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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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James: This James is the brother of John the Evangelist. The two were called by Jesus as they worked with their father in a fishing boat on the Sea of Galilee. Jesus had already called another pair of brothers from a similar occupation: Peter and Andrew. “He walked along a little farther and saw James, the son of Zebedee, and his brother John. They too were in a boat mending their nets. Then he called them. So they left their father Zebedee in the boat along with the hired men and followed him” (Mark 1:19-20). 
<p>James was one of the favored three who had the privilege of witnessing the Transfiguration, the raising to life of the daughter of Jairus and the agony in Gethsemani. </p><p>Two incidents in the Gospels describe the temperament of this man and his brother. St. Matthew tells that their mother came (Mark says it was the brothers themselves) to ask that they have the seats of honor (one on the right, one on the left of Jesus) in the kingdom. “Jesus said in reply, ‘You do not know what you are asking. Can you drink the cup that I am going to drink?’ They said to him, ‘We can’” (Matthew 20:22). Jesus then told them they would indeed drink the cup and share his baptism of pain and death, but that sitting at his right hand or left was not his to give—it “is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father” (Matthew 20:23b). It remained to be seen how long it would take to realize the implications of their confident “We can!” </p><p>The other disciples became indignant at the ambition of James and John. Then Jesus taught them all the lesson of humble service: The purpose of authority is to serve. They are not to impose their will on others, or lord it over them. This is the position of Jesus himself. He was the servant of all; the service imposed on him was the supreme sacrifice of his own life. </p><p>On another occasion, James and John gave evidence that the nickname Jesus gave them—“sons of thunder”—was an apt one. The Samaritans would not welcome Jesus because he was on his way to hated Jerusalem. “When the disciples James and John saw this they asked, ‘Lord, do you want us to call down fire from heaven to consume them?’ Jesus turned and rebuked them...” (Luke 9:54-55). </p><p>James was apparently the first of the apostles to be martyred. “About that time King Herod laid hands upon some members of the church to harm them. He had James, the brother of John, killed by the sword, and when he saw that this was pleasing to the Jews he proceeded to arrest Peter also” (Acts 12:1-3a). </p><p>This James, sometimes called James the Greater, is not to be confused with James the Lesser (May 3) or with the author of the Letter of James and the leader of the Jerusalem community.</p> American Catholic Blog Walk the talk. Show, don’t tell. Values are caught, not taught—all variations of one theme: A good example is essential for good parenting.

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