From time to time I post previous blogs which may have not read by current Sky View readers. This one in particular (formerly entitled Behold the Man) is to encourage all of those who have undertaken a project, enterprise or a mission that has met with obstacles, criticism and even rejection. Take heart, if you believe your endeavors are required of you by God, well, you’re in good company! Others have gone before you in order to set an example, in order to inspire, so that you will persevere in the task God has given you!
“Ecce Homo!” Pilate said to the crowd. That is, “Behold the man!” Behold the man, the Christ who stands alone and rejected by his people.
To be an outsider and misunderstood is the lot of God’s closest friends. As far as I know, there is not a single canonized Saint who was not rejected and felt alone at some critical juncture in their life. Jesus warned as much when he said he came to bring, not peace, but the sword. The Lord’s chosen instrument of pruning and purification is quite often being excluded by those closest to us. By far, the worst pain is to be endured during spiritual desolation; when the soul feels totally abandoned by God himself. The soul can be so deprived of the “sense” of grace that it deems itself to be denied God’s mercy. Not a few Saints were tempted with despair; the feeling of being totally left behind by their Best Friend.
Consider the great men of the Old Testament:
The patriarch Joseph, one of Jacob’s twelve sons, was sold into slavery by his own brothers. For twenty long years it seemed as if God abandoned him.
Moses, the great legislator of God’s law, was driven out of Egypt by Ramesses II for forty years.
Before his anointing as King of Israel, David did not fit in with the rest of brothers and as a result would shepherd sheep by himself.
The prophet Elijah was not welcomed in band of so-called prophets. The only real companion he had was his disciple Elisha.
As for Hosea, he was instructed by God to marry a prostitute named Gomer (she was to symbolize the infidelity of Israel) only to be rejected by her later on.
Indeed, the character and greatness of these patriarchs, legislators, kings and prophets of the Old Testament came about precisely because they were rejected by their own.
Rejection and banishment was no less the chosen instrument used by Christ in fashioning his Saints. Just to name only a few, there was his own family- the Holy Family –who had to flee Israel to Egypt to escape the wrath of King Herod. And centuries later there was St. Thomas Becket, St. Thomas More, and St. John Fisher who were rejected and martyred by their English countrymen. Pope St. Gregory VII, a champion of reform and who got the State off of the Church’s back, was driven out of Rome by King Henry IV only to die in exile. About seven hundred years later, St. Alphonsus Liguori was kicked out of the Redemptorist order; the religious order he founded.
In modern times the Lord continued to set men and women apart for his work through the bitter trials of rejection. St. Edith Stein, for instance, was a convert from Judaism to Catholicism. As such, she was estranged from her own people because of her faith in Christ. St. Padre Pio was forbidden by the Vatican to publicly exercise his ministry for ten years. Unable to minister to his people, he became a prisoner of his friary. And there is Bishop Fulton Sheen, arguably the most gifted evangelist of the twentieth century. According to Archbishop Timothy Dolan, Bishop Sheen was an outsider with regard to his brother bishops. He never quite belonged.
After becoming familiar with God’s friends in Scripture and the biographies of the Saints, this recurring phenomenon of being excluded and feeling s of loneliness should not surprise us. Our Lord himself said that no servant is above his master. On the Cross, Jesus uttered the memorable words of Psalm 22: “My God! My God! Why have you forsaken me?” When feeling abandoned, believers have prayed these very words with our Lord in Spirit. It is as if to say, “God, I know you to be good. You have helped me time and time again. All of my life I have believed in your divine providence. But now, I pray and you do not answer. I seek, but I do not find. I knock, but you do not open the door. Dear God, I am at the end of rope. Who will help me if you do not?”
Quite often what they are left with are unforgiving circumstances, their own betrayed feelings and the naked solitude of their faith. From The Spirituality of the Old Testament it reads: “[S]ouls cease to understand the reason for the trials that afflict them and believe they are separated from God forever.” Indeed, “divine conduct seems utterly incomprehensible, even extremely arbitrary and unjust. Everything bewilders them, causing uneasiness, anguish, obscurity. They more they seek God, the more deeply hidden He remains; the more they desire Him, the more he rejects them...they experience a reversal of God’s relationship to them. They seem to be permanently abandoned or even rejected, though divine favor and friendship had been theirs before.”
But as St. Francis de Sales once said, an ounce of desolation is worth more than a pound of desolation. Here, we are given the opportunity to posses God for his own sake; to love him above his gifts and his works. Through the wine-press of suffering, we come to better understand our own sinfulness and unworthiness to have our prayers answered. Entitlement to his gifts and favor- the most common of illusions –dissipates into thin air.
With that said, if we can bring ourselves to say with the prophet Job, “Blessed be the name of the Lord” when the world is against us and the Lord himself seems to have abandoned us, then we have indeed conquered the world as St. John the Apostle promised: “[W]hoever is begotten by God conquers the world. And the victory that conquers the world is our faith.” (I John 5:4) The Christian is given credibility before his unseen audience; that is, before angels, saints, demons and the damned. That’s right. Each time faith, hope and love prevail through the trials and what seems to be senseless suffering the prayers of the just man are heard by God with more regularity and promptitude. And quite often, the Almighty sends his angels and Saints to carry out his answer. Through adversity, therefore, prayers are purified from self-interest and imperfect love. As such, they become a pleasing aroma to God.
This is why we must never wince, never draw back when faced with the possibility of offending people by speaking the truth and doing God's work. Indeed, we may be rejected and excluded; we may have to eat lunch by ourselves in the cafeteria; we may risk losing a job; we may lose friendships and disappoint colleagues; and though it pains us very much, we may be ostracized from our family. Our Lord did not say to merely tolerate this trying circumstances but to rejoice! As hard as it may seem, we have to ask Jesus through his beloved Mother for the grace to rejoice. It is only then we can stand with our Lord when he was condemned by his people.
On Good Friday our Lord stood alone before his people as a rejected King. From the Thursday night to three o’clock Friday afternoon God the Father, in addition to the crowd, had seemed to reject his only begotten Son. Alone our Lord Jesus stood before Pilate and his people. A true outsider! He was born outside of Bethlehem in a cave and he would die outside of the walls of Jerusalem. In the Sacred Heart of Jesus, there is a special place for the ostracized. They have not been forgotten by the Person who knows what it feels to be forgotten. Have you been forgotten or excluded from those closest to you? Well, you have a friend in Christ.
Early on Easter morning when all seemed to have been lost; when it appeared that evil prevailed against goodness; the prayers of the Crucified One were at last heard. It was as if a prayer had risen from the tomb to heaven like smoke from a holocaust. It was if Jesus Christ prayed Psalm 18 from the depths of the netherworld:
“In my distress I called out: LORD! I cried out to my God. From his temple he heard my voice; my cry to him reached his ears. The earth rocked and shook; the foundations of the mountains trembled; they shook as his wrath flared up…a devouring fire poured from his mouth; it kindled coals into flame. He parted the heavens and came down, a dark cloud under his feet…He reached down from on high and seized me; drew me out of the deep waters.”
“They attacked me on a day of distress, but the LORD came to my support. He set me free in the open; he rescued me because he loves me. The LORD acknowledged my righteousness, rewarded my clean hands. For I kept the ways of the LORD; I was not disloyal to my God.”
Just two days before, Pilate pointed to Christ and said, “Ecce Homo! Behold the man!” He stood condemned. But because of our Lord’s fidelity endured when all seemed lost, on Sunday morning God the Father said, “Behold, my beloved Son.” That was enough to recover all that was lost. And the rest is history.