Thus says the LORD: Say to those whose hearts are frightened: Be strong, fear not! Here is your God, he comes with vindication; with divine recompense he comes to save you. (Is 35:4)
This scriptural quotation aptly applies to how we should respond to the present state of Church affairs regarding the sexual mistreatment of children and seminarians so well camouflaged over the years by some of our bishops and cardinals. Yet it applies also to how we should face the general malady of our society and culture and our daily spiritual struggles against malicious powers. Not knowing what awaits us from so many external and internal threats, the people of God will often tend toward fear and doubt. Yet God declares that we “fear not” for he comes to rescue his Church; and God assures us that those who suffer in his stead will receive their compensation.
Through Isaiah God not only encourages us to “fear not”, but to “be strong”. This is not easy today. Just standing up for common sense (and basic physiology) by saying, for instance, that marriage is between one man and one woman may be cause for being labeled a “bigot”. Most people today don’t want to confront the rabid culture. Even those who begin with strength are worn down over time by the persistent foolish mantras of the media, entertainers, coworkers; even friends and family members. Yet it has ever been the case that to love God more than mother, father, sister, brother, and friend (Mt 10:37-38) one must “be strong” with the help of grace.
Grace is where we strive to gain our strength, for grace is nothing less than the strength of God. Our bodies certainly have physical strength: we can push back against an opposing force, resist the cold and heat, lift this or that object; that is, we can use our physical strength to confront physical powers. However there are other powers, diabolically spiritual, that tempt our natural powers to want more than what is natural – even what is unnatural. Our reason and our will may be able to identify such infiltrations, but on their own they find it difficult to master themselves against temptation: temptation to fear, to doubt, to transgress. In his frailty, man needs the strength of God (1 Cor 1:25).
Hence we place on our bulletin cover for this 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, a work by the American realist painter, Henry Tanner, entitled Daniel in the Lion’s Den (1917). Tanner was the only African-American student when he entered the Pennsylvania Academy of Arts. His struggle with racism in Philadelphia eventually led him to Paris where he was accepted into the French Academie. The work that we examine today was formally accepted at the Salon.
Here we see Tanner’s Impressionistic influence – soft brushstrokes obliging a mystical air. The prophet Daniel is painted in the “light of grace” under which even the lion bows. Daniel leans silently in trusting prayer – “fearing not”. The Christian must also approach danger this way. He cannot avoid danger for he is a follower of Christ. For a time he must undergo trial as proof of the genuineness of faith (1 Pt 1:6-7). He (or she) does so under the auspices of grace.
-Steve Guillotte, Director of Pastoral Services