It is too little, he says, for you to be my servant,
to raise up the tribes of Jacob,
and restore the survivors of Israel;
I will make you a light to the nations,
that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.
Do I speak only for myself if I admit I am sometimes afflicted with a sense of futility? There is in my heart a conceit that I was made for greater things than this, that I have wasted my "time, talent and treasure" and my one opportunity to make a difference.
Sometimes I wonder if maybe I was supposed to be somewhere else and doing something else, though I have little idea where it might have been or what it could have been.
When I was a young, newly-ordained priest I sometimes wondered if I spent all those years in school for "this?" All that arcane study of exegesis and the hermeneutics of eschatological assertions was for this?
Later in life, I am grateful to be of any use at all to the mission of the Church, but that gratitude reflects a fear of the abyss that opens just beside the narrow path I tread. What if it is all for naught?
One of our older friars, retired and blind, wondered if he had done any good with his life. In fact he had accomplished amazing things, far more than I have ever dared to attempt. But, in his last years, he too struggled with a sense of futility.
Today's first reading recalls the prophet's anxiety: "... I thought I had toiled in vain, and for nothing, uselessly, spent my strength...."
But this prophecy concerns the Messiah and describes his mission. To accomplish his work, he must know the "vanity of vanities," the insatiable existential emptiness that abides in every heart. If he did not drink deeply of futility he would be like the hotshot new lieutenant who demands that his battle-weary troops rush again into combat. To save us from futility he must be swallowed up by it.
Thomas Merton finished his lovely paean to the Holy Spirit, Hagia Sofia, with, "A homeless God, lost in the night, without papers, without identification, without even a number, a frail expendable exile lies down in desolation under the sweet stars of the world and entrusts Himself to sleep.
The Church offers Isaiah's "suffering servant" in Holy Week because we must recall the suffering of Jesus: "by his stripes we are healed." If I suffer momentary qualms about my purpose in the comfortable familiarity of my room, how much more intensely did Jesus feel such anguish as he was tormented?