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Spirituality of the Readings
Twenty-Ninth Sunday
of Ordinary Time
October 21, 2018
John Foley, SJ
For the Love of God!

Often we think of God as a helper, someone who helps us to get the things we need. The great parent in the sky. Sunday’s Responsorial Psalm is an example: “See, the eyes of the Lord are upon those who fear him, upon those who hope for his kindness, to deliver them from death.”

This is a wonderful childlike attitude, and it is good.

Suffering can stretch and widen the human soul, making it large enough to know God.
But sometimes the results are not. This Sunday James and John rush up to Jesus to say, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you” (Gospel). It a bit blunt, isn’t it, like kids making demands.

Jesus replies mildly, “What do you wish me to do for you?”

The awkward answer? “Grant that in your glory we may sit one at your right and the other at your left.”

Not a completely unreasonable request, I suppose, but rude. Moreover, the demand comes immediately after—and I mean it comes in the very next line—after he has predicted the passion:

The Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests
and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death
and hand him over to the Gentiles who will mock him,
spit upon him, scourge him, and put him to death. (Mark 10:33-34)

Hearing this, the disciples do what you and I often do: they change the subject. They did not want suffering but glory.

Alright. Jesus responds that they are ignorant. They too must drink the cup that he will drink, or in other words, must also undergo pain.

What kind of answer to trusting prayer is that? Maybe we should not pray for what we need?


We know that Jesus himself begged God to take his cup of suffering away, and he used the term, “Abba” (a familiar form of “father”) when he was asking (Mark 14:36).

And in another place:

During the days of Jesus' life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission (Hebrews 5:7).

He was heard?

He was heard?

So, God heard these fiery prayers and then sat idly by while the passion and cruel death went right along?

Which raises The Terrible Question. Why does the trustworthy, loving, parental God permit suffering and catastrophe, even when he has understood in detail the prayers of those about to be afflicted?

We must seek an answer.

There is another kind of love. It is “being with.” The worst things for us might not be loss, death and suffering, even though they are quite terrible. There is another loss that is worse. Loss of life’s groundwork. The never-ending personal presence of God.

Because of his affliction he shall see the light in fullness of days.
(First Reading, my italics)

Consider that suffering can, perhaps, in its best way, stretch and widen the human soul, making it large enough to know God, to live for others, and to let in that which is greater than death or life: love.

Love stays even when life does not.

Parents of adult offspring know this. They try their best, but then do not rush in to stop tragedies to their offspring. But they are always there, always, accompanying, suffering.

As God does.

Fr. John Foley, SJ, is a composer and scholar at Saint Louis University.
Art by Martin (Steve) Erspamer, OSB
from Religious Clip Art for the Liturgical Year (A, B, and C). This art may be reproduced only by parishes who purchase the collection in book or CD-ROM form. For more information go