Daily Reflection for June 25, 2020

DAILY REFLECTION  •  JUNE 25  •  Virginmartyr Febronia of Nisibis

St. Mark the ascetic said: “Whoever desires to eliminate future tribulations must bear the present tribulations with joy.” Men consider slander as a great tribulation and there are few men who bear this tribulation without grumbling. O beautiful is the fruit of kindly endured tribulation! Tribulation is given to us for good spiritual commerce and we are missing the opportunity thus remaining empty-handed at the market place. Behold, even Athanasius, Basil, Chrysostom, Macarius, Sisoes and thousands of other followers of the Most-slandered One were themselves slandered. But God, Who orders all things for our salvation, had so ordered that on the thorn of slander would sprout fragment roses of glory for all those who are slandered for His Name. Had Stephen not been slandered would he have seen the heavens opened and seen the glory of God in the heavens? And the slander against Joseph the Chaste One, did it not serve to his greater glory?
(St. Nikolai Velimirovich, Prologue from Ochrid)

Fr. John’s Reflection

For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now. Not only that, but we also who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body. For we were saved in this hope, but hope that is seen is not hope; for why does one still hope for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with perseverance.
           Likewise the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. Now He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He makes intercession for the saints according to the will of God. (Romans 8:22-27)

The very first time that I was in a delivery room was for the birth of our oldest child. My wife was in labor for seventeen hours! We had gone through all the Lamaze classes to prepare for the birth. Not long before that day, I dislocated my left knee and was in a leg brace from ankle to thigh. Excitement gave way to wondering just when the kid was going to come. After hours of saying “push!” and “breathe!” my leg was throbbing and I had to sit and put it up on the other bed in the room. The OB came in and looked at both of us, exhausted and sore, and asked which one he should treat first! The day was grueling. We were first time parents and by the end, worried about our child. Was it a boy or girl (no, no one knew back then until we could see for ourselves)? Was he/she ok? Were we ok? Then, the delivery finally happened and our world became something new and wonderful. It was a boy, he was healthy, we forgot about all the difficulties of the day (except to tell the story a million times), and we were filled with awe and joy.

Paul uses the image of the whole creation groaning and laboring with birth pangs until now. We are a world that is in pain, suffering from sin and death, and history itself has been the labor which will end with the coming of the eternal Kingdom of God. We are indeed waiting for the redemption of our bodies. That Kingdom is the goal of the hope that every Christian lives with to ease our way through the labor pains. Just like the birth of a child, the groans and labors of this world are difficult, painful, grueling and even full of questions and doubts because we cannot see the end until the end. But just like the end of that seventeen hours, when we reach it, everything will be forgotten for joy. That joy can only come through the Lord, who offered Himself up for our salvation.

But the journey can be full of peaks and valleys, light and darkness. Paul reminds us that there are times when the “Spirit Himself makes intercessions for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.” During that long, difficult first labor my wife and I experienced, there were moments when we were afraid, when we doubted, when we tried to pray. But the moment was too big for us and mere words. I’m sure we managed, if only in the quiet of our hearts, to mutter, “Please help us, Lord!” There are moments in our lives when we can’t pray — we are distracted by serious issues, we face critical health moments for ourselves or our loved ones, whatever the serious moment is — the moments are too big for words. So God sends His Spirit to intercede for us. We can turn to Him and simply sigh, “You know, O Lord…help me.” We can’t use life to excuse laziness and no effort whatsoever at establishing a prayer and fasting discipline. But the hope of a Christian always allows for those moments when the Spirit Himself intercedes for us when we have no words. If we are still and open our minds to Him, He will be there. But when we allow the world to overwhelm us, there is no room for Him. Let’s try to be still daily to give the Spirit a fighting chance.