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Groanings

Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Dear sisters and brothers in Christ,

The second reading for last week and for this week is taken from the Letter to the Romans chapter 8. In the fragment we heard last week, St. Paul told us that all of creation is “groaning” with birth pangs. In the fragment proclaimed this week, the Apostle tells us that the Spirit comes to our help with “inexpressible groanings.”

During these days of pandemic, economic and social crisis the groanings are more strident and perceptible. They are expressions of pain, frustration and fear in the face of uncertainty.

If anybody had any doubts, the presence of the menacing virus has made patently manifest that all of creation is very fragile, especially human life.

This pandemic is a sobering reminder for our global culture that idolizes money and power, that succumbs to vested interests capable of destroying an entire neighborhood out of avarice or discard millions of innocent human beings allowing them to die because they are deemed undesired or millions more to starvation and social exclusion; that human nature is extremely vulnerable.

We are finite, mortal beings. There is no temporal power, no bank account, no political connection or web of bureaucrats, no wealth or arsenal whether pharmacological, biological, conventional or nuclear that has the ability to change that. In fact, those who think that power, money, technology or weapons make them invulnerable not only are deceiving themselves, but their error makes all of us, including themselves, even more vulnerable. These days we see with sadness how even in our own city some are capable of lying with a straight face in committee meetings to try to make gains at the expense of the neighbors who, on the other hand, cannot fully participate in the deliberations because of the effects of the pandemic.

Those who moved by avarice, an inordinate appetite for profits or simply deal with lies and avoid doing what they know to be good and true because they are fainthearted would do well to listen to the groanings of the present and awake from their slumber and lethargy. Nobody can avoid the judgment of the Just Judge. Nobody is saved alone. Our common humanity is a bond that unites us all. If anybody had any doubts, the pandemic has made this fact patently manifest.

The groaning of the poor, of the oppressed, of the victims of injustice and corruption, of the citizens whose rights are trampled, of the neighbors under threat because of the avarice of a few and the complicity of others cries out to heaven.

In the face of this clamor there is yet another groaning. It is the ineffable groaning of the Spirit of God consoling those who are suffering, encouraging and strengthening them to continue to fight without giving up. Therein lies the strength of those who seek good without discouragement, who love without reservation, who serve without engaging in petty calculations, who walk resolutely in the light of truth, who live confidently even as they face difficulties. They expect everything from the Lord. They trust in Lord without resigning themselves passively to the current state of affairs. They do not act in a way lacking in prudence. The groanings inspired by the Spirit are not indolent resignation or sterile lamentation. They are rather a call to action, to a deeper commitment in the defense of life, the promotion of justice, the protection of the environment, the preservation of a neighborhood that is peaceful and livable.

It is obvious that the presence of the Spirit in our midst does not cancel out human freedom. Evil is as real as its nefarious consequences. One can always reject the grace that the Lord offers us and remain obstinate in sin. The history of salvation and the history of the world are full of tragic examples. However, grace continues to work. As St. Paul also tells us in the Letter to the Romans, where sin abounds, grace superabounds.

The one who opens up to the action of the Spirit is transformed. That change is not devoid of suffering. It is a path of inner healing and growth that demands effort, perseverance, sacrifice, but is punctuated by the presence of God next to us and within us. That presence produces inexpressible groanings. They are impossible to describe with words because they speak to us of a mysterious presence animating our personal history and universal history even in the midst of corruption and avarice. That is why they are consoling groanings that strengthen us and heal us. They impel us to action.

St. Paul presents us two different types of groanings in this chapter of the Letter to the Romans. On the one hand, those that stem from the consequences of human sin. We suffer awaiting the full manifestation of our nature as children of God. We also hear inexpressible groanings caused by the presence and the action of the Spirit in us. The former ought to lead us to open our hearts wider so that the latter may grow within us, becoming ever more audible and eventually turn into a roar that, being far removed from violence, from spurious deals and compromises, renews everything, like a fresh sea breeze, awaking hardened hearts so that in all of us and in everything we do our condition as children of God may become manifest.

Fr. Roberto M. Cid