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We know that all things work for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.
This simple line from Saint Paul summarizes the message of the Gospel he wants to preach about Jesus' victory over sin and death. All things work for good. Paul lived in a time when the popular vision was that the past was way better and things were constantly and inevitably in a state of decline. The Golden age was followed by the silver, the bronze, etc. We can't help but mess things up, so to speak, and (from a religious perspective) sin gets the final word and brings us down one bit at a time. Paul's response flows directly from his belief in the Lord Jesus' Resurrection, a belief that he knows through personal experience with the Lord, and has transformed his life and the lives of so many others he calls fellow Christians.
This phrase from Saint Paul's letter to the Romans runs right into the universal question that every human person has to deal with: why do bad things happen to good people? Now there is more than one way to answer this question: some people take Saint Paul's answer. Others go the opposite way and say, "because God doesn't care," or even doesn't exist. Some of us are somewhere in the middle: we see that there is "silver lining" in the midst of trials, sufferings, failures, perhaps even sins.
This fits right into the parable of the nets – which has a similar message to what we heard just a week ago from the weeds & the wheat: the good and the bad are often mixed together.
Sometimes, we can see clearly that in this life, good is mixed with bad. Honestly, we see this every day: good things are often not easy. They have sacrifices or shortcomings or it requires internal suffering for us to do them. In heaven, this will not be the case, but in our fallen world, it is the reality, and many times it is quite obvious to us.
For example, every personality has strengths and weaknesses, and very often those traits do us good in certain circumstances, but do us harm in others. We can get a lot done, but we run over people. We are quick to connect with others, but we can't maintain deep relationships. We like to do our best and strive for perfection, but we grow bitter when others don't measure up. Although transformation in Christ Jesus will eventually overcome these correlations, it is true that good is very often mixed with bad in life.
Other times, it may not be so obvious, and this is where the doubts can really rise as we wonder: why do bad things happen to good people? Sometimes this is very prominent in our local news, as with this past week with Dr. Graham, and will probably even touch very close to home a few times in our lives. Truly, we may have to wait a long time in the darkness of faith before we see how we grew through the trials in our lives - and how God's plan ultimately worked for good. But sometimes it may not be until we get to heaven that it all makes sense.
Really Paul is talking to us about the HOPE that springs from our FAITH. The fact of our faith is that Jesus conquered, definitely, and that we are participants in that victory through our baptism. The hope that results from that is that we can live forever, and we will, if we keep up the work of love and of faith. Hope gets us there.
So how do we keep our hope strong in the midst of life's trials? PRAY. St. Padre Pio says it very simply: "Pray. Hope. and don't worry." So do that. Prayer is essential to our hope, for if our eyes are focused on ourselves, we will be sad, but if they are focused on God, we will find hope.
Secondly, we must remind ourselves of the ways we are already participating in God's blessings: essentially we need to focus on the good and not the bad. Every life has problems, but every life has blessings and benefits. We must keep our hearts dwelling on the good in our lives and praise God for it.
You might have heard this before, but it's very true: our understanding on earth is like looking at a tapestry from from the backside. All you see is a chaotic mess of strings of various colors all over the place making no sense. But God has been working from the other side all this time, and when we get to heaven, we will be able to see what He has been doing all this time. Then we can say with full knowledge what we say today with faith: all things work for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. Amen.