Homily for February 5, V Sunday of OT, year B
A first glance at today’s first reading could make us think that Job was suffering from something along the lines of a “melancholic type major depressive disorder” and needed to take some antidepressive meds. However, if we remember the context, poor Job’s feelings are easy to understand. He had just been through a series of calamities that deprived him of most of his family, his possessions, and his health.
While we may not suffer as many misfortunes as Job, we all go through serious difficulties at different times in our lives, and even face circumstances that may seem insurmountable. There is no foreseeable remedy in this life for the loss of loved ones, chronic illness, or permanent disability. The wonders of modern technology and medicine have certainly improved our quality of life since the time of Job, but suffering is an inevitable part of human existence.
When there is no apparent direct remedy for suffering, there may be a temptation to turn to radical measures, and to seek relief by taking life and death into our own hands. No one wants to suffer, or to watch someone they love suffer. It may seem at times that the only answer is to hasten death in as clean and painless a way as possible, through euthanasia or physician-assisted suicide.
However, this leaves God totally out of the picture. He is the Lord of life and death, not us. The Psalm reminds us that God is powerful and wants to heal those who suffer; if He wants to, He can grant healing and renewal even when all human hope is lost. Such was the fate of Job, who ended up with even more that he had lost. The Gospel reading tells how Jesus cured many people, which included people suffering from leprosy, a horrible, progressive disease which, at the time, was incurable and meant a slow and nightmarish death. People with no hope were given a new lease on life. Although we don’t hear about it much in the news, there are still miraculous cures in the world today. I have heard numerous first- and second-person accounts of scientifically verified healings of incurable chronic diseases, which could only be explained by divine intervention in answer to prayers.
Certainly, such miraculous healings are the exception, not the rule. However, Christ also gave new meaning to human suffering by partaking in it Himself with His Passion and death on the Cross. His suffering was a sacrifice that redeemed humankind, and as members of the Body of Christ, we can offer our suffering with His to win grace and blessings for those in need.
By contrast, under no circumstances does God authorize us to directly and intentionally cause the death of an innocent human being. Every human life belongs to God; it is His creation. Even though we have the technical capacity to manipulate life in the laboratory, at both its beginning and end, having the ability does not give us the right to do so. Although we may have very strong motives for wanting to take control completely into our own hands, we must observe certain limits to respect the sanctity of life which only God has the right to give and take. This applies as much to physician-assisted suicide as it does to euthanasia, abortion, and various other issues.
This is not a popular message in the world today. As human beings we have a natural impulse to want to control everything, and to see the technical capacity to do something as a license – or even a duty – to try it. In many cases this is both permissible and good, but we need to recognize moral boundaries and stop short of wanting to be like gods. As Catholics and as citizens, we have a duty to do what is within our power to ensure that the laws of our state and our nation protect the integrity and dignity of human life. This is not a matter of religious observance that we want to impose on others, but a recognition of the fundamental order of the world and moral truths of universal value.
May God help us to face suffering in our own lives with courage, faith, and hope, giving us the strength to bear it and giving it spiritual value and meaning. And may God also give us the courage and dedication that St. Paul expresses in the second reading today, so that we too may stand up for the truth in our words and actions, and thus receive the recompense of participating in the Gospel promises of God.