Saturday, August 24, 2013

There is a church in the center of Rome which hosts a series of choral concerts throughout the year. There are one, or two, or sometimes three choir concerts a week in that church, with choirs from around the world. During one year when I was a student in Rome, they brought in choirs from Germany. It seems that the only requirement was that every choir sing an American Spiritual in their repertoire. Most of them chose the same song: “Soon we will be done with the troubles of the world.” However, you haven’t heard this until you’ve heard it sung to an Italian audience, in English, by a German choir! “Zoon vee will be done mit der troubles of der werlt…”
Born of lament, American spirituals sing hope into the pain of human life.

Is this not what Saint Paul provokes in words well-known and oft-quoted that we heard in our second Bible reading: “Faith is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen.”
Is Faith the ground on which we find ourselves? Is Faith a system which we simply obey? Is Faith an environment for living well? No, faith is not that simple. Let’s call faith the “Catholic existential.” Faith means jumping into the Abyss.

What Abyss? The Abyss of humanity itself! The father who battles with his teenage son who is a drug addict. The child who knows her parents are in a loveless marriage. The woman whose infertility makes her feel less a woman. The man working two jobs just to pay the bills and wondering how he can ever help his children through college. The adult child whose parent is aging and ill and who demands more and more time without ever saying thank you. The teenager who doesn’t feel at home in this world, doesn’t fit in, doesn’t know who to turn to. The mother who receives a catastrophic diagnosis and is grief-stricken not about herself but her children’s future. The father who is terrified that his children will learn of his sexual addiction. The young adult who cries herself to sleep every night out of loneliness. The spouse who can never stop thinking about the wife who died.

We each have our own abyss. It’s in the Abyss of Humanity that despair lurks to pursue us, and there that many are captured by it. Despair, because these are not the dreams that we hoped, goals we set, ambitions we planned for, aspirations we held, fantasies we carried with us. Despair, because we know — we know — that there’s something better, higher, richer, nobler than this, but the struggle is exhausting.

Despair overtakes us because life is not always joy and dancing. There is a fair amount of weeping as well.

Imagine the delight of Abraham in his old age holding the son he never thought he would have, and then the despair when God Himself asks him to take a knife in his own hand and end his son’s life.

This is the place where God alone can hold us, beyond human grasp. It is the place where there is nothing else when we open wide our eyes but God Himself, God alone.

“Faith is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen.” The sin of our modern world is the loss of hope. Without hope, the Abyss of humanity seems endless and the deepest dark. Without hope, humanity folds in upon itself in despair and futility. Without hope, man cannot lift his eyes to anything noble and pure. Without hope we no longer build soaring cathedrals and follow our reveries. Without hope we witness the agonizing death of imagination. Without hope any challenge seems, well — hopeless.

God holds us safe from being lost in the Abyss. This is hope itself. And faith is ours when we realize that what is hoped for is real. In God’s strong arm hope allows us to follow one step at a time out of the abyss, and faith subsumes despair when we realize hope’s goal, realizing that God’s goal is to take us into light, that’s God’s goal and mine are the same.

“Zoon vee vill be done mit der troubles of der werlt…” Indeed, soon we will be done with the troubles of the world.

Faith has won the battle over despair when we place ourselves in God’s hands and allow ourselves to dream again. To hope anew. To believe.
August 11, 2013
Msgr. William J. King

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