OUR GLOBAL FAMILY | Preparation for the test

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I felt a sense of colossal relief after my doctoral defense, noting that I would never have to take a test again. But of course, bigger tests awaited.

Christ was frequently tested: In the desert by the devil, by the Pharisees who were threatened and envious, by the apostles who resisted a way without worldly glory and by His own doubts before the crucifixion when Jesus wondered whether His Father had abandoned Him.

In Lent, we reflect on how we have faced our tests. Prayer, fasting and almsgiving are preparations that turn our attention to how we relate to God, things and other people for the test that matters most.

My reading on the topic includes a somewhat unusual source: a blog by my son Justin, a doctoral student in theology who has completed his coursework but is taking a year out to think about his way to proclaim God in a culture that's distracted and dismissive about God.

His reflections touch me deeply, and I hope it is more than just the pride of a mom. With permission from Catholic News Service, I have included the essay, entitled "Deliverance from the test" below.


The author of Hebrews (2:14-18) describes Jesus' mission as His coming to share in flesh and blood with those who are "being tested" so that He might assist those who are undergoing "the test." That humans undergo this "test" is the reason for the earthly visitation of the divine compassion. However, in the Our Father, we pray that we might be delivered from the test.

What is this test?

I believe that it is the burden of human existence, which is another word for suffering. To be tested is to experience affliction, pressure, fear, futility, inability. To be tested is to understand that there are values and convictions that shimmer with a godly glow but also to know that we ourselves and our world are at best sluggardly and at worst downright hostile to the realization of these convictions.

To be tested is to know of this burden. Bodily sickness and personal failings are symbols of this weight. To be tested means that we are asked, despite this burden, to commit ourselves to God.

Human existence is a judgment on our persistence in this regard, our obligation to remain true in the face of darkness and our own demons. To be tested as a human being is to be suspended between good and evil, with the immense dignity and burden of freedom existing in the choice between them.

The knowledge that human existence is a test is the principle of all human compassion. It was that knowledge that drives Jesus to preach the kingdom of God.

It was that knowledge that, in contrast to burdened humanity's weariness, drove the God-man with unremitting energy to announce the divine compassion, the strength of divine mercy. The healing and exorcisms of Jesus are a deliverance from the test, and a motive energy for perseverance in our own test.

We are not asked to meditate primarily on our own nothingness and bankruptcy in the face of the test, but on the divine energy revealed in Christ — that is, the Holy Spirit — that provides the funds, the motive force, the joy to accomplish our own work.

We live as borrowers of the divine life. Whatever our own darkness, it has already been flanked and outmaneuvered by the love of Christ. The healing and exorcisms are a sign; the sacrifice of the cross and the eucharistic body and blood are the reality. Our test is enfolded within Christ's test, and He always passes with flying colors.

Woo is distinguished president's fellow for global development at Purdue University and served as the CEO and president of Catholic Relief Services from 2012-2016. 

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