Twenty-seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time
October 2, 2022
Considered to be one of the “minor” Prophets of the Old Testament, Habakkuk definitely raises a “major” issue; namely, Where is God when we need help the most?
Very little is known about Habakkuk, other than the condition of the world at the time of his conversation with The Almighty, set out in our First Reading. Judah was under siege, and the oppressors were nonbelievers…worshipers of idols…pagans. They were intent upon inflicting great suffering on God’s people. This prompts Habakkuk to ask the question that must have been on the minds and hearts of all the Chosen People:
HOW LONG, OH LORD? I CRY FOR HELP BUT YOU DO NOT LISTEN!
That very profound question has survived the centuries.
It must be on the minds and the hearts of the People of Ukraine, afflicted by a brutal invader even as Judah was.
It must be on the minds and the hearts of the People of Puerto Rico, not yet fully recovered from Hurricane Maria, only to be afflicted once again by Hurricane Fiona.
It must be on the minds and the hearts of patients listening to a dire diagnosis from their oncologist.
I can personally attest to the fact that it is very often on the minds and the hearts of elderly parishioners, often dealing with chronic pain, totally dependent on the charity of others, enjoying no quality of life. I have been asked that question, when making pastoral calls in ICU wards, hospices, and sick rooms where death seems to have been delayed. I am expected to answer on behalf of God.
I would be very surprised to hear that anyone facing one of life’s inescapable and often serious challenges hasn’t given voice to that very question. Even non-believers, in mid-crisis, longing for resolution, foolishly look to “the universe” rather than to the Creator of the universe and ask:
HOW LONG? WHEN WILL THIS END?
This is a question which was rooted deeply in the human experience as a consequence of The Original Sin. It is not a question asked within The Kingdom of God, where there is no time but only Eternity…no endings but simply endless peace and joy.
First, consider that Habakkuk is not merely questioning God. This passage is a prayer. And when the prayer is completed, he simply WAITS! The Church has provided a Second Reading and a passage from Luke’s Gospel that appear to suggest that “the wait” might be made more bearable if the question were to be re-framed.
Rather than: HOW LONG, O LORD? Wouldn’t it be wiser to ask The Lord: GOD…WHAT ARE YOU TELLING ME?
When we find ourselves in crisis mode, impatient for the storm to pass, St. Paul recommends that we stir into flame the gift of God…FAITH! Jesus goes on to reassure us that even a speck of faith has the potential to enable us to endure, and to come out the other side wiser for the experience.
HOW LONG? Doesn’t that question tend to prolong and maybe even intensify the pain?
WHAT AM I TO LEARN? It might take a speck of faith to ask this question during tough times, but it is definitely the way to change loss into gain.
When will the war in Ukraine end? When will the flood waters in Puerto Rico recede? When will the cancer patient know if the chemo has shrunk the tumor? When will Perpetual Light finally shine on the elderly hospice patient?
No one knows!
But we can be certain of this much:
God did not give us a spirit of cowardice but rather of power…and love…and self-control. So then reframe the question and then:
Be still and know that I am God! (Ps. 46)
…and you will be all the wiser when God finally responds.