We can wish each other a happy New Year, because God has given us this time of praise and thanksgiving for his manifold blessings. We are tempted to ingratitude, as even the Pope expressed in his New Year’s remarks. “It might seem forced, even jarring,” he said, “to thank God at the end of a year like this….” After Mass last night, a woman hesitated on her way out, then turned to point a finger at me. “I want to talk to you,” she said, and I thought I had was in trouble for something. But her quarrel was with God. “How can I believe in God when He allows the darkness and chaos we saw this past week? Our motherland is collapsing.” No one seems able to prevent the rapid decline of a rightly-ordered society built on truth and mutual respect.
This morning I began the Book of Job, a man who loses his entire life’s work in one day. Marauding Sabeans slaughter his field hands and take his cattle, fire from heaven consumes his sheep and goats, murderous Chaldeans make off with his camels and butcher his servants, and a violent wind destroys his sons and daughters in their own homes. So what does Job do? He praises God. “Job rose. He tore his gown and shaved his head. Then, falling to the ground he worshipped and said: Naked I came forth from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. Yahweh gave, and Yahweh has taken back. Blessed be the name of Yahweh.” Job’s wife concludes that her husband has lost his mind. “Curse God and die,” she tells him.
The distressed woman last night could not be consoled at the loss of her country, and of all her friends, and of all her family members. She could only express fear, outrage, and helplessness. She wanted my help, so I recommended a book; I affirmed that God will not abandon those who hope in Him; I pointed out that we are not meant to live here forever anyway. She would not be consoled. Finally I just said “this church is open day and night for you. Throw yourself down before God, and He will heal you.” She smiled a little, and thanked me, and left.
Naked we entered this world, and naked we leave. What do we expect from this world? Earthly paradise? Those who believe in utopias inevitably destroy whatever fragile order we manage to build on earth. And yet, paradise glows on the faces of those who praise God in all circumstances. It is possible to radiate peace and joy, even as Leviathan is unleashed. The answer to every distress is always “Blessed be the name of the Lord.” At times faith must be blind: blind, but not unseeing.