By Father Daniel Kovalak
“The inspired Prophet Habakkuk now stands with us in Holy Vigil. He is like a shining angel, crying out with a piercing voice: ‘Today salvation has come to the world, for Christ is risen as All-Powerful!’” [Fourth Ode of the Paschal Canon]
Just when our lenten efforts are beginning to bear some fruit, something always seems to happen that derails our spiritual journey. Sometimes it’s a minor irritation, illness or unexpected interruption. Sometimes it’s a more formidable and shocking event, with consequences that rock our world—like bombs in Boston!
Once again, as the media assaults us with breaking news, eyewitness interviews, endless analysis and graphic images of the consequences of evil acts, in a rare moment of reflection comes the question, “Where’s God in this?” About 600 years before Christ, there lived a prophet named Habakkuk. There’s a short, three-chapter book in the Old Testament that bears his name. The Church commemorates him annually on December 2 and, whether we realize it or not, his prophecy is an integral part of our liturgical life.
As most of the prophets, Habakkuk was, shall we say, disinclined in his calling from God. To communicate God’s divine will to stubborn people who’d rather be doing their own thing than be reminded of their sin and need to repent was (and still is!) hazardous duty. Prophets were stoned because they scratched places that didn’t itch. Nevertheless, Habakkuk was given a vision to deliver to the Chosen People—a revelation of God’s justice. Judah consistently disobeyed God, and it seemed God had tolerated enough of their contempt and was ready to teach them a hard lesson. Habakkuk saw the wrath of God descending on Judah at the hands of Babylonians. This blew his mind because the Chaldeans were the most merciless, godless, ruthless people on the face of the earth! Habakkuk’s perplexity was that God would not only allow evil against Judah, but that He’d use notorious Babylon as His rod of correction!
In spite of his trepidation at this vision, Habakkuk was utterly convinced that good would somehow come. He just couldn’t imagine how. Perhaps not unlike a tragic April day in Boston, Habakkuk was confronted by the haunting question, “how can God bring good out of evil?” Because Habakkuk was faithful— because he embraced the will of God as his name implies—his prophecy was actually one of encouragement to Judah, that in spite of the overwhelming odds against them, in some wonderful yet mysterious way, God would bring good out of it. Habakkuk then took up a vantage point in a tall tower to witness the vision unfold before his eyes. He became the watchman who literally “kept vigil,” confidently waiting in faith to see God work. The rest is history.
The Passion Gospels upon which our Holy Week services are built confront us with a horrible picture of the incredible evil heaped upon Our Lord. He was betrayed by a kiss, dragged to an unjust trial, scourged, mocked, slapped, spit upon, crowned with thorns, and nailed to the cross, where the agony and humiliation continued. Deceived by Judas, denied by Peter, condemned by religious leaders, sentenced by Pilate, crucified by soldiers, abandoned by seemingly everyone—what greater evil can we imagine! All this and more, the Gospel says. And we firmly believe He endures willingly. Why? “Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).
Among the things we should do all the time, but especially during Holy Week, is assume a proper spiritual vantage point, akin to Habakkuk’s tower, to contemplate the mystery of the Cross, to keep vigil, to observe and respond to the actions of God with total faith, to prayerfully contemplate how God’s will for man unfolds to bring the greatest good out of the greatest evil. (Hint: it has something to do with “trampling down death by death!”)
In view of all the irritations, distractions and breaking news of the day, we would also do well to occasionally revisit Habakkuk’s conclusion and make it our own (3:17-18): “Though the fig tree does not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will rejoice in the God of my salvation.” May this faith be ours as we journey to the Promised Land of Pascha, and confidently face the issues of today.