When we experience failure at work or in ministry, we tend to blame others for our difficulties.
We try to look for scapegoats for our mistakes. This was the case of the Israelites. When they were defeated by the Philistines, “about four thousand of their army were killed on the field”, they began to ask “Why has the Lord allowed us to be defeated today by the Philistines?” Instead of looking at themselves, the morale of the soldiers, the moral standards of the officers, their military preparedness, they sought other reasons.
Oftentimes, when we feel guilty about our sins, we can become overly superstitious. Instead of putting our house in order, we think God is taking revenge on us. The Israelites came to conclude that it was because the Ark of the Covenant was not there. Instead of repenting for their sins, they took out the Ark of the Covenant. They said, “Let us fetch the ark of our God from Shiloh so that it may come among us and rescue us from the power of our enemies.’ So the troops sent to Shiloh and brought away the ark of the Lord of hosts, he who is seated on the cherubs; the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, came with the ark. When the ark of the Lord arrived in the camp, all Israel gave a great shout so that the earth resounded.” Religion became a means to satisfy their selfish interests. Instead of being used by God and allowing Him to work in our lives, we seek to make use of God and to control how He is to fulfill our whims and fancies.
The Israelites’ faith in God was based on a mere superstitious belief in the mechanical action of God through the Ark of the Covenant, when in fact it was but a symbol and a promise of His presence with them. Unless they were open to His presence and faithful to His covenant, the Ark could not save them. As a result, they were slaughtered by the Philistines. “So the Philistines joined battle and Israel was defeated, each man fleeing to his tent. The slaughter was great indeed, and there fell of the Israelites thirty thousand foot soldiers. The Ark of God was captured too, and the two sons of Eli died, Hophni and Phinehas.”
This is true for many of us. There are many Catholics who hardly pray or attend Church services regularly and least of all, live an upright life, but they would carry their rosary and wear blessed medals for divine protection. Some think that if they wear the scapular, they will be protected from all harm and be assured of salvation, regardless what they do. Such thinking is no better than the way the Israelites made use of the Ark of the Covenant. When we are not ready to look into the source of our problems, we will end with more dire consequences. Just blessed medals alone cannot protect us unless we have a faith relationship with God. Unless we know Jesus, His strength and His power, when it comes to the test of faith, we will falter. The blessed medals can only protect us provided we believe in the power of the one whom the medal represents. But this presupposes that we have a living relationship with Jesus or Mary or the saints that are represented in the medals. What the medal or scapular does for us is to help us to recall the presence of the saints so that we will not be afraid or think that we are alone in our time of difficulty.
What was the real reason for the Israelites’ failure to defeat their enemies? It was their sinful life that pushed God out of their lives. The leaders, including the religious leaders, were laxed in their moral life. As a result, God had abandoned them to themselves. Earlier on, the Lord said to Samuel, “On that day I will fulfil against Eli all that I have spoken concerning his house, from beginning to end. And I tell him that I am about to punish his house for ever, for the iniquity which he knew, because his sons were blaspheming God, and he did not restrain them. Therefore I swear to the house of Eli that the iniquity of Eli’s house shall not be expiated by sacrifice or offering for ever.” (1 Sm 3:12-14)
Holiness of life is essential to the success of our ministry. This is the key to fruitfulness in ministry and work. But we also cannot be superstitious in our relationship with God as the Israelites did over the Ark of the Covenant. We must not treat our prayers like magic or instruments to control God. Today, we must be like the leper who begged for healing. We must begin by acknowledging our sins and our need for mercy. “Yet now you have rejected us, disgraced us; you no longer go forth with our armies. You make us retreat from the foe and our enemies plunder us at will. You make us the taunt of our neighbours, the laughing-stock of all who are near. Among the nations, you make us a byword, among the peoples a thing of derision. Awake, O Lord, why do you sleep? Arise, do not reject us forever! Why do you hide your face and forget our oppression and misery?” We must confess our sins humbly, especially in the Sacrament of reconciliation so that we can begin our relationship anew with the Lord.
Most of all, we must listen to the Word of God attentively as Samuel did. This also explains why the author said, “Now the boy Samuel was ministering to the Lord under Eli. And the word of the Lord was rare in those days; there was no frequent vision.” (1 Sm 3:1) They could no longer hear the voice of God. Indeed, when our lives are not in order, we cannot act in accordance with the will of God. Without hearing the Word of God, we cannot act according to His word. If we want to act in union with the Lord, we must seek His will. This is what the Lord asks of us. “Every one then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house upon the rock; and the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat upon that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock.” (Mt 7:24f)
Faith in God’s power is dependent on us hearing the Word of God first. For this reason, Jesus preached the Word before He healed. He instructed the disciples, “And preach as you go, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons. You received without pay, give without pay.” (Mt 10:7f) He solicited faith in the person before He performed the miracle. So too, in our healing ministry, the Word of God always precedes the sacramental action. The Word of God comes before the Liturgy of the Eucharist. Without faith the action that we perform would be meaningless and lacking in power. Preaching must always be accompanied by signs. “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to the whole creation. And these signs will accompany those who believe.” (Mk 16:15f)
We ask the Lord to redeem us because of His love. This is what the psalmist prayed. We must place our confidence in His love for us. The leper approached Jesus humbly and with trust in His love and power. He was assured that Jesus would not reject him, for lepers were not supposed to come near to the people. Jesus is ever ready to heal us and empower us, for that is what He said, “A leper came to Jesus and pleaded on his knees: ‘If you want to’ he said ‘you can cure me.’ Feeling sorry for him, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him. ‘Of course I want to!’ he said. ‘Be cured!’ And the leprosy left him at once and he was cured.” Indeed, Jesus showed forth not just His power but His love by touching the untouchables. Not only did Jesus heal his body but also his heart which needed much acceptace and human love.
However, like the leper, we must cooperate with His grace. He was told to see the priest and make an offering. “Jesus immediately sent him away and sternly ordered him, ‘Mind you say nothing to anyone, but go and show yourself to the priest, and make the offering for your healing prescribed by Moses as evidence of your recovery.’” We must cooperate in prayer and conversion of life. Many of us are not fruitful in our ministry, nor in our workplace, or even in family life because we are not living a righteous life. St John Mary Vianney once asked a priest who lamented that his ministry was not fruitful, whether he had prayed, fasted or did penance. If he had not done all these, then he had no reason to complain. Let us renew our love for the Lord, beg for His mercy and open our hearts to His healing grace.