Each of the Sunday readings at mass was particularly interesting today. The text of the readings can be found here on the USCCB website. These readings have to do not only with suffering and death, which they clearly do, but also give us practical encouragements on how to deal with those more gloomy moments of life, whether they occur regularly or infrequently.
I don’t know about you, but I’ve often felt a kind of sadness on Sunday evenings, which seems odd for a day meant to be one of worship, relaxation, prayer, and recovery. There is a sense of things ending and uncertainty tomorrow, and it’s a time I personally struggle with. This is an affliction which statistically many people who work Monday through Friday are afflicted with. Yet we can learn how to address this through reflection on the readings today.
The Book of Wisdom for example, shares some truths which are at odds with how many people choose to look at God and at Creation. We were all made to live forever, and were not created to be evil, despite what some strains of philosophy or theology would have us believe. This ought to be an encouragement when you get to feeling, as we all do at times, that there seems to be a great deal of inexplicable suffering in the world, whether we are experiencing it ourselves or when we see other people suffering from it.
After this, the Psalmist presents us with a helpful way of looking at things, rather than assuming all is gloomy. Each day that God gives is a gift, and we need to make the best use of it that we can in following His Will. In the Responsorial Psalm, the contrast is of night, where there is weeping, and the dawn, where there is rejoicing.
Moving on to Corinthians, the context of the reading is St. Paul asking his Christian community in Corinth to send aid to the Church in Jerusalem. I was asked earlier today whether this reading was about promoting wealth distribution, but I would suggest the better way to read it is one of charity as much as one can, when one is in a position to give. St. Paul quotes that those who have enough already should not get more, and those who have just enough should not have less. When someone else is in need, and you have more than you need, you ought to help. We give like Christ does, not holding on to what we have but allowing it to go, freely, as His instrument.
Finally there is the long reading from St. Mark’s Gospel, containing the stories of the woman with the hemorrhage, and the raising of Jairus’ daughter. It’s interesting to note that the unnamed woman had been suffering from her illness for twelve years, and Jairus’ daughter is herself twelve years old. This little girl’s life began just as this woman’s took a turn for the worse.
We are told that the woman herself has gone through all of her money on medical treatments. We also know that under Jewish law she is ritually unclean because of her disease, and we ought to reflect on that fact rather than simply pass over it. To be separated physically from the practice of her faith in that way, at a time of great personal suffering, must be difficult for many of us to imagine – no doubt it made the emotional component of her physical suffering even worse. However as we know she has faith, and is healed when she touches Jesus’ clothing believing that He can heal her. In fact, as shown below, the story of her encounter with Christ is one of the earliest existing images in Christian art.
Jairus and his wife also have faith, and their daughter is restored to them. Note that when Jesus brings their daughter back to life, he does so only once the interlopers and professional mourners, curious neighbors and those mocking him have been thrown out of the house. No point in surrounding yourself with negative people. And when the little girl is restored, Jesus does not stay focused on the mystical, but proceeds immediately to the practical, telling her parents to get her something to eat. This is a rather tangible bit of aid, which might surprise us if we were just brought back from the dead, but no doubt we’d be hungry and thirsty if we had been ill, as well.
Taken together, all of these readings are telling us not to be afraid. If we see others we can help, we should help them, without focusing so much on ourselves. And when we do focus on ourselves it should be in the context of prayer and trust. Perhaps spending your Sunday night in the company of others – in person, on the phone, online, and so on – who would love a bit of company, and concluding your evening quietly with prayer such as Vespers or Compline, will be a good way of experiencing that tangible encouragement which all of us, tangible creatures that we are, very much need. (And don’t forget to have something nice to eat, if you can.)