Monday, May 3, 2010

Quiet at Tarsus II

Quiet in Tarsus continued:

Scripture is full of waiting: "I waited, waited for the LORD; who bent down and heard my cry." (Psalm 40:2) "Wait for the LORD, take courage; be stouthearted, wait for the LORD!" (Psalm 27:14)

St. Padre Pio once said that waiting on the Lord is like being in an interior room of a ship out at sea. You can feel the ship rocking from side to side; but because the room does not have any windows, it seems the ship is far from its destination. Indeed, the ship seems to be going nowhere. In reality, however, the ship is traveling many miles a day. Likewise, waiting on the Lord can feel like you are losing ground, but in reality the soul makes much progress during this time. The Lord has been known to do his greatest work when things look dormant or when all seems lost. Beneath the surface, Divine Providence is merely getting things ready: "The prayer of the lowly pierces the clouds; it does not rest till it reaches its goal, Nor will it withdraw till the Most High responds." (Sirach 35:17-18) Just as important, as we wait and trust in the Lord on a day to day basis, he builds-up the soul from within.

For St. Paul, it is probable that the Apostles did not give any indication as to when they would commission him to preach the Gospel. In obedience to them, St. Paul had to wait for their permission to resume his ministry. God leaves us in periods uncertainty for his divine purposes. Perhaps, this is part of what makes the Dark Night of the Soul so difficult.

Recall another familiar story: the exile of the Holy Family into Egypt. In order to escape the wrath of Herod, St. Joseph was told by an angel of the Lord to flee with the baby Jesus and his mother to Egypt. St. Joseph was simply told by the angel to stay there until he was told to leave. There was no indication as to how long they would have to stay. A short meditation of this episode will bring to our attention how difficult that must have been! Taking refuge in a foreign land amidst a foreign people for safety is one thing; but to do so without knowing for how long is a real test of faith. The same could be said of St. Paul. He was told to wait in Tarsus until the Apostles said otherwise. That could have been interpreted to mean a week,a month or several years.

It was during these years of apparent inactivity that the fortitude, spirituality, and theology of St. Paul were developed. Receiving the vision of the Risen Lord on his way to Damascus was a miraculous, supernatural intervention. Although it was enough to convert him, it did not serve to prepare him for his apostolate. Evidently, God chose a more ordinary means of getting St. Paul ready for his mission; and that was to wait on the Lord in silence, fasting, and prayer.

Through solitude and stillness, the Lord trained St. Paul to rely less on his senses and more on his faith. In order to live in hope when things look hopeless or to even press forward in difficult conditions, the believer, like St. Paul, must grow accustomed to seeing the world differently. He must peer beneath the surface with the eyes of faith, trusting that what appears to be fruitless or evil, can be beneficial for God's purposes. If there is a law that runs through great enterprises, achievements and missions it is that they are more often than not marked by contradictions and suffering. Too many people are quick to dismiss failures and setbacks as having little to no value when in fact it just may be what Christ had willed.