By Canon Gerry Conroy

Looking back over the past 15 months, it is tempting to think that it has been almost a lost year in our lives. Certainly when you look at it, none of us could have imagined such a year before it happened as being anything other than the plot of some dystopian film. It has been difficult to find any sense in what has happened, other than the randomness of life as we find ourselves largely at the mercy of such a small creature as the virus.

It has however offered me an opportunity to consider again the Book of Job that we heard from in that first reading. I don’t know if you have ever read it in its entirety, but it is a series of poems about a man who was without sin and who underwent some serious suffering in his life. It’s a reflection on the why of suffering with Job’s famous comforters putting it down to punishment for sin, something Job vehemently denies and interestingly also something that God rejects. The strange thing however is that although he rejects the whole notion of suffering as punishment for sin, God never really explains to Job why everything that happened to him has happened. Instead the book ends with Job realising his true need was to understand that God had not rejected him in all this. This opens the way for Job to recognise that God will always be a mystery beyond him, but a mystery that was not his enemy.

That, I find, is a very important thing to discover in life, perhaps especially in the face of events like the pandemic, but specially in the face of some of the things that can befall us in life and that we just can’t make sense of.

The Gospel also, in the story of Christ’s calming of the storm, finds the disciples facing in their turn the mystery that is all around us in life. They are having to struggle with the apparent anomaly between the coming of the Kingdom and the almost overwhelming indications to the contrary. The storm is all around them and Jesus is lying asleep. Does he not know the mortal peril in which they find themselves? His whole project of establishing the kingdom of God seems to be falling apart and he goes on as if everything was going according to plan. The Disciples are left without answers. They are left with one huge question, ‘Who is this?’

They struggled because, consumed with fear,  they could not trust,  and without trust how can they appreciate the mystery before them. They did not recognise who was before them in Christ. They thought that it was all about what they did or didn’t do. But it is all about where it begins… with the recognition of Jesus as God. Not simply a profession of faith – words we say, but a personal response to the mystery of God that is with us, all around us, even within us because we have received the Holy Spirit.

The only answer to the mystery of life is the mystery of grace that comes to meet us, but we live in a world where we are largely blind to the power of mystery. We have opted instead for the myth of control and knowledge. While they are powerful and good, I for one do not find them an adequate response to the mystery we encounter in life. Sometimes we just need to be willing to be open to that mystery and know it is not our enemy. That is the beginning.

Canon Conroy is parish priest of St Patrick’s, Dumbarton

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