Memorial of St. John of the Cross, priest and doctor of the Church
(Isaiah 41:13-20; Matthew 11:11-15)
We want to believe that every bad experience we have will work out for the good. If we suffer chronic pain, we want to believe that our trial builds up a spiritual depository of grace to help others. If we have setbacks in our careers, we want to believe that we are being taught patience. If a loved one dies, we want to believe that the person is better off with God. But sometimes such tenets of faith seem illusory. Sometimes it seems that we are just kidding ourselves. Today’s patron saint, John of the Cross, coined the phrase “dark night of the soul” to describe this dismal condition of soul.
Some of the Jews in Babylon no doubt experienced exile as a “dark night.” They could no longer live the law without being derided by their native neighbors. One psalm shows them being bullied to sing happy songs from Israel. Perhaps John the Baptist had a like disillusionment. Imprisoned, he may have seen his own days coming to an abrupt end. So he sent his disciples to Jesus asking if he might possibly be the prophet whom he was supposed to foreshadow. It was a last ditch effort to make sense of his ascetic and now doomed public life. In today’s gospel Jesus gives part of his answer to John’s query.
He says that it is odd that God’s Kingdom of love suffers so much violence. Nevertheless, he indicates, the tide has turned with his coming. Those who know him have already experienced God’s mercy. John and the rest of us in our lowest moments have to hold on and trust. This is what Advent hope is all about. In the year’s darkest days (in the Northern Hemisphere) we do not yield to the cold night but hang on and wait for God’s glory to shine.