The Cross of Christ Illumines. . . Lag Time
Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. HEBREWS 11:1
At Capernaum there was an official whose son was ill. When he heard that Jesus had come from Judea to Galilee, he went and begged him to come down and heal his son, for he was at the point of death. Jesus therefore said to him, “Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.” The official said to him, “Sir, come down before my child dies.” Jesus said to him, “Go; your son will live.” The man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him and went his way. JOHN 4:46–50
It was a director of religious education who introduced me to St. Therese of the Child Jesus. She was a little apologetic about it; we both had advanced degrees in theology, and people with advanced degrees in anything are inclined to be skeptics. However, she had witnessed a number of miracles that just could not be explained away easily. She explained the usual “routine” for petitioning St. Therese with a prayer request. First comes a novena, a simple prayer that is prayed for nine days, making a petition known to the saint. St. Therese, who said that she wanted to spend her time in heaven showering roses upon souls, then lets the petitioner know that she has heard the prayer by sending the petitioner a sign—usually of roses. My friend shared that when she had prayed, she would inevitably receive a card with roses, or sometimes an actual bouquet.
I needed a job. So I began praying a novena to St. Therese; three days into the prayer I received an ad for roses in the mail. The first time I threw it out, chalking it up to pure coincidence. I received the same ad again the next day. Therese has a good sense of humor. Miraculously, it seemed, a new job came— but then it didn’t work out. On the same day that I was thrown into an unemployment line, I was given a painting of St. Therese holding a bouquet of roses! The next few months were stressful as I sought a new job, but deep down I knew that St. Therese would not let me down. In the end I ended up exactly where God wanted me, although the journey to arrive there was nothing like anything I could ever have imagined.
We have a tendency to think that because the miracles Jesus worked while he was on earth brought immediate results, our prayers should work instantaneously, too. When things don’t happen right away for us, our faith wanes and we start to look elsewhere for answers. However, if we look closely at the miracle stories found in the Gospels, we see many instances when Jesus “tests” a petitioner by giving him or her a task to complete before the miracle happens. For example, he instructs the blind man to wash in the pool of Siloam. He sends the royal official home. He tells Peter to cast his net on the other side. In each case, the petitioner is rewarded for carrying his or her cross a little further than he or she would have liked. The ultimate miracle in the Gospels—the resurrection of Jesus—doesn’t take place right away, either. Jesus dies on Good Friday, and then rests in the tomb for the entire Sabbath before rising on Easter Sunday. This “delay” should give us assurance: When we face a cross, we can trust that whether the period between promise and fulfillment is a few days or a few decades, God will respond at the appropriate time. This does not mean that the wait will be pleasant.
The royal official whose son was dying was desperate. Anyone facing similar circumstances knows, we want help and we want it immediately. Being told to go home could have sounded like a rejection, but the royal official had great faith in the power of Jesus to fulfill whatever he promised. To the man’s delight, his faith was rewarded; his son was healed at the exact moment that Jesus had told his father, “Your son will live.”
Believing Against Appearances
In Matthew’s Gospel, when Jesus is on the cross the passersby say to him, “If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross” (Matthew 27:40). That Jesus doesn’t come down is a mystery that we who follow him must internalize. We trust in him alone; not in appearances, not in immediate results, not according to the scenario we have set up in our own minds. Our Lord is faithful, on his terms and not ours. No matter what the situation, our job is to believe in him. Jesus commonly responded to those who immediately received their miracles, with no lag time, by telling them that their faith had healed them. The cross illumines real faith, the dying of a controlling ego that corresponds to an act of perfect trust, especially when it seems all is lost. Sometimes the cross brings pain to us personally; other times it involves the pain and suffering of those we love. Faith is difficult precisely because it requires that we trust in God’s response before we can perceive anything being done. Once God acts, however, we have a sense that God was guiding us all along.
When our earthly life ceases, we will be welcomed into God’s kingdom to the degree that we made him the Lord of our lives. For many of us, that will mean some time along the purgative way, learning to release all of our demands upon God. God has found his rightful place in our hearts when we realize that whatever he wills is best for us. When we look back over our lives, we often find that every event is intricately interwoven with another, and then another, with bright spots of serendipity when we “just happened” to be in the right spot at the right time at key moments. This realization will deepen the mystery that is life; regardless how long or short our life, our mission and purpose is God’s. If he seems slow to respond, look to the cross of Christ, which illumines even the lag time between the promise and the fulfillment.
The Power of the Cross is a book well-suited to daily reading during Lent. The book is available here in pdf version. Daily excerpts will be reprinted in this space during Lent.