In our First Reading, the Prophet Daniel recounts how God dealt with His people “in a time of great distress.” He sent them Michael the Archangel to be a guardian for them.
The days before Jesus came into the life of Mary Magdalen, the Patron Saint of Maggie’s Place, were for her “a time unsurpassed in distress.” She was possessed by seven devils (Mk 16:9); seven unclean spirits held her body in bondage, confused her mind, and made her life a nightmare. But, then, God sent her far more than Michael the Archangel. He sent Jesus, His Beloved Son, to cast out the evil spirits and take away her sins. We can only imagine what that meant to Mary Magdalen. We know, for sure, that, from that day forward, she kept Jesus at the center of her life. Nothing and no one could keep her from following Him.
Jesus comes to us in times of distress. He seeks us out in days of tribulation and in good times and in bad; but especially when we are lost and cannot help ourselves, Christ comes. He comes sometimes by means of His angels, and other times by means of other persons like those of Maggie’s Place.
It is good for us to remember that Jesus’ first coming into the world is one that is very familiar to everyone connected with Maggie’s Place. He came as a tiny baby, born of the Virgin Mary, in a time of such distress and poverty that there was no room for Him in the Inn or in any house or hotel. He was born in a stable, was laid in a manger, on the hay that the ox and ass eat for their food. And then, within a brief time, his life was threatened by violence. He was nearly slaughtered by a jealous man of power named King Herod. His mother Mary and her husband Joseph had to flee during the night as exiles into the land of Egypt and then, had to remain there until the death of King Herod.
Many of you gathered here this evening are familiar with distress. Some may, at this very time, be undergoing a time of confusion and hardship. Whatever your personal situation or mine, the words of Jesus, found in today’s Gospel give us hope. For He says, “When you see these things happening, know that I am near.” Christ is not far away when we are facing a crisis. He is near to the broken-hearted. He is near to everyone who turns to Him with a sincere heart. In fact, at times of suffering, He is especially near. His Name is Emmanuel, which means “God with us.” And wherever God is present, there is mercy and peace.
The Letter to the Hebrews (10:14), our Second Reading, reminds us that the way that Jesus entered into our distress and also rescued us is the Cross. Hebrews tells us: “For by one offering He has made perfect forever those who are being consecrated.”
That “one offering” of Jesus is His Passion and death on the Cross, the perfect sacrifice that takes away all sin, frees us from all bondage and opens the door for us to become His beloved sons and daughters. Jesus’ one great offering also gave meaning to human suffering and pain. The Cross of Christ also reminds us that He is always near, especially when we suffer.
The foundress of the Focolare Movement, Chiara Lubich, captured this insight in a prayer in which she said to the Lord:
I seek you, and find you often.
But where I always find you
is in pain.
Any pain whatsoever
is like the sound of a bell
summoning God’s spouse to prayer.
We can always find the Lord Jesus in pain because He entered fully into it. He took our suffering upon Himself. His love embraces our weakness, and if we allow Him, He turns it into grace. His mercy takes our pain, when we surrender it in trust, turns it into a loving encounter with God.
Whenever you or I face any crises or time of distress, may we remember Jesus’ promise, “When you see these things happening, know that I am near.”
Homily given by Bishop Olmsted at the Maggie’s Place 15th Anniversary Mass celebrating the 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time (November 15, 2015)
First Reading: DN 12:1-3
Second Reading: HEB 10: 11-14, 18
Gospel: MK 13:24-32