“Take off the garment of your sorrow and affliction, O Jerusalem, and put on forever the beauty of the glory from God.” (Baruch 5:1)
These days there seems to be a superabundance of sorrow and affliction. Conflict seems never to be far away. Weariness pervades. Psalm 13 says it all:
How long, LORD? Will you utterly forget me?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I carry sorrow in my soul, grief in my heart day after day?
How long will my enemy triumph over me? (Psalm 13:1-2)
How long indeed! Yet this reading, and so many others, encourage us to look beyond our misery, to “take off the garment of (our) sorrow and affliction”, and to anticipate the hope of the Incarnation. Easier said than done most days.
A wonderful model of one who shed the garment of sorrow and affliction was St. Paul Le-Bao-Tinh whose martyrdom the Church celebrates on November 24. The Office of Readings gives us a beautiful testimony of the hope to which we are called in all circumstances:
“I, Paul, in chains for the name of Christ, wish to relate to you the trials besetting me daily, in order that you may be inflamed with love for God and join with me in his praises. The prison here is a true image of everlasting hell: to cruel tortures of every kind—shackles, iron chains, manacles—are added hatred, vengeance, calumnies, obscene speech, quarrels, evil acts, swearing, curses, as well as anguish and grief. But the God who once freed the three children from the fiery furnace is with me always; he has delivered me from these tribulations and made them sweet, for his mercy is forever.
“In the midst of these torments, which usually terrify others, I am, by the grace of God, full of joy and gladness, because I am not alone—Christ is with me.
“Our Master bears the whole weight of the cross, leaving me only the tiniest, last bit. He is not a mere onlooker in my struggle, but a contestant and the victor and champion in the whole battle. Therefore, upon his head is placed the crown of victory, and his members also share in his glory.”
St. Paul Le-Bao-Tinh most assuredly “put on forever the beauty of the glory of God.” And he did not achieve this only in death, but lived in the glory of God even in the most deplorable of circumstances. There is much we can learn from him. It is highly unlikely that this was the first time this holy martyr practiced this virtue. Not unlike us, he likely had countless opportunities to let the glory of God shine through the ordinary circumstances of daily life. No doubt he had built up spiritual muscle by rising above daily afflictions and sorrows, small and large, praising and thanking God in all circumstances.
We too should be working those spiritual muscles. This Scripture verse from Baruch is not directed to the saintly few, but to all the ordinary souls who are journeying towards holiness, as we all should be. As with all exercise, a regular routine is necessary to strengthen us for what lies ahead. It may not be martyrdom; it may be illness or some other misfortune. Praising God in all circumstances is a powerful spiritual weapon that gets far too little air time.
It is never too late to make a spiritual resolution to put on forever the beauty of the glory of God. Then we can sing with the psalmist:
I trust in your faithfulness.
Grant my heart joy in your help,
That I may sing of the LORD,
“How good our God has been to me!” (Ps 13:6)