Interesting but True
Suffering and the Cross part 1
Suffering & Cross What can we learn from suffering? Sometimes we get stuck asking the question “Why do we suffer?” instead of asking “What can we learn through suffering?” When we ask this question, we realize that God allows the things he hates (e.g., sin and suffering) so that the things he loves (e.g., virtues, compassion, love, and new life) may grow. Sometimes suffering is necessary to achieve some good. In the Gospel of John (16:21), Jesus speaks of the suffering of a woman in labor. Although her pain is great, her joy is complete with the birth of her child. Sometimes when we are in the midst of suffering, it is difficult to see the good that can come out of it. However, whether it is the birth of a child or the development of a virtue, good often does follow from suffering. Suffering helps bring us closer to others. Through our own sufferings and heartaches, we come to understand the pain of others. Just as Jesus shared in our sufferings, we too are called to share in the sufferings of others. Suffering helps us to be better Christians and more Christ-like. In many respects, suffering is a gift, as it can teach us to be better Christians by teaching us about patience, humility, and compassion. Think about Job in the Old Testament. Job was a wealthy and revered man who was blessed with good health and a large family. And, in the eyes of the Lord, Job was good and righteous. However, Satan stripped Job of his earthly possessions, his family, and his health. Although Job endured great suffering, he remained steadfast in his faith in God. Moreover, his great suffering helped to purify and strengthen his love for God. Recall too the lives of the saints and martyrs. In Philippians 1:12-13, we read that St. Paul was not concerned with his own suffering; rather, he was pleased that his “imprisonment in Christ’s cause worked out to the furtherance of the gospel.” Likewise, St. Stephen and thousands of other martyrs not only grew closer to God in their suffering, but they chose a life (and death) of great suffering for their love of Christ. In their suffering, they remembered the Lord’s promise that “Blest are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of slander against you because of me. Be glad and rejoice, for your reward is great in heaven” (Matthew 5:10-12). And, most importantly, recall the passion of our Lord, Jesus Christ. As St. Francis de Sales reminds us, “Look intently and frequently on Christ Jesus, crucified, naked, blasphemed, slandered, forsaken and overwhelmed by every kind of weariness, sorrow and labor. Remember that your sufferings are not comparable to his in quality and quantity, and that you can never suffer for his sake anything equal to what he has suffered FOR YOU.” How amazing is God’s love for us! Our powerful, all good, and everlasting Lord – the Creator of the entire world – humbled Himself to take on the form of a man, and not just any man, but a slave. And, He obediently accepted death – death on a cross – because of His infinite love for us (Philippians 2:7-8). Suffering reminds us to look ahead to our eternal life with God. Sometimes, suffering forces us to take a time-out from this life. When we suffer, we are forced to ask the hard questions in life. We are forced to examine the meaning of life, and the meaning of death. And, we are forced to consider that this world makes no sense at all unless there exists some greater plan for us. Through it all, suffering inspires us to look ahead to the possibilities of eternal life – a life of truth, beauty, justice, and love – with God. The Lord reminds us to “Have no fear of the sufferings to come . . . remain faithful until death and I will give you the crown of life.” (Rev. 2:10).Through our own sufferings, then, we are called to remember the sufferings of other Christians and of Christ Himself. Through our sufferings, we are called to be faithful to God, and to turn to Him for comfort. And, we are reminded that true peace and happiness can NEVER be found in this world; rather, as Christians, we must set our sights on the next world – and our eternal life with God. How are we to endure suffering? In modern society, we are taught that happiness is the ultimate goal. And, moreover, happiness is equated with immediate gratification, pleasures of the body and the palate, and possession of the “conveniences” created by modern technology. In this conception of happiness, suffering doesn’t seem to have a place. Yet, as Christians, we know that we are called to a life of holiness, and that the path to holiness often involves suffering. We believe that Christ saved us by His suffering, and that “we must work out our salvation in the same manner, through suffering and afflictions, enduring the injuries, denials and discomforts we meet with all possible meekness” (St. Francis de Sales). For Christians, then, suffering does have its place. If we are to be holy, we must endure our trials in accord with God’s will. When an evil happens to us, we must do all we can to remedy the situation. If we are at fault, we must humbly admit our transgression. And, if the evil is caused by another, we must bless that person and “never repay injury with injury” (Rom. 12:14, 17). We must be patient in our suffering – we must not complain or seek pity from