By Fr. Glenn Jones:
Well, here we are in the new year and we’re still stuck with the same problem—that ol’ COVID just keeps on lingering. Many are exasperated and cry out: “I’m tired of this!” Well, yes … but like gravity, it doesn’t care whether you’re tired or not; it just keeps acting according to its nature. And, as with adverse weather, we have to deal with it, like it or not.
As with many natural tragedies—or even with notable events like unusual eclipses and celestial events—the doomsayers come out of the woodwork, and we certainly have no shortage of them in our present challenges. As tragic and difficult as this pandemic we’re in has been for many people, there have been much worse, and the doomsayers came out in those as well (“It’s the end of the world!” “The plagues of the book of Revelation are unfolding!” Etc.) One wonders what rumors made their rounds during the Spanish flu pandemic, Black Plague of Europe, the ravaging conquests of Genghis Khan, or World Wars I and II. After all, when the whole world is at war or whole regions are getting trounced by invading armies, that seems pretty apocalyptic.
In more day-to-day pastoral microcosm, we priests and ministers hear often from people who believe their lives to be over and done because of this or that tragedy, disappointment, etc., even though a non-interested observer might think: “What’s the big deal about that problem?” Unfortunately, especially when linked with clinical depression, such persons may resort to tragic measures.
Yet learning how to deal with problems and difficulties in life comes with experience, and one of life’s greatest lessons is to teach us that as Miss Scarlett put it: “Tomorrow IS another day!” How many maxims do we have expressing this hopeful idea: “Every dark cloud has a silver lining”, “It’s darkest before the dawn”, “Spring follows winter,”, etc. And while such may sound like trite cliches, they are very often true … if we simply do not give up. As a more recent saying goes: “If you’re going through hell, just keep on going!” One might think of numerous Biblical stories—David and Goliath, Joseph abandoned in the well to eventually become high official of Egypt, and, most especially, the darkness of Good Friday leading to the dawn of Easter Sunday.
We might also consider the more recent WWII generation, often called “The Greatest Generation”, because of unflagging resilience and determination in not only battling and prevailing against tyranny in WWII, but also enduring the Depression which came before it, as well as the rebuilding that came after. Many of that era were even vets of “The Big One” of WWI in all its grisly years of trench warfare.
One might also remember the almost superhuman perseverance of so many who have survived extreme hardships over the ages—most recently the Jews and other persecuted groups during the Holocaust, survivors of the Stalinist and Maoist purges, Native Americans during the practice of “Manifest Destiny”, survivors of the Rwandan and other genocides, refugees of other wars, famines, etc. Not for them capitulation, but rather ever struggling to endure and survive.
Is not endurance a main reason we encourage young people to play sports—to build teamwork and sportsmanship, yes, but perhaps even more so to teach them in the training arena the life’s lesson that success—and sometimes even survival—requires overcoming challenges—in this case the other team(s) or persons also striving to win?
Without challenge there is no victory. Without the weight of trials one does not build strength to endure. As philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche wrote: “That which does not kill us makes us stronger,” which sounds harsh, but in many respects is true. Without the experience of dealing with and overcoming adversity, even the comparatively trivial and mundane difficulties can seem magnified and even insurmountable. How many of us would not be here if our ancestors had simply given up in the face of even greater challenges, whether it be weather, plague, famine, war?
We need all remember Pope John Paul II: “The human being is single, unique, and unrepeatable, someone thought of and chosen from eternity, someone called and identified by name [by God],” much like God’s revelation to Jeremiah: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you…” (Jeremiah 1:5)
And so, when feeling forlorn and despairing, we need remember that God created us not as just one of many, but as unique individuals—each loved for himself and is one for whom Christ came and died. When those inevitable trials arise, we need never despair, remembering: “‘…the Lord disciplines him whom he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.’ It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as…he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant; later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.” (Hebrews 12:6-11)
…recalling also, O Christian, lest we forget: “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?…No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:35-39)
Editor’s note: Rev. Glenn Jones is the Vicar General of the Archdiocese of Santa Fe and former pastor of Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic Church in Los Alamos.