Today’s first Mass reading comes from the Book of Haggai, one of the books of the Old Testament that is less familiar to us (or, at least, to me) than many of the other books we hear from more regularly in our Masses and other celebrations.
The setting for the book is the period after the Jewish people have returned from the Babylonian exile. The people are encountering great obstacles in their efforts to rebuild their community in Judah, including Samaritan efforts to block their rebuilding of the temple. The people are tired. They are depressed and feeling defeated.
It is against this background that the prophet Haggai appears to encourage them with the Word of God. Sure, things look bad now, says the Lord. But we hear God say in today’s reading, “take courage…I am with you…my spirit continues in your midst; do not fear.” God promises, “I will fill this house with glory…And in this place I will give you peace.”
Imagine the impact of those words on the people. Salve for their wounds, music to their ears. An incredible boost just as they must have been ready to give up. Reason to keep on with their efforts.
Those are the words God speaks to us in our moments of pain and fear and discouragement…in those moments when we can’t see the road in front of us. Take courage. I am with you. Do not fear. Words of hope that no matter how bad things look now, God is in our midst and God will make things right.
Some people have difficulty hearing God when God speaks those words to us. Others have difficulty believing the words. Either way, they feel terribly, painfully alone in their suffering. Part of spreading the Gospel is doing what we can to help others to hear and to believe. To hear and believe that God is right there in the midst of the fear…in the midst of the suffering….in the midst of the pain.