When I was in Grade 12, something beautiful happened. Up to that point, I had always seen teachers as the ones to whom I had to prove myself. But, in Grade 12, as we were preparing for provincial exams, I realized that our teachers were there to help us get the highest mark possible, so that we could get in to university. Consequently, I started seeing my teachers as on my side. All the classes, tests, and extra time after school were a joint effort so that I could succeed, and I became more receptive to everything my teachers said.
At some point in our spiritual journey, all of us should start to see that God the Father is on our side. As we’ve said, He’s trying to transform the world, but from the inside out, so that happiness isn’t just around us, but is inside us, and that means He has to work at our hearts. There will be pain, because we have to grow.
Last week, we acknowledged there’s going to be an upcoming crisis for all of us, if we aren’t already going through one—that’s just life! The Second Reading today reminds us partially why God the Father allows these crises. “Brothers and sisters: You have forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as children—‘My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, or lose heart when you are punished by him; for the Lord disciplines the one whom he loves, and chastises every son whom he accepts’” (Heb 12:5-6).
Samuel Johnson, the man who wrote the world’s first dictionary, said that people need to be reminded more than they’re instructed. We often already know the truth, but need to hear it again. In the Bible, the Jewish people needed to be reminded over and over, which is why God often told them to ‘remember.’
The author of Hebrews reminds his audience that they are adopted children of God! We don’t know exactly who the audience is, but most scholars believe they’re Jewish Christians in Rome. What we do know for certain is that they had been persecuted as Christians and were losing hope; some stopped attending Mass and others were ready to give up on faith in Jesus. Therefore the author of Hebrews says, ‘the Lord disciplines the one whom he loves, and chastises every son whom he accepts.’
Has everyone seen the 2018 movie A Quiet Place? This is a great example of fatherhood: John Krasinski’s character is so loving, affectionate, and warm with his children, but he’s also intense because he has to train them to survive, to be mature. So, good parents are the ones who discipline their children; not with unjust anger, but out of love and always in proportion. I’m more demanding of you than of people at St. John’s. Why? Because I’m your spiritual father. I don’t punish them… even though they deserve it more. But I do challenge you.
A mother once said to me, “It’s hard to say ‘No’ to your children, because you see them suffer.” Then I realized: She thinks being a good mother means that her children never suffer, and she projects that onto God! That’s why she doesn’t understand why God allows her to suffer. So, what is our conception of fatherhood?
Have you ever experienced God’s love for you? Do you remember a time when you were overwhelmed with goodness and felt so blessed? So, why does His perfect love change when we suffer?
When I first experienced God’s love for me, when He took away all my sins in Confession, I knew right after that He would still allow me to suffer. Why? Because He never spared Jesus from suffering. The author of Hebrews writes, “Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered; and being made perfect he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him” (5:8-9). God’s only natural Son suffers so that He can pour out more love, to atone for our sins; and so that we know the depths of God’s love for us.
Therefore, whenever I suffer, I know I’m not alone. I feel close to Jesus in His suffering. And I realize that I have a chance to show my love for God, to prove that I will never leave Him. All the saints suffered. When you suffer, you’re close to Jesus, and you have a chance to prove your love for Him.
“Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees… so that what is lame may not be put out of joint, but rather be healed” (Heb 12:12-13). Unfortunately, I heard about a Catholic man who, during his wife’s funeral, declared that he no longer believed in God. He was caught unprepared, must have had completely unrealistic expectations of God, and never thought about Jesus’ own suffering as the Son of God.
The author of Hebrews is saying: You’re children of God, get ready! The Father won’t push you beyond your breaking point. All the tests that are coming are designed not to break you but to strengthen you.
If you can, when you’re ready, but please do so soon: Make a decision never to blame God or leave Jesus or the sacraments.
Here’s the last analogy: “Discipline always seems painful rather than pleasant at the time, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it” (Heb 12:11). The Greek word for ‘trained’ is ‘gymnazō,’ from which we get the word gymnasium, so the author still has in mind the sports analogy we mentioned last week. When we’re young, we all want a piano teacher who’s nice and gentle, and that’s what we need. However, at a certain point, when we want to be exceptional at dance, soccer, or be in the best shape possible, we look for a coach who cares about us and pushes us to be our best.
God the Father is on our side. Because we are His children, He loves us and pushes us to be saints.