By Monsignor Dennis Clark, Ph.D.
Is 61:1-11 & Jn 1:6-8, 19-28
There was an expert on Monarch butterflies who’d been observing them for years. Time and again he’d seen them struggle for hours and days to break free from their hard chrysalis so they could stretch their wings and fly. It seemed like such a useless and painful waste of energy, so the expert decided to give one of the new butterflies a little help. With greatest care he cut the chrysalis open so the butterfly could just hop out and fly away. But that didn’t happen. Instead, the little creature just lay there on the ground awhile, fluttered its wings weakly, and then died.
That butterfly never got to fly because its wings had no strength — strength which could only be won in the painful struggle to break free from the cocoon.
None of us is a stranger to struggle and pain or to the darkness that often accompanies them. Our hearts get broken, our bodies betray us, our minds are often tortured. From our first breath to our last, the struggle never ends. All that changes are its shapes.
So what are we to do with this uninvited guest who keeps showing up in our lives? Our first temptation is to run away — a good, quick sprint to the next county, or maybe just a closing of the eyes that denies there’s any problem here. It’s quick and easy, but it doesn’t work.
Neither does that other form of running from hard reality: Bitterness and self-pity, which leave us in misery at life’s starting gate, stealing the growth and joy that always lie hidden beneath our pain.
As any butterfly could tell us, the only real option we have in the face of life’s over-sized challenges, pains and sufferings is to look them in the eye, take their measure, and walk through them — not around them — through them, one step at a time.
For it is precisely in the process of struggling and not running away that we almost accidentally discover what is best in us and then we grow it. We find we’re made to fly. And as our struggles continue, our wings stretch and strengthen without our even noticing it.
Something else happens as we hold to course and refuse to turn away: Just as what is most true in us rises to the surface and grows, what is false and of no use slowly falls away and is part of us no longer.
To each of us God has given different assignments, and for each of us the struggles will be different too. But for all of us, they will be utterly beyond our doing, beyond our enduring unless we hold tightly to God. With him nothing is beyond us, nothing is too terrible to be faced.
So take his hand. Step out of the darkness and into his light. You are going to learn how to fly!