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Bible Reflections View Comments

In Darkness, We Come to Love the Light
By Diane M. Houdek
Source: Bringing Home the Word
Published: Sunday, September 23, 2012
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The great composer Ludwig von Beethoven composed some of his best work, including the Ninth Symphony with its soaring Ode to Joy, after he had gone totally deaf. In the profound silence around him, he was still able to hear an inner music and translate that into something to share with the world. He is not unique in this, but how great artists accomplish this transformation is always a mystery.

The best works of literature and drama in our culture show us characters who grow through suffering. We, too, become fully rounded human beings through the struggles of our lives. Those who never know suffering and obstacles often remain shallow and unaware of the sufferings of others. Lest we think that this darkness is part of the fall of humanity, and that truly holy people live in unrelieved light, the lives of the saints and the words of our Scriptures remind us that the holiest among us often face the darkest burdens.

In our first reading from Wisdom, we hear the enemies of “the just one” plotting to place obstacles in his path for the sole purpose of driving him from his steadfast faith in God. St. John of the Cross coined the term “the dark night of the soul” to describe the sense of abandonment by God that he experienced. All of this is not to say that suffering is a good in itself, that the more we take on, the greater we will be. This is the mistake that the spiritually ambitious often make. There’s enough suffering in the world without our manufacturing more. And we’ve all known people who were made bitter and cynical by the suffering they endured.

Exactly how we grow through suffering isn’t always clear. But it seems essential that we face the obstacles and challenges in our lives by staying close to God in the dark times. In order to do this, we need to build up a close relationship to God during the good times in our life as well. We need to know God and love God in order to hold on to his promise to be with us, even in the midst of darkness. Blessed Mother Teresa made headlines several years after her death when her journals revealed that in the midst of the most holy and selfless dedication to the poorest of the poor, she often felt an emptiness where the presence of Christ should have filled her soul. But she heeded Jesus’s words about becoming the least of all and the servant of all. In caring for those who had no one else to care for them, she found a way to live with her inner darkness. In doing so, she became a light for all those who encountered her or heard her story. Mark’s Gospel makes no secret of the fact that the center of the story of Jesus is his passion and death. Mark’s original audience was being persecuted for following Christ. Mark wanted to let them know in no uncertain terms that the very suffering they were called to endure was part of the plan. I heard one preacher put it this way, “For Mark, if you haven’t suffered for the Gospel, you haven’t lived the Gospel.” Jesus warns his followers that if they have expectations of temporal glory, of material wealth, of satisfied ambition, they will be disappointed and ultimately condemned. But the promise he offers them—and us—is that if they’re willing to go through the darkness, the light on the other side will be that much more dazzling.


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Junipero Serra: In 1776, when the American Revolution was beginning in the east, another part of the future United States was being born in California. That year a gray-robed Franciscan founded Mission San Juan Capistrano, now famous for its annually returning swallows. San Juan was the seventh of nine missions established under the direction of this indomitable Spaniard. 
<p>Born on Spain’s island of Mallorca, Serra entered the Franciscan Order, taking the name of St. Francis’ childlike companion, Brother Juniper. Until he was 35, he spent most of his time in the classroom—first as a student of theology and then as a professor. He also became famous for his preaching. Suddenly he gave it all up and followed the yearning that had begun years before when he heard about the missionary work of St. Francis Solanus in South America. Junipero’s desire was to convert native peoples in the New World. </p><p>Arriving by ship at Vera Cruz, Mexico, he and a companion walked the 250 miles to Mexico City. On the way Junipero’s left leg became infected by an insect bite and would remain a cross—sometimes life-threatening—for the rest of his life. For 18 years he worked in central Mexico and in the Baja Peninsula. He became president of the missions there. </p><p>Enter politics: the threat of a Russian invasion south from Alaska. Charles III of Spain ordered an expedition to beat Russia to the territory. So the last two <i>conquistadors</i>—one military, one spiritual—began their quest. José de Galvez persuaded Junipero to set out with him for present-day Monterey, California. The first mission founded after the 900-mile journey north was San Diego (1769). That year a shortage of food almost canceled the expedition. Vowing to stay with the local people, Junipero and another friar began a novena in preparation for St. Joseph’s day, March 19, the scheduled day of departure. On that day, the relief ship arrived. </p><p>Other missions followed: Monterey/Carmel (1770); San Antonio and San Gabriel (1771); San Luís Obispo (1772); San Francisco and San Juan Capistrano (1776); Santa Clara (1777); San Buenaventura (1782). Twelve more were founded after Serra’s death. </p><p>Junipero made the long trip to Mexico City to settle great differences with the military commander. He arrived at the point of death. The outcome was substantially what Junipero sought: the famous “Regulation” protecting the Indians and the missions. It was the basis for the first significant legislation in California, a “Bill of Rights” for Native Americans. </p><p>Because the Native Americans were living a nonhuman life from the Spanish point of view, the friars were made their legal guardians. The Native Americans were kept at the mission after Baptism lest they be corrupted in their former haunts—a move that has brought cries of “injustice” from some moderns. </p><p>Junipero’s missionary life was a long battle with cold and hunger, with unsympathetic military commanders and even with danger of death from non-Christian native peoples. Through it all his unquenchable zeal was fed by prayer each night, often from midnight till dawn. He baptized over 6,000 people and confirmed 5,000. His travels would have circled the globe. He brought the Native Americans not only the gift of faith but also a decent standard of living. He won their love, as witnessed especially by their grief at his death. He is buried at Mission San Carlo Borromeo, Carmel, and was beatified in 1988.</p> American Catholic Blog God is great. God is good. And God, in his fatherly love, has a plan for our lives that will work out for our benefit and salvation. All we have to do is trust and obey.

Stumble Virtue Vice and the Space Between

 
CATHOLIC GREETINGS
Blessed Junipero Serra
This Franciscan friar was instrumental in founding many of California’s mission churches.

Happy Birthday
May this birthday mark the beginning of new and exciting adventures!

Sts. Peter and Paul
Honored both separately and together, these apostles were probably martyred during the reign of the emperor Nero.

Wedding
Help the bride and groom see their love as a mirror of God’s love.

Our Lady of Perpetual Help
God gave Mary to us as a help in our quest for holiness.




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