Thursday, November 17, 2011

Is This a Test?

As I sat in the chapel I happened to look down at the knees on my pants. They appeared to be getting a bit shiny. “Oh well,” I thought, “Better them than the butt of my pants.” If there was to be one outward sign of my activities, I’d rather it be shown that I kneel more than I sit and do nothing. For kneeling is REALLY doing something.

I thought back on why I now so gladly kneel --- I choose never to use a kneeler in church, but kneel on the floor when I pray. That started when the pews were filled in the overcrowded church in Medjugorje, and I chose to join those in the aisles and SRO areas so the more elderly might sit. Kneeling then, during the consecration of the mass and the full hour-long rosary each night, was done on the concrete floor. I remember on the flight over there thinking that I might attend one of those long nightly services, but it happened I was there every night, on my knees. And I remember on the last morning before I left, the man who shared a bedroom with me in the village house: in penance he traveled the mile to church on his knees. (As I passed him on my way, I recall thinking about the women of that village area, who I saw making the 2-hour climb I took along a steep rocky path to visit the large cross, high on a hill overlooking the village. Those women knew what penance was.) While at that village and in the Church of St. James there, it was all so clear to me, the mass, Jesus’ sacrifice, and His presence amidst all those who believed --- and among those who came to believe. I thought I understood it all, and I’d never forget, but I did.

On the very first Sunday back home, the church I attended instructed the people to sit during the consecration, “to see better.” I thought: “I know what is going on there on the altar now; I can’t sit!” But when everyone else did, so did I. To be kind to myself, let me say I felt very uncomfortable, even if “I could see better.” I realized those sitting around me couldn’t see though, not really, and especially when the host was raised and offered to the Father and the man next to me chose, at that moment, to open the church bulletin to read. And I knelt down then, and have been kneeling on the floor as a reminder to me ever since. It was a test, even as He gave one to Peter: “Do you love Me?”

It is written that He chastises those whom He loves, like the favorite toy that is taken from a child and he’s made to stand in the corner --- or like for us when the parent, or spouse, or child is taken from us and we feel if we are now standing alone in our pain. He chastises us in love, but it still hurts. But in truth, while it hurts us, it hurts Him also. Chastisements are given to those who are loved, so that they might learn through the hard lessons of pain --- so they won’t forget. God did it to the Jews a number of times; sometimes despite the pain, they still don’t learn. Sometimes neither do we, as we focus on the pain and not the lesson to be learned, because we don’t trust the love with which the pain is given. Much of the learning to be gained by chastisement comes down to a single question: How much do you trust the one who is chastising you? If the parent makes you stand in the corner, how much do you really trust that the parent still loves you, and maybe is even crying, as you cry? The lesson of chastisements is that you need more faith. Learn to trust in God, and grow that trust.

But it doesn’t stop there. You might want to say: “Lord, I believe. Stop these pains already.” If you are truly at the point, of really believing and understanding, then God is watching over you in a different way. He is not chastising you that you might learn, but testing you that you might not forget, for we are so easily distracted by the cares and enticements of the world. But He does not abandon us. Sometimes tests are gentle nudges to our physical well-being, but stabs in our heart, like the man who began reading the church bulletin next to me. “Did you forget?” God is asking us. We are often reminded of our weakening faith through tests. And sometimes these can be pretty severe, just ask Job about that.

We had a man named Ken speak to our little men’s group a couple of weeks ago. Ken began speaking by saying “well, I’ve never spoken before a group before and so I don’t have any speech prepared. I was just asked to tell what’s been happening to me, and so here goes.” And he proceeded to tell us.

Ken had 17 children, 18 including the one who died very young. His wife home-schooled all of them; six were now in college, although he didn’t help them at all in that, he said. Things were good until 2007, when his business began feeling the effects of the downturn in the economy. Then other things began happening. His son was injured in a car wreck, and his girlfriend killed. He was asked to care for his elderly mother, and make room for one more. His dearly-beloved autistic nephew died. He was forced to visit Catholic Services for help. He asked one of his grown children, “Do you think you could get me a job in your company as a janitor?” Humbled, he slipped into depression. Yet through all this, he said, he prayed and went to daily mass. And then he was sued for the little he had left. Offering up his sufferings, he said he prayed: “I hope You’re putting all this to good use, Lord.” His home was foreclosed on by the bank. He filed bankruptcy.

