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Faith and suffering

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“Do not be afraid, just have faith.” This Sunday’s Gospel centers on this command and encouragement of Jesus Christ. We find in this passage two women in need of miraculous help. The first, a woman who had suffered with a 12-year flow of blood, and the second, a 12-year-old y girl, dead before her time. In the first case, the woman’s ailment places her in ritual impurity according to the old Jewish law, not only for a few days each month, but year after year, exiled from the life of God’s people. In the second case, the young girl is placed not only outside of the ritual life of God’s people, but all life, consigned to Sheol, the land of the dead. Both situations seem beyond help, and in both, Christ calls for faith — but what a difference in the belief he encounters.

The family of the young girl seeks help with imperfect faith. Jairus, the girl’s father, believes that Christ can bring health back to his daughter, but still thinks that physical presence is required, as though the healing were magic. In fact, when he finds that his daughter has actually died, Christ must call him back, urging him to keep faith in the possibility of a healing.

Further, the entire house, upon Jesus’ assurance that he will wake the child, who is only sleeping to him, laughs scornfully, with what we can only imagine is great bitterness. This bitterness tells us they are still tied up in worldly ways of thinking, perhaps wrestling with disappointed plans for the future, unfulfilled expectations for this their daughter, sister and friend. They have not yet learned faith, but set their hopes on the world and its joys. Yet, Christ, out of compassion for their pain, still works the miracle, restores life and brings the whole house into a new world. The presence of God breaks into their lives in an undeniable way, and now they have to decide whether to rebuild everything on friendship with God or not.

How different is the woman who seeks to cure her flow of blood. She has suffered something close to death — years of ritual impurity according to the Jewish law — during those 12 years of the young girl’s life. She has learned courage through her suffering, as well as discernment and humility. Her physical pain, the poverty to which her many treatments have reduced her, and the isolation that her particular ailment causes have taught her not to hope in anything the world offers. Her heart has, in a way, been purified of reliance on any present or future prosperity. All of this has freed her soul for faith, and when she reaches out with trust in Christ’s power, she is healed immediately. Christ calls her out of her humble hiddenness into his presence, and we can well imagine, smiles at her as a friend. It is on account of this woman’s deep but humble faith, learned through the purification of suffering, reliant only on God, that the church has always identified itself in her.

We also should ask ourselves: which am I? In whom do I believe? Do I set my hopes on what the world can provide, in what I can get for myself with my own abilities? Or do I truly hope in Christ, knowing that only he can provide the relief and joy I seek? May the Lord strengthen our hearts to choose wisely, and so receive the great gifts he has set apart for us.

Fr. Rampino is parochial vicar of Queen of Apostles Church in Alexandria. 

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2021