Today we honour the memory of Saint Boniface. He was born in Devon around the year 675 and entered the Benedictine Abbey at Nursling near Southampton. Pope Gregory II sent him to evangelise the Germans. The Church honours Saint Boniface as a determined missionary whose work shaped the future of Europe. Martyred in the Netherlands in 754. Saint Boniface wrote: “In her voyage across the ocean of this world, the Church is like a ship pounded by the waves of life’s different stresses. Our duty is not to abandon ship, but to keep her on course”.
In the first reading we witness a happy ending. Tobit regained his sight, Sarah was happily married to Tobiah, and the entire family rejoiced in God’s blessings. And yet the journey to that point was far from easy. Sarah had married and lost seven husbands, and a grave had been dug for Tobiah on their wedding night. Tobit had to endure the pain of Tobiah smearing his eyes with fish guts and peeling off his cataracts with both hands.
The Book of Tobit shows us that illness, pain and suffering aren’t easy to bear. Difficulty is often part of the path of healing. And it isn’t that God wants us to suffer, but he knows that suffering gives us the opportunity to cooperate with his grace. It forces the decision of whether we will sink into self-pity or keep following him in trust and humility. This can take effort on our part. Tobiah had faith and a good disposition, but it couldn’t take him far enough. He had to act on his faith and “assault” his father’s eyes with the fish guts.
Sometimes our own faith requires painful decisions and a measure of discomfort. Maybe there was a time when you knew you needed to go to Confession, and it took all your will to approach the priest. And yet after the Confession, you experienced a freedom that would have been impossible had you not humbled yourself and received the grace of the Sacrament. Or perhaps you have endured illness, either yours or that of someone close to you. You couldn’t understand why there was such suffering, but as you walked through it, you saw opportunities to grow closer to Christ. You discovered his presence and his love in ways you normally wouldn’t have seen.
Just because things look bleak, that doesn’t mean there isn’t a “happy ending” on the horizon. We can listen to the words that Tobiah told his father, the same words Sarah’s mother told her: “Take courage.” As Saint John Paul II used to say: “Be not afraid.” If we trust God to walk with us through our challenges, in the end, we will find a joy that overflows.