The following is taken from a homily given earlier this week. It is based the Advent readings from Isaiah 35, Psalm 85, and the Lukan Gospel which describes a paralyzed man lowered from the roof by his friends so that he can meet Jesus. That mass was also the occasion to remember the fiftieth anniversary of the death of Thomas Merton, the remarkable Trappist monk who still inspires us.
The prophet Isaiah speaks to the people of Israel who are in exile from Jerusalem, having been uprooted from their homeland and sent to Babylon—not unlike the Rohingya people of today who have been forced out of Myanmar, or other immigrants and exiles. He gives them a vision of a world the captives can scarcely imagine, a world where they will be freed from their misery and return to Jerusalem, singing with joy as they move along what Isaiah calls the “holy road” being paved for them. Rather than impasse and frustration, setback and fear, there would now be the promise of home, where kindness, justice, and truthfulness would reign—just the opposite of what they were experiencing in the world they were inhabiting—a world of cruelty, injustice, and lies. But they had to overcome their fears, and trust that they would see an end to their nightmare, despite all apparent odds.
Trust also abounds in this Gospel reading. Those who trust in Jesus contrive to lower the man through the roof so that he might encounter Jesus face to face. They believed deeply and acted eagerly to help the lame man. Jesus saw that and loved them, offering them the gift of shalom, freedom from their sins. And it is easy to imagine the man lowered through the roof, trusting the help and strength of his friends, and the stability of the roof itself—hopeful for a solution to his predicament.
Trust is one of the hardest things for any or us to muster, for it means giving up the urge to have control over events, over our lives, and even our bodies. It means having the humility to accept the help that comes our way, of letting ourselves be lowered from the roof. The ultimate trust is not the faith that God will heal us, but is that trust required to surrender our lives to God, ultimately in our dying and death: of letting go completely. That degree of trust is extremely difficult to accept, for we want to hold on; we want to be in control. But, in the end, we must let go and allow God to be with us.
On this commemoration of Thomas Merton, one of his well-known prayers seems particularly fitting:
My Lord God,
I have no idea where I am going.
I do not see the road ahead of me.
I cannot know for certain where it will end.
nor do I really know myself,
and the fact that I think I am following your will
does not mean that I am actually doing so.
But I believe that the desire to please you
does in fact please you.
And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing.
I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.
And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road,
though I may know nothing about it.
Therefore will I trust you always though
I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death.
I will not fear, for you are ever with me,
and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.