others. We must consider the suffering of other Christians before us – and of Christ Himself. We must offer up our suffering to Christ. We must remember that our time on this earth is short and our trials shall quickly pass. Above all, we must pray. The great mystic Thomas à Kempis said that we should always let Christ’s promises strengthen and console us. Receiving Him will be a reward beyond all measure. Thomas à Kempis “speaks” for Christ as follows: “You will not labor here for long, nor will you always be burdened with sorrows. . . . The hour will come when blood, sweat and tears will be no more. All that passes away with time is of little importance, and it passes away quickly. Whatever you do, do it well . . . bear adversity with courage. Eternal life is worth all these battles – and more ... Oh, if only you could see the everlasting crowns of the saints in heaven and how much glory they now enjoy – those same saints who, when they were alive, were held in utter contempt by the world and were thought unworthy of even drawing breath . . . Are not all painful labors to be endured for eternal life. It is no small thing to lose or gain the kingdom of God! So, lift your face to heaven. Look at me and all my saints with me, they who in this world have had great contention. They are now joyful, they are now consoled, they are now safe, they are now at rest, and they will forever remain with me in my Father’s kingdom.” What is meant by redemptive suffering? Pope John Paul II wrote: “In bringing about the Redemption through suffering, Christ raised human suffering to the level of the Redemption. Thus each man, in his sufferings, can also become a sharer in the redemptive suffering of Christ” (Salvifici Doloris). St. Paul likewise realized that his sufferings had redemptive power: “I find joy in the sufferings I endure for you. In my own flesh I fill up what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ for the sake of His Body, the Church” (Colo. 1:24). Some people are concerned that St. Paul’s words imply that Christ’s passion was insufficient for our redemption. Before Christ died, He cried out, “It is finished,” meaning that He had accomplished our redemption. But, as Pope Pius XII said in his encyclical on the Mystical Body (Mystici Corporis Christi): “In carrying out the work of redemption Christ wishes to be helped by the members of His Body. This is not because He is indigent or weak, but rather because He so willed it for the greater glory of His spotless Spouse (Church). Dying on the Cross, He left to the Church the immense treasury of the Redemption. Towards this she (the Church) contributed nothing. But when those graces come to be distributed, not only does He share this task of sanctification with His Church, but he wants it, in a way, to be due to her action. What a deep mystery . . . that the salvation of many depends on the prayers and voluntary penances which the members of the Mystical Body offer for that intention, and on the assistance of pastors of souls and of the faithful…” Jesus wants to honor us, the members of His Mystical body by participating in His redemptive mission (Colo.1:24). Compiled by Fr. Herman (Feb. 11’07--the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes).
Suffering and The Cross part 2
Suffering & The Cross The Shrine at Lourdes was chosen last year for the World Day of Prayer, because it was the 150th anniversary of the proclamation of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception. In fact, it was on Dec. 8, 1854, that Blessed Pius IX, affirmed that “the most Blessed Virgin Mary was, by a singular grace and privilege of Almighty God and by virtue of the merits of Jesus Christ, Savior of the human race, preserved immune from every stain of original sin.” At Lourdes, Mary, speaking in the local dialect, said: “I am the Immaculate Conception.” With these words, did not the Virgin perhaps wish to express the bond which joins together health and life? Just as death entered the world through original sin, so through the merits of Jesus Christ, God preserved Mary from every stain of sin, and salvation and life came to us (Rom. 5:12-21). The original plan of God for creation was thereby restored in Christ. The great work of Redemption, accomplished through the precious blood of Christ, began with the Immaculate Conception of Mary. In Jesus, every person is called to the fullness of holiness (Col. 1:28). Just as Jesus is the source of life which overcomes death, Mary is the solicitous mother who comes to the assistance of her children, obtaining for them health of body and soul. This is the message that the Shrine of Lourdes constantly presents to devotees and pilgrims. This is also the meaning of the physical and spiritual healings that take place in the grotto of Massabielle. From the day of her apparition to St. Bernadette Soubirous, Mary’s prayers “cured” pain and sickness, restoring health of body to so many of her children. However, her intercession achieved even more surprising miracles in the souls of believers, opening their hearts to re-encounter her Son Jesus, the true response to the most profound aspirations of the human heart. The Holy Spirit, whose power overshadowed her at the moment of the Incarnation, transforms the souls of countless sick people who turn to Him. Even when they do not