Sunday, 24th September, 1995.
Time and again, however strong our faith may be at moments when it is not challenged, when pain or fear or bereavement challenges it, so often we give way and doubt the love of God, we doubt the fact that He cares. And in these moments it is good for us to remember how others, women, men, children at times, of greater strength than we, responded to the challenge. And I would like to give you a few examples of it.
The first one that comes to my mind is that of a child whom I knew when he was a boy of ten, dying in hospital from a painful, exceedingly painful disease. Making his round in the ward my senior asked him: «How is it that in spite of the pain you feel you are always so patient and even cheerful?» And the child, a child of ten or so, answered: «I have suffered so much and for so long that I have learned no longer to remember yesterday's pain and not to anticipate tomorrow's, but to cope only with today's pain.»
Isn't this an example that we could take to heart whether it is physical pain or any other form of agony that pierces out hearts, shakes us to the very foundation of our soul?
And today we remember Father Silouan of Mount Athos, who was canonised both by the Greek Church and the Russian Church, a Russian who spent his life on Mount Athos. He tells us that for fourteen years he prayed and prayed desperately to God, to become aware of His presence. And he says in one of his letters that a moment came when despair was stronger than faith in him; and, having prayed for hours for a meeting face to face, for a sense of the Divine Presence, he said: «Your indifference cannot be overcome.» And at that moment when a last string broke in his heart, suddenly, when he no longer counted on his prayer, on his longing, on anything that came from him, of a sudden he saw the Lord Jesus Christ before him. And he said that in His eyes he read such love, such compassion, that he understood that one can live a whole life for His sake whether in His absence or in His presence.
And again I remember the way in which a man of great spiritual stature spoke to me of his ordeal. Ten or fifteen years ago I met in Latvia, in a small hermitage, where he lived alone, Father Tavrion, a Russian. He sat in front of me, a man of my generation, with eyes shining with gratitude and wonder, and said to me: «You cannot imagine how incredibly good God has been to me! At a moment in the Revolution, when no priest was allowed into either a prison or into a camp, He chose me, not only an unworthy but a totally inexperienced priest, and sent me to be a priest where the need was greatest. I was arrested, spent a year in prison and the next twenty-six years in concentration camp, among the very people who needed me, who needed God, who needed a priest.» And all he brought out of this ordeal was an infinite gratitude to the Lord who had chosen him to be crucified that others might live.
Let us ponder on those examples: on that of Father Silouan, whose memory we keep today, and of those whom I have mentioned; and the thousands and thousands whom we don't even know, but who have shown a calm, grateful fortitude, because, as another sufferer of the last generation has said in his notes: «I have always prayed for God to forgive those people who were my tormentors in prison and concentration camp, because they were only fulfilling for my benefit what God had judged to be best.»
If we compare ourselves, our destiny, our agonies, at times with these examples can't we learn to face the pain, the fear, the bereavement, the illness, all that befalls us, with a fortitude which we do not always show? And this fortitude can be born not of a training of the will, but of an abandonment to the will of God, a sense of gratitude that He is our Shepherd, He is the keeper of our lives, He knows what is best for us. And if we only abandon ourselves into His hands, if we only allow His grace to act in us freely, all things will be all right. Amen.