One of my favorite Gospel passages is Mark 9: 14-29. It’s a story about a possessed boy. He has been possessed since childhood. the demon inside him makes the boy’s life a hell on earth. The demon often throws him on the ground and the boy foams at the mouth, grinds his teeth, and becomes rigid. The boy’s dad also lives a hellish life. He has tried everything to help his son, but he has had no success.
Dad brings his son to Jesus. Jesus takes pity and commands the demon to leave. The demon does so, but not until he torments the boy one last time. St. Mark witnesses the event. Here’s St. Marks’ eyewitness account. The demon shouts and throws the boy into convulsions before leaving him. The boy appears to be dead. Jesus, though, takes the boy by his hand and the boy rises. CURED!
Who is the hero in this story? Well, Jesus is certainly a hero. But, the hero I want to focus on is the boy’s dad. He’s just like many of you. Despite year after year of failed efforts to give his son a normal life, dad seems to be a poster child for failure. Nothing he does works. His son remains tormented, demonically tormented. Dad could have given-up many times. He does not. Ever. He keeps on keeping on. He has faith that success is just around the corner. So, even though his life is a daily, agonizing grind of seeing the son he loves suffer, he does what he can. Love propels him.
The story reminds me of many of you because I have been in the homes of hundred of Visitation of Our Lady parishioners. I have seen husbands dedicate themselves 24-hours-a-day to doing what they can for their dying wives. I have seen wives do the same, only getting a sparse few hours of sleep every day. I have seen a daughter sleep at her mother’s bedside so that she will wake-up if she hears even a minor moan and be able to lovingly tend to mom. I have seen a husband endure daily beatings from his wife, an Alzheimer victim. He could have put her into an institution. After all, she had no idea who he was. She just paced their home all day, lashing out at her husband for seemingly no reason at all. Daily! But, he kept keeping on.
Why do people do Christ-like things?
Because it makes them feel good? Hardly. Often, they are worn out. Their feelings are, at best, dormant. They do what they do because their faith correctly tells them it is the loving thing to do. To keep on keeping on, even when it’s physically and emotionally exhausting. Even when there appears to be zero chance of success.
Here’s a modern parable based on a true story. Diane was frazzled. She had been tending to her invalid mother for two years. Mom’s pay back to Diane? Anger and criticism. Never a kind word. A daily litany of insults. Diane prayed for two years for a miracle, but she got no miracle. She got only more abuse. In her private thoughts, Diane admitted she felt no love for her mother or for God. Her emotional reservoir seemed to be empty. Diane went to see her pastor, Fr. Fred. Diane said, “Father, help me. I want to love my mom and have faith in God, but I don’t feel anything for either. I’m afraid I’m just a terrible sinner. I feel as if I have totally lost my faith.” Fr. Fred replied, “Diane, you’re confused. You’re actually a saint. Love and faith aren’t rooted in Pollyanish feelings. They’re rooted in action. Depending on the day, you’ve had no feelings or negative feelings for your mother and for God. Yet, you spend you days acting like Mother Teresa. Forget how you feel. Your feelings are morally neutral. All feelings are. However, your actions are something else. They are filled with love. Because you keep on keeping on doing loving things, despite a hellish return on investment, I know your faith is as solid as a rock and true love fills every fiber of your being. Your reward in heaven will be huge.”
Ever feel like Diane? I bet you do. Ever act like Diane? I hope you do.