obtain health in body, they can always receive something even more important—conversion of heart, the source of peace and of interior joy. This gift transforms their existence and makes them apostles of the cross of Christ, vessels of hope even when confronted with the most difficult trials. Suffering is part of the human condition, and man has to learn to accept and overcome it. But how can we do that, if not through the cross of Christ? In the death and resurrection of the Redeemer, human suffering finds its most profound meaning and its salvific value. The entire weight of the tribulations and sufferings of the human race is condensed in the mystery of a God who, assuming our human nature, denied Himself even to the point of making Himself “sin on our behalf” (2 Cor. 5:21). On Golgotha, He was weighed down with the sins of every human creature and, in the solitude of abandonment, cried out to the Father: “Why have you abandoned me?” (Mt. 27:46). From the paradox of the Cross flows the response to our most unsettling questions. Christ suffers for us. He takes upon Himself the suffering of all and redeems it. Christ suffers with us, giving us the possibility of sharing with Him our own sufferings. United to the sufferings of Christ, human suffering becomes a means of salvation. That is why the believer can say with St. Paul: “I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of His body, which is the Church” (Col. 1:24). Sorrow, accepted with faith, becomes the door for entering into the mystery of the redeeming suffering of the Lord. This is a suffering which does not take away peace and happiness, because it is illuminated by the splendor of the Resurrection. At the foot of the Cross, Mary suffers in silence, participating in a very special way in the sufferings of her Son. She became the mother of all people, ready to intercede so that every one can obtain salvation. It is not difficult to understand this singular participation of Our Lady in the salvific role of Christ. The miracle of the Immaculate Conception reminds believers of a fundamental truth. It is only possible to attain salvation by participating with docility in the plan of the Father, who willed to redeem the world through the death and the resurrection of His only-begotten Son. He wanted to show how He loves us. He wanted to show the horribleness of sin and the displeasure we earn by our disobedience to His commandments. He wanted us to know the costliness of attaining heaven. He also wanted to tell us how sin is infectious, like a ripple in a lake. With Baptism, the believer is inserted into this salvific plan and is freed from original sin. Sickness and death, although they continue to be present in our earthly existence, nonetheless lose their negative meaning. In the light of faith, the death of the body, conquered by the death of Christ (Rom. 6:4), becomes the obligatory passage to the fullness of immortal life. I recall what Mother Teresa said when she visited our seminary in Madras in the year 1963: “You are to become apostles of joy, to console the Sacred Heart of Jesus through joy. You have heavy crosses waiting for you in your future ministry. Remember the passion of Christ ends always in the joy of Resurrection; so when you feel in your own heart the suffering of Christ, remember the Resurrection has to come, the joy of Easter has to dawn. Never let anything so fill you with sorrow as to make you forget the joy of the Risen Christ.” I know this has been repeatedly told to her sisters. God is love, and we are truly called to become instruments of His love on earth, not to become apostles of compromise of God’s teachings for the sake of peace. We do a disservice to our fellow man if we do not point out their error and ignorance. We are called to lift the veil of untruth and error and show the beauty of God and His plan for human beings. At Christmas in the Eastern Church, there is a practice of embroidering the swaddling clothes with the Sign of the Cross. Also, the figure of the Divine Infant is presented with arms extended, as he would be on the Cross. We have the same kind of baby Jesus in our parish. In those symbolic ways is presented the unity of the mystery of redemption, joy, and sorrow. From the wood of the crib to the wood of the cross, the mystery is one. The poverty, the abandonment, the rejection which Jesus suffered on the Cross, He already experienced at His coming. We need to understand that life should be the same. Just as beneath the Cross there was the comfort of loving hearts, so at Bethlehem He was greeted with the joyful welcome of pure hearts and the song of the angels. When we celebrate His coming every year with special solemnity, we greet Him with the age-old song, “Venite adoremus”, “Come let us adore Him.” Beneath the Cross, our prayer of worship is the same: ‘We adore thee, O Christ, and praise thee.’ In our lives, punctuated by the interplay of Bethlehem joy and Calvary sorrow; we are certain that the same love that made Him come and made Him die for us, is always beside us. This is the mystery of the Cross. Pray to Our Blessed Mother of Perpetual Help that she may help every Christian witness to the fact that the only authentic response to sorrow, suffering, and death is Christ, our Lord, who died and rose for us. Compiled by Fr. Herman April 11, 2004