which used to bug the heck out of me, was, “Don’t worry. All things work out for the best.” Bad grade? Pfft. Study harder. Inability to play sports? No biggie, you’ll just be better at something else. Lost a girlfriend? Meh (Yeah, okay, she was right about that one.)
But what she said kind of paraphrases St. Paul’s message to the Romans in the verse which immediately precedes the verses from today’s 2nd reading: “We know that all things work for good for those who love God”. And given all that we have gone through this last year (and last week), I’d like to focus on the expanded message from St. Paul’s letter which includes today’s 2nd reading. The section is entitled “God’s Indomitable Love in Christ.”, and it begins like this:
28 "We know that all things work for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. 29 For those he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, so that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30 And those he predestined he also called; and those he called he also justified; and those he justified he also glorified. 31 What then shall we say to this?"
See, St. Paul is talking to the Roman Christian community, which is struggling to embrace this new Christian faith in the middle of a multi-god, pagan world. Kind of like our world today. Then next comes this from today’s reading:
"If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son but handed him over for us all, how will he not also give us everything else along with him? 33 Who will bring a charge against God’s chosen ones? It is God who acquits us. 34 Who will condemn? It is Christ [Jesus] who died, rather, was raised, who also is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us."
So, despite the Roman community's persecution by friends and fellow citizens, God, through Christ, was at the forefront of their persecution and led the way for them, as he does for all of us. And then, finally this concludes that section:
35 "What will separate us from the love of Christ? Will anguish, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or the sword? 36 As it is written: “For your sake we are being slain all the day; we are looked upon as sheep to be slaughtered.” 37 No, in all these things we conquer overwhelmingly through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord."
I know that, with everything that the world has experienced this last year – the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, the devastating fires on the west coast last summer, the huge number of hurricanes last fall, the massive ice and snow storm which struck the heartland of the South and East last week, just to name a few – it can seem like God has abandoned us, or that we are separated from His protection. And I would be truly hard-pressed to find how any of this could be considered “for the best” as my mom would say, especially for those of us who love God.
And maybe that’s the point.
Which leads us back to St. Paul. The challenges he lists – the anguish of sickness, the distress of the loss of a loved one, the unfair persecution at work, the famine or nakedness of exposure to financial trials through loss of a job, the peril of natural disasters or the threat of death through criminal actions – these are very real to each of us, especially during this last year. But they do NOT separate us from Christ, and we shouldn't let them – they should only draw us closer to Him.
Ultimately, what if any of these challenges does overwhelm us? Today’s Gospel holds the answer. During the transfiguration, Jesus converses with living beings including Moses and Elijah – who had obviously ended their mere earthly existence. And Abraham, the main actor in today’s first reading (other than God, of course), well, in John's Gospel Jesus states that “Abraham your father rejoiced to see my day; he saw it and was glad”, and it would be pretty hard for Abraham to rejoice if he was dead and gone.
Which brings us back to St. Paul. He is convinced that death, life, angels, principalities, present things, future things, powers, heights, depths, nor any other creature can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord, if we have faith.
If our goal in life is to finish it so that we spend an eternity with God, then it can be just as important in how we “fail” in overcoming these challenges as it is in if we overcome them. Ultimately, if we can face every challenge with faith – with love – focused on Jesus and what he did for us through his life, death AND resurrection, then we too WILL be united with Christ Jesus our Lord. For all eternity.
And in that, we will have overcome the world.