23 March, Monday – Fearing the Painted Devil

23 Mar – Memorial for St. Turibius de Mogrovejo, bishop

St. Turibius (1538-1606) was born a noble and became a lawyer, and then a professor of law at Salamanca. He was ordained in 1578, and was a judge of the Court of the Inquisition at Granada. He was later appointed Archbishop of Lima, Peru on May 15, 1579. He founded the first seminary in the Western hemisphere, and fought for the rights of the natives against the Spanish masters. He also organized councils and synods in the New World.

Prayer to St. Turibius

Lord, through the apostolic work of St. Turibius and his unwavering love of truth, you helped your Church to grow. May your chosen people continue to grow in faith and holiness. Grant this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

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Isaiah 65:17-21

Thus says the Lord: Now I create new heavens and a new earth, and the past will not be remembered, and will come no more to men’s minds. Be glad and rejoice for ever and ever for what I am creating, because I now create Jerusalem ‘Joy’ and her people ‘Gladness.’ I shall rejoice over Jerusalem and exult in my people. No more will the sound of weeping or the sound of cries be heard in her; in her, no more will be found the infant living a few days only, or the old man not living to the end of his days. To die at the age of a hundred will be dying young; not to live to be a hundred will be the sign of a curse. They will build houses and inhabit them, plant vineyards and eat their fruit.

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John 4:43-54

Jesus left Samaria for Galilee. He himself had declared that there is no respect for a prophet in his own country, but on his arrival the Galileans received him well, having seen all that he had done at Jerusalem during the festival which they too had attended.

He went again to Cana in Galilee, where he had changed the water into wine. Now there was a court official there whose son was ill at Capernaum and, hearing that Jesus had arrived in Galilee from Judaea, he went and asked him to come and cure his son as he was at the point of death. Jesus said, ‘So you will not believe unless you see signs and portents!’ ‘Sir,’ answered the official ‘come down before my child dies.’ ‘Go home,’ said Jesus ‘your son will live.’ The man believed what Jesus had said and started on his way; and while he was still on the journey back his servants met him with the news that his boy was alive. He asked them when the boy had begun to recover. ‘The fever left him yesterday’ they said ‘at the seventh hour.’ The father realised that this was exactly the time when Jesus had said, ‘Your son will live’; and he and all his household believed.

This was the second sign given by Jesus, on his return from Judaea to Galilee.

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“Unless you people see signs and wonders, you will not believe”

I wondered to myself how I would react if Satan himself one day appeared before me and shouted at the top of his voice into my face, “Jesus Christ is the Son of Almighty God!”. After waking up (from fainting from sheer terror upon seeing Satan), would I then accept his proclamation? Or would I reject it, because it was Satan that said it? On the flip side, if an angelic figure of great light, were to appear and said, “Jesus did not rise from the dead but was carried back by angels and laid to eternal rest in the bosom of God.”  Would I then believe that to be the truth?

In Act 2 Scene 2 of Shakespeare’s Macbeth, Lady Macbeth laments: “It is the mind’s eye that fears the painted devil”. Why is truth of God’s willingness and ability to love and care for us so hard to grapple with? Why are we so fixated with what we can touch, see and feel before we can believe? Why do we usually place the messenger before the message?

And more often than not, evil, pain, sorrow, fear, rejection, injustice, terror (and the list goes on), is ever more present, more visible and more experienced than goodness, justice, plenty, peace, joy and so on.  Wars, poverty, sickness, death, human indifference, when relationships break down and rejection from friends and relatives arise from the most minuscule of reasons. When stability in relationships, in livelihoods, in leadership and even in our values and beliefs are all so transient, fleeting, self-serving and inauthentic. When compassion, understanding, forgiveness, play second-fiddle to anger, judgement, ambition and resentment, how do we see God in all these? Our ‘instincts’ have been conditioned to say, quite literally, “I will believe it when I see it”. We are really telling God, “I will believe in you when I see what you can truly do, and how all that is good that you have come to bring into this world, actually happens”. Till such time, God remains an idea in our heads and the devil it seems, sometimes appears more real, more present.

But perhaps the irony of everything is that even when God gives us clear, undeniable and irrefutable evidence of His presence and graces, of His love and mercy, of His providence and protection, we still find it hard to believe. Consider the countless miracles witnessed by the apostles, yet they cower in fear and cowardice in the upper room. Like the apostles, we too very quickly forget and continue to refuse to believe in God’s love and power in all the difficult circumstances of our lives, despite the times we have seen Him walk on water, multiply the loaves, raise the dead, cast out devils, heal the sick, rebuke the storms, hang on the cross and rise from death. Well, perhaps, it is always that little child in us that says, “well, these things happened to other people, they did not happen to me”. And until and unless it happens to me, God is not real.

When we seek signs to ‘prove’ the existence of God, it simply points to the lack of faith on our part. When God sends us signs and we still choose to doubt, it’s not only a double-whammy for God but more so for us, for it shows even more acutely, the smallness of our minds and how truly pathetic our faith really is. Thank God that God is God, for otherwise, there is no hope for us. I close with this warning of Prophet Jeremiah:

“Hear now this, O foolish people, and without understanding; which have eyes, and see not; which have ears, and hear not” (Jeremiah 5:21)

(Today’s OXYGEN by Justus Teo)

Prayer: Father help us. Forgive our human frailty which makes us unable to trust in that which is unseen and to cling on always to all our deep fears and insecurities. You know how we need your constant assurances and affirmations of your saving presence and sovereignty in our lives. You know how weakly we cling on to our dismal faith in you, if we can even call it that.

Thanksgiving: Father, thank you for your unfailing patience and understanding to us. Thank you for being a Father that looks not on the frailty of His child, but on his need for a Father’s love and saving grace of Almighty God. Help us to see, to know and to trust in Jesus. Send us your Holy Spirit to set us free from the painted devils that torment us, and stops us from experiencing your love for us.

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