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Fr. Glenn: Finding the strength

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By Fr. Glenn Jones:

Well, it was definitely Friday. Many companies are criticized on Mondays – auto repair shops, banks, etc. But for others, it can be Friday, usually when you have a busy weekend in the works anyway. Plans change, pressures and moods rise, etc. So easy to give in to anger and run wild or despair. Or both.

While browsing the guides online the other night, I came across a docu-fiction titled “Shackleford’s Captain” on tubi.com, a very gripping story about the South Pole Expedition in the early 1900s. Sir Ernest Shackleford a assembled a crew and sought to be the first expedition to reach the South Pole, and in a wooden hull ship (Endurance). One of the most intriguing aspects of the show is that they use an actual film documenting the trip – one of the earliest such uses during the “moving pictures” era. Well, winter came early that year and the ship locked in the ice. Their hopes of breaking the ice and freeing the ship were in vain, and they ultimately abandoned their ship as it crashed, watching it disappear beneath the frozen surface as they themselves were stranded on the barren seascape and frozen. The penguins that provided their food suddenly disappeared, and they were forced to eat their beloved companions, their sled dogs. Drifting over the pack ice, they were finally able to enter the sea to navigate their lifeboats through icy, stormy seas to an island of bare rock; but at least it was land. After many more heartbreaking adventures and two years battling the harshest elements, most have finally been saved.

Watching the movie I couldn’t help but think: “Dude… I will never complain again!” “ These men went through the gravest miseries with no apparent hope of being saved. Yet… the problems and frustrations are relative, and while our own problems and struggles are more often than not nearly as horrific as the struggle for the life of this intrepid crew, the problems may seem so to us at the time. Yes, no doubt the crew was made up of particularly daring souls, already well accustomed to deprivation; after all, they were all volunteers for what they should know to be a potentially dangerous and inevitably difficult expedition. But in many ways, that same toughness and those same seeds of determination are implanted in all of us. As Christians often say: “God would not allow us a cross which he does not also give the strength to carry.

Now, if we only focus on this mortal life, then we might well be driven to discouragement because of the illness of ourselves or of the family, financial problems, ill children, etc. But as we get older, the wise realize that both sorrows and pleasures tend to come and go, and that we only hurt ourselves and others when we dwell on the evil or we react negatively. The example of Sirach’s book comes to mind:

My child, let your tears flow for the dead,
and like someone in great pain begins the lament.
Arrange the body with ceremony,
and do not neglect the funeral.
May your tears be bitter and your lamentations fervent;
make your mourning worthy of the dead,
… So be comforted in your grief.
For sorrow can lead to death,
and a sad heart saps its strength.

(Sirach 38: 16-18)

And yet, realizing that time is passing and events are passing can still give hope. As Andy on the run wrote to Red in “The Shawshank Redemption”: “Hope is a good thing, maybe the best thing, and no good thing ever dies.

Now the Christian, although largely agreeing with old Andy, will dispute just a little, for he remembers Saint Paul: “Faith, hope, love remain, these three; but the greatest of them is love. (1 Corinthians 13:13): love of God, love of neighbor. When we find ourselves in despair, don’t we seek a cure by basking in the warm glow of love from friends and family, finding new life knowing we are cared for and valued. And when we see those we care about in sorrow, don’t we wrap them in love to soothe that sorrow? And yet… it is not only family and friends who care for and love you, but God Himself, for you are a child of Him made in His image – not in the sense of bodily form and matter, but in the spiritual soul that you possess… and which itself remains eternally.

There is no doubt that many prayers were said out there on the ice by Shackleford’s crew, probably giving them hope of continuing to struggle despite enormous difficulties… strengthening them in their refusal to give in. Likewise, let us all find an example in the many people who have relied on faith and hope to help them through their most difficult times. In doing so, they enter into the greatest possible relief and joy from the inestimable love of God.

Editor’s Note: Reverend Glenn Jones is the Vicar General of the Archdiocese of Santa Fe and former pastor of the Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic Church in Los Alamos.


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