The Lord be with you…
Lift up your hearts…
Let us give thanks to the Lord our God!
At every Mass, we use these words to plunge into the Eucharistic Prayer, our great expression of thanksgiving to God. As soon as we have done so, we declare a special reason to give God thanks, which comes in the form of the Preface. Today, we have chosen the Third Preface for the Sundays of Ordinary Time, and the reason it offers for praising God is this:
You came to the aid of mortal beings with your divinity
and even fashioned for us a remedy out of mortality itself,
that the cause of our downfall
might become the means of our salvation.
This deserves a little unpacking, so in more prosaic language, this is what it is trying to say:
God, who cannot die, did something to help us human beings whose mortal bodies will inevitably die.
What did God do about it? He made it possible for us to live eternally in heaven, which is what we call salvation.
How did God do this? God used death itself to defeat death. That person of the Godhead which we call the Son took on mortal flesh so that he himself would experience bodily death, and by doing so, by being an innocent and infinitely worthy victim executed for no crime, he would pay a penalty sufficient to pay for all the sins human beings can ever commit.
Every Sunday is a little Easter, a remembrance of the death and resurrection of Christ. This particular Preface emphasises how Jesus experiencing death became the means of our salvation.
Now we, as members of the Church, are each members of Christ’s body, and therefore we are invited to share in the saving work of Christ. It is unlikely that any one among us could be actually crucified – but each Christian is invited to take up their Cross daily, by cheerfully embracing the difficulties of daily life.
St Paul experienced some mysterious affliction which he called the “thorn in his flesh”. We do not know what exactly it was, and perhaps Scripture deliberately hides its exact nature so that whatever our daily difficulties are, we can imagine St Paul sharing in something similar. Paul knew full well that Jesus had power to heal – Paul’s own blindness had been healed by Christ, and God’s healing power had flowed through Paul’s hands into many who were sick. Yet Paul himself was not to be healed of this particular affliction; rather, he acknowledges that God allowed it to remain with him to stop him becoming too proud.
“My power is at its best in weakness.” In the same way, God often allows us to suffer illness, difficulties and hardships so that we ourselves can help those facing similar trials. Alcoholics Anonymous and similar 12-step programmes rely on those struggling with addiction giving mutual support to one another. And extreme talent often has a “shadow side” – the gifted artist who struggles with an over-sensitive artistic temperament, or the scientific genius who lacks people skills. In these cases, St Paul would see the deficiency as a God-given antidote to pride.
On my ordination souvenir card, I chose to quote Romans 8:28 – “in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose”. This is not the same as a saccharine assurance of “Don’t worry – everything’s going to be all right!” But it does assert that if we ally ourselves to God’s purpose, if we are true followers of the life, teaching and example of Jesus Christ, that we will pass through the dark periods in our life and find that, in ways quite beyond our control or expectation, God will cause things to work out for the best. Whatever you are struggling with in your life at the moment, know this: God has permitted it, and if you are faithful, God will bring good out of it.