Begin each day with a quote from a Dominican saint or a contemporary Dominican voice. Today Saint Thomas Aquinas discusses the reason humans were saved by one who became human and not an angel.
Angel of God,
my guardian dear,
To whom God’s love
commits me here,
Ever this day,
be at my side,
To light and guard,
Rule and guide.
Do you have faith? Do you really believe God can do anything? Do you really believe that God will always do what is best? Obviously, the thought that an old woman can have a child is remarkable indeed? It is so unbelievable that Sarah laughs. Abraham laughs. But the Lord comes through, as always. Faith is rewarded. Abraham and Sarah listen and ultimately believe.
What seems impossible in faith? What is it that seems unimaginable? Can you believe in God even when it is difficult? When it is hard? Today’s readings remind us that for people of faith, God can do anything.
Yesterday we saw the prayers of Sarah being answered. Today, it is the prayer of Tobit. But was the most important prayer really the regaining of his sight? Or, was it rather the realization that his son had embraced the faith so important to him? Was it because he could see physically, or was it that he could see with pride how the grace of God was active in his own son’s life, and indeed in his own life?
Realization of the presence of God is amazing indeed. Life in fact, seems so much clearer when we can see the events of our lives unfold not simply with our physical eyes, but also with the eyes of our soul. It is this type of sight that often accounts for our ability to prioritize, to make important, and to determine the path of holiness which leads us to God.
There are moments in life where we find ourselves at a desperate place. At these times, it seems that there is simply nothing more we can do. They can be moments of such suffering that we are not even sure if we can bear it. At other times, it is the result of such hardships that it seems too much. It can be illness, tragedy, death, ruin, whatever. What is it that can make suffering something that does not destroy but rather gives life? Is there such a thing as holy suffering?
Fortunately for us, there is. Because of the life-giving act of Jesus, suffering has become redemptive when the suffering humans endure is united with his suffering on the cross. Today in the readings, there is real, deep, powerful outpouring of prayer, seeking the healing of God. Perhaps today’s readings serve as a reminder to us that we have to turn to God always, but perhaps most of all when it appears that all is lost.
One of the sports catch phrases is “All in.” It is supposed to suggest that the sports team, like the Cleveland Cavaliers who are in the NBA playoffs, are holding nothing back in achieving their goals. They are going to give 100%, they are going to give their all. They are all in. But this concept is not simply limited to sports.
Any type of serious commitment requires the participants to be “all in.” A married couple cannot simply sort of commit to one another. A lifelong commitment to God in vocation, such as being a priest or a sister, cannot be half-hearted. And for all of us, the relationship we have in prayer with God cannot be so-so either. When it comes to prayer, everyone needs to be all in.
We know, however, that we might not be “all in” all the time. But there are those special moments when we might get a special glimpse at what it means to be all in with God. When Saint Thomas Aquinas labeled what he had written as “mere straw” it was such a moment, because when he had that “all in” moment with God, a profound experience with God, his words rightly seemed pretty inadequate. In my life as a priest there have been moments, such as at the moment of people’s death or shortly before that I have been moved because they seem to have an “all in” moment.
Two miraculous births. Two women who faced the ultimate embarrassment in their lives: not having children. During their time in history, children were seen as the way in which people live on beyond their own lives. They live the legacy of their children and the memory of others. To be barren, to be without children, was seen as a terrible disgrace. As is true with many sad events human existence, the situation was such that people without children were seen as morally inferior.
So imagine the tremendous joy and excitement when the Angel appears to announce the end of their childless days. More significant than the end of their childless days, was the reality that these births would give rise to children destined to change history. The parallels between the first reading in the gospel are easy to understand. Both Sampson and John the Baptist are born into circumstances where their mothers will see to it they lived a special type of life. They will refrain from certain foods and drinks, and their appearance will be governed by divine law.
Perhaps most important, both will show forth the glory of God in their lives. Samson’s great strength will bring glory to Israel. John the Baptist’s great fidelity will cost him his life. Both Samson and John give witness to a power that is not completely their own. The simple act of cutting hair leaves Samson weak. The encounter with Jesus in the Jordan River, requires a humility on the part of John that reminds him he is not in charge of his mission .
While both readings occur in very dramatic circumstances the spectacular appearances of God through the Angel, each one of us is the result of a miraculous birth. This is so because each one of us is made in the image and likeness of God. While we may not have the tremendous strength of Samson, or the wisdom and eloquence of John the Baptist, we do have all that matters: the grace of God.