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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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Jacopone da Todi: Jacomo, or James, was born a noble member of the Benedetti family in the northern Italian city of Todi. He became a successful lawyer and married a pious, generous lady named Vanna. 
<p>His young wife took it upon herself to do penance for the worldly excesses of her husband. One day Vanna, at the insistence of Jacomo, attended a public tournament. She was sitting in the stands with the other noble ladies when the stands collapsed. Vanna was killed. Her shaken husband was even more disturbed when he realized that the penitential girdle she wore was for his sinfulness. On the spot, he vowed to radically change his life. </p><p>He divided his possessions among the poor and entered the Secular Franciscan Order (once known as the Third Order). Often dressed in penitential rags, he was mocked as a fool and called Jacopone, or "Crazy Jim," by his former associates. The name became dear to him. </p><p>After 10 years of such humiliation, Jacopone asked to be a member of the Order of Friars Minor(First Order). Because of his reputation, his request was initially refused. He composed a beautiful poem on the vanities of the world, an act that eventually led to his admission into the Order in 1278. He continued to lead a life of strict penance, declining to be ordained a priest. Meanwhile he was writing popular hymns in the vernacular. </p><p>Jacopone suddenly found himself a leader in a disturbing religious movement among the Franciscans. The Spirituals, as they were called, wanted a return to the strict poverty of Francis. They had on their side two cardinals of the Church and Pope Celestine V. These two cardinals, though, opposed Celestine’s successor, Boniface VIII. At the age of 68, Jacopone was excommunicated and imprisoned. Although he acknowledged his mistake, Jacopone was not absolved and released until Benedict XI became pope five years later. He had accepted his imprisonment as penance. He spent the final three years of his life more spiritual than ever, weeping "because Love is not loved." During this time he wrote the famous Latin hymn, <i>Stabat Mater</i>. </p><p>On Christmas Eve in 1306 Jacopone felt that his end was near. He was in a convent of the Poor Clares with his friend, Blessed John of La Verna. Like Francis, Jacopone welcomed "Sister Death" with one of his favorite songs. It is said that he finished the song and died as the priest intoned the Gloria from the midnight Mass at Christmas. From the time of his death, Brother Jacopone has been venerated as a saint.</p> American Catholic Blog By immersing our lives in the rhythm of the season, charity can flood our souls and fill us with the happiness for which we were created. We awake Christmas morning prepared to celebrate the birth of our Savior not as a memory but as a profound experience of God’s redemptive love.

 
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