Posted March 12, 2003
Book: Perseverance in Trials: Reflections on Job
Author: Carlo Martini
The Liturgical Press, Collegeville, MN, pp. 141
Excerpt from Introduction:
"You have stood by me in my trials" is the title of a retreat given by Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini . . .
The consoling words which Jesus speaks to this disciples just before his passion are a reminder to us that Christian life, like the life of human beings generally, is marked by trials. For this reason, the author has chosen the Book of Job as a primary text for reflection, although other passages of the Old and New Testament are also offered for meditation.
The story of this mysterious man, who did not belong to the chosen people but lived in a distant land, was perhaps being passed from mouth to mouth among the wise men of the East as early as the end of the second millennium B.C. It was written down in Hebrew only a good deal later.
Job, who was an upright man and regarded himself as such, is tested and deprived of everything. The Jews exiled in Babylonia had likewise lost everything; this tested their faith in the justice of God, from whom whey had thought they could claim certain rights. As they tried to understand the hidden meaning of the suffering that weighed upon them despite their right behavior before God, they probably read and sang the lamentations of Job. Can a human being require God to account for his actions? The poet counters with his own view; we must not demand that God give his reasons, but rather believe in his justice and incomprehensible wisdom.
In comments marked by spiritual and pastoral depth, the cardinal dwells on certain passages of Job that help to shed light on the meaning of the mystery of the human person and the mystery of God. He notes that in the dialogue between Satan and God in the first two chapters "the issue takes the form of a . . . .wager laid on a human being: Is any human action completely selfless?" The problem of Job is first and foremost a problem of faith; bargaining has no place in the life of faith because the sublimity of faith calls for the response of selfless devotion. Job has indeed not committed any of the sins of which his friends accuse him; he has, however, committed the supreme sin of a religious person; he has passed judgement on God. The archbishop's reflections challenge us to examine the quality of our faith, the character of our prayer as the submission of our whole being to the ineffable mystery of God, and our obedience of mind. In the end, as the unusual comparison of Job with the Song of Songs brings out, Job's quest proves to be a problem of love.
If the reading of this book is to be fully fruitful, the reader must bring to it a spiritual commitment that flees mediocrity and sets the soul thirsting for God. Worth noting here is the aim the archbishop assigns to this retreat: a new conversion to the spirit of prayer. When read in an atmosphere of prayer, these pages become a source of light, nourishment, strength, incentive, and consolation.
They point out to us, among other things, that all human beings of good will are already searching for God; they are confronted with the way in which the Almighty directs his universe, and they experience within themselves the criticism which their consciences level at their actions.
These pages teach us also to extricate the reality of God from the limitations we place on it and from our mortality insofar as this is seen as a source of self-justification. For the object of faith is primarily the incomprehensible divine love that anticipates and transcends us. From this love, in which Christians believe once they have contemplated the sign of the Crucified, we can receive the power to love selflessly, to love even in trial and tribulation. These pages exhort us, therefore, to grow in the faith that loves and hopes, and to be eager for a relationship with the Lord in which our full freedom truly enters into play.
The God who gives himself to us in the covenant desires only our heartfelt love and devotion.
Excerpt from the Book:
The Disorderly Mind
The obedience of faith supposes the conquest of all that introduces disorder into the mind: contrary or troubling illusions that resist the journey of faith and argue against it or ridicule it or call it into question, or that would like to interpret it differently and challenge it. These illusions are legion and create beddam, as the unclean spirits say of themselves in the episode of the demoniac at Gerasa.
Those who want to understand the journey of faith are well aware of this. Every human being is subject to these countless troublesome and crisscrossing ideas that, like parasites or grasshoppers or gnats, keep buzzing around and prevent concentration on the fundamental duty. Those who do not attempt a spiritual life are not aware of them but live by impressions from books and newspapers they read, the sounds they hear, rumors, and television, moving from one to another of these things in a continual maelstrom of imaginations, fantasies and desires, switching from each vision to the next, like people who watch program after program on the television and are constantly subject to some new stimulus.
Disorder in thoughts is, it may be said, a constant situation in human life, even if we are not aware of it. We become aware of it when we begin to cultivate silence and regular meditation, for then we are assailed by a throng of useless, empty, disordered thoughts, and the struggle against them can be a real hidden martyrdom, a real penance that can be a substitute for a good many other, external penances. But the struggle is also a requisite for mental health, because those who succeed in disciplining the world of fantasies, feelings, desires, fears, anticipations, escapes into the future, and nostalgias achieve a degree of interior good health. Otherwise human beings are constantly tossed about by opposing feelings amid which they are unable to set a course, and their moods change quickly as they react for which they cannot account even to themselves.
The struggle against the disorderly mind is one of the most important activities of those who desire to obey God an abandon themselves to his action.
Table of Contents:
1. Introduction to the Retreat
2. Introduction to the Mystery of Trials
3. The testing of the rich young man
4. Job cannot accept himself
5. Job's examination of conscience
6. Blessed among women
7. Moderation and knowledge
8. The struggle for obedience of the mind
9. The ineffable justice of God
10. Three ways of struggling with God
11. Three examples of obedience of the mind
12. The fulfillment of the suffering church
13. Job and the Song of Songs
14. A luminous example of selfless love