Faith does not build a fence around us but faith in God does give hope for transformation of tragedy, writes Bishop Gerard Hanna of Wagga Wagga.
Out of our experience we know that faith does not build a fence around us to protect us from the many harms and hurts that come our way. But faith in God does give hope for the transformation of tragedy into something that holds meaning and purpose. Recently we read the Gospel for the tenth Sunday (Luke 7:11-17) which makes the point.
Entering a village Jesus encounters a funeral procession. A grieving widow is going with her friends to bury her one son. Jesus stopped the procession and exclaimed: 'Young man, I say to you arise.' Our reading records that the dead man sat up and began to walk and Jesus gave him to his mother. While we marvel at the miracles Jesus did and reflect on the word of Sacred Scripture, we know that our tragedies do not turn out this way.
Our funeral processions do not get interrupted. We leave the mortal remains of our loved ones at the cemetery, and we return home to grieve. So what can we say about this miracle recorded in St Luke’s gospel?
Obviously, it is not a guarantee that any of us will be spared the natural order of things.
Our human life will end in death. We should not take the account of Jesus raising the dead as a guarantee that any of us will be spared the natural order of things. Our human life will end in death. We should not take the account of Jesus raising the dead as a guarantee that tragedy, every difficulty, every painful experience, has a happy ending so to speak. We live with difficulties and disappointments that do not go away. But we can believe that faith in God can give us the grace and strength to bear those burdens without bitterness.
The miracle recounted in this episode is a dramatic way of saying that, with the help of God, tragedy can be transformed. It cannot always be averted, but it can be redeemed. In God’s world no loss need be a total loss, not ever. Tragedy, in whatever form it takes, is real and is part of every human life. Naturally we should do everything we can to avoid it.
We do not deny or trivialise the deep hurts and disappointments in life, and it is appropriate at times to say you share the burden of the grief or painful experience of another. It does not help to say things that are untrue ('You’ll feel a lot better tomorrow'!) or give assurances you have no right to give.
And yet, many have seen tragedy transformed into strength.
Sometimes we get no more out of ourselves than life demands of us. When tragedy overtakes us, everything good seems to disappear, and hard times come.
In the midst of struggle, however, strength can be found; a strength we never knew was in us.
It miight seem a poor trade. We would prefer to give back the tragedy and let the strength go with it. This is not how life works.
Difficulty, disappointment and hardship are a part of life. When they come, with God’s help, we can use the experience to build spiritual muscle that we are sure to need in the future.
The strongest people are often those who have fought the hardest battles. They are living witnesses that tragedy can be transformed into strength. That is to say that tragic circumstances can be transformed into a capacity for sympathy and understanding toward those seeking help.
A parent who has buried a child can be of great consolation to another parent facing the same circumstance. Experience speaks its own language. No one is more qualified to heal broken hearts than the person whose heart has been broken.
We are often faced with problems that do not go away even when we pray to God for help and relief.
Our faith, our trust in God, becomes all the more important in those times when the so-called 'happy ending' is not in sight.
With all our hearts, we hope that we will not be called upon to transform another tragedy into an opportunity for healing. If and when we do, however, let us pray that with God’s help, we will transform that tragedy into strength for us and into companionship for others seeking help .
In all this we draw on the virtue of Hope and understand that Hope is not the expectation that things will always turn out well. It is the belief that there is meaning, no matter how things turn out.
'Gracious God, difficulties and disappointments come to us all and often they are situations with which we must learn to live. May we find both the patience and power of Christ to live within these limitations and trust in you for a faith that gives birth to the virtue of hope and a new capacity to love in the manner of the One 'who came not to be served but to serve.'
– Most Rev Gerard Hanna, Bishop of Wagga Wagga