Ken cared for his mom, and to his joy she came back to the church, and went to confession. God was caring for him, he opined, even in his sorrows. With eight kids still at home, he began talking to various non-profits, seeking a house large enough for his family, and one that he could afford on his now limited income from his business. He noted how he would drive around, with his kids in the van and praying the rosary together, as they looked at one house after another. Only weeks from eviction, he sought friends who would take his furniture and store it, although he did not know where he would place his family. Suddenly, a large job he had bid on (and didn’t expect to get) was awarded to his company, “And they even gave me a large up-front payment.” Then one week before the eviction date, a non-profit offered him a large house on their property at low rent. Things were looking better. And even the bank called: “If you will promptly leave on the eviction date, leaving the home in good condition, its ‘Cash for Keys’ program would pay him $8,000!”

Ken concluded: “Well, that’s all I have to say, except that God is good.”

Ken was blessed with a thriving company, many children, and a loving wife; everything seemed good in the world, and yet he was tested. It seems to me that wherever means for good are established in this world, they can be used as means for evil, turned from their original purpose. Kids were a blessing, but seemed a burden when Ken had no money to care for them or a place for them to stay. His company was a means to provide for his family, but a target for someone to sue. It seems wherever there is a great good, there is also a possibility for great evil --- remember the Tower of Babel? Remember nuclear arms race, which helped bring down the Russian empire, but now might threaten Israel and the entire Middle East? Remember the good things about the internet, and that now 10% of its use is for pornography? Remember the laws enacted to protect minorities, and that are now being used to persecute the Catholic Church? Praise God while things are good in our life, but don’t expect the happiness of heaven here on earth.

The phrase “The Tyranny of Evil” has great meaning. Good things can be used to bring about great evils in this world, and to us. And when these evils strike us personally it is so easy to panic. We want to fix things ourselves. We so easily forget, and lose faith that we are not alone. So many of the evils which happen to us are but tests of our faith: “Do you love Me?” We want to ask: “Why is this happening to me?” But we forget the answer which we have heard so many times, but forgotten.

Through the devil’s envy death entered the world. (Wisdom 2:24). Thou didst make Him for a little while lower than the angels .. (and) He Himself has suffered and been tempted, (so that) He is able to help those who are tempted. Take care, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. (Hebrews 2:4) In our times of trial, it is so easy to forget what we already know, but let us pray we are not forgetful when we are tested. Rather let us pray that we are like the blind man who called out in his trial: Jesus of Nazareth, have pity on me. And when asked by Jesus what he, in faith, would desire he responded: Lord, that I might see. (Mark 10:46-52).

This day I myself have many worries, and I have friends who are in failing marriages, who have loved ones on the battle fields overseas, who have loved ones who don’t recognize them anymore, who are losing their homes, or fear losing their jobs, and one who fears losing her leg in surgery this very day. I know all of these people, and know they are people of faith. But I pray that today, in their time of testing, they might remember that faith, and in their pains and trials might clearly hear the question: Do you love Me?

Perhaps there are some of us for whom our trials are really admonitions; we just can’t understand why these things are happening to us. To those I would say: “Seek and ye shall find.” Go and try to learn about this Jesus and His promises and example. Read the Scriptures and writings of the saints; get to know Him, and He will bless your fertilized ground with faith. But if the sufferings you feel today are trials, don’t panic. “Do Not Be Anxious!” Remember your faith in His promises. Remember that the devil envies us even though we were made less than the angels, because for a while God became one of us to remove the power of death the devil created. God made us good and in His image. Evil may severely test us, but it is only a test. We can pass this test if we just tell Him: “My Jesus, I trust in You.”

Are you undergoing a great trial today? Perhaps you need to get the knees of your pants a bit more shiny.


  1. What a wonderful post. It's so 'On Target'. Yes, we do easily forget.

    The final paragraph of your post are filled with the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, especially "for a while God became one of us to remove the power of death the devil created." Awesome.

  2. I knew you would understand this one, Maryellen.

    The woman worried about losing her leg is at this moment in her 4th hour of surgery to open the veins in her leg, an operation they expect may only help for a month or two. Then decisions will be faced again. Life is difficult for many of us, yet if we have faith we know that God will make all things well.