Image: Rainbow over Inuvik
Acts 8:1-8 | Psalm 66:1-7 | John 6:35-40
Today the Church celebrates the life and memory of Saint Catherine of Sienna. Catherine was born into 14th century Italy, a time and place of serious upheaval both in the Church and in society at large. Outside, Europe was dealing with the ravages of the Bubonic plague, the “Black Death”. While within the Church, power struggles were ongoing between the papacy and the Italian city-states with the Pope forced to live in exile in France.
Catherine developed an early relationship with Christ and from the age of a child felt a personal connection to Jesus. As she got older, and having joined the Third Order of the Dominicans, this connection grew in intensity and Christ became for her almost, as a partner in marriage, in a mystical way, that one would probably have to be a saint to fully understand. Catherine’s sanctity was recognized by her superiors and she was called upon during this perilous time in history to help bring stability to the situation of the Church which was like a rudderless boat in storm.
This is the kind of chaos that fills our first reading today. The early Church, which was once full of joy, fervor and hope for the future, is now finding itself, with the death of Stephen, scattered and persecuted, fighting for its survival. The motivation in both the story of Saint Catherine and the disciples is, of course, the central figure of Christ. But both experience Jesus in quite different ways. One sees Jesus as a mystical spouse, close and comforting. The other only has faith in Jesus and their memories of him while the world around offers little in terms of affirmation that God is actually with them. Yet despite their hardships the apostles continue to preach the Good News of Christ’s resurrection wherever they go.
How often do we find ourselves navigating our own life looking trying to overcome its hardships and sorrows? Would it not be wonderful if Jesus would come to us like a loving spouse ready to comfort us and let us know that the carefree days of the past are not lost forever.
I suspect there are not many people who have that experience. It sometimes seems that the mystical presence of Christ, always at our side, might only be reserved for Saints?
For many people that I talk to it is as if desperate prayers often seem to go unheard and unanswered. They feel they have been left alone in their sinking ship and the only source of hope is grabbing even more furiously to the oars so as not to be tossed overboard with the next wave that life throws at them.
Perhaps it is enough to know that, in difficult times, we are not alone in our aloneness. For every Saint that has had a vision of God there are many more who had dark nights of the soul when all they could feel was the absence of God. Their sanctity came not from having visions but from having faith, holding on even when there does not seem to be any good reason to.
So whatever life might be throwing at us these days, know that you are not in this by yourself. If you are feeling like God has somehow left you to your own devices, hang on, keep the faith because though it might seem dark right now, God will not abandon you. And, if God is feeling close, give thanks and take a moment to tend to a despairing sister or brother and let them know that they are not alone.