Saturday, February 7, 2009

Suffering becomes glory

FIFTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, February 8, 2009:

Job spoke and said, “Remember that my life is like the wind; I shall not see happiness again.” Suffering and healing. Our Scriptures today call us to reflect upon both of these very real experiences of life – suffering and healing.

In the passage from Job, we see how Job despaired at the suffering he had to endure. Job lost everything; his land, possessions and even his family, besides a plague of boils and other horrors. Listen to the anguish in his words, “Is not man’s life on earth a drudgery? ... He is a slave who longs for the shade… I have been assigned months of misery, and troubled nights have been allotted to me….My days …come to an end without hope…I shall not see happiness again.”

Job sees no sense in his suffering. He can not make any meaning of what he is enduring and so he complains at what he must endure. Job despairs, he feels helpless and hopeless — but we also know that later in the story he rediscovers hope and his losses are restored to him. His perseverance pays off—God rewards him for not giving up. I imagine that when we hear these words of Job, we can all identify with him in one way or another – either in trying to make sense of our own suffering or in trying to understand why others suffer. We’ve all felt like Job wondering why things have to be the way they are. Why bad things happen; especially when they happen to good people.

As I was reading Job this week, I couldn’t help but think of Fr. Mike’s mother, Adele, who passed away about six years ago. Adele’s life had many moments that could relate to Job. She lost her father when she was very young, her brother died at age 16, she had 10 miscarriages before finally carrying a baby to term in her 40s, she suffered through cancer, several heart attacks, lost her kidneys and had to undergo dialysis for years, and she suffered from diabetes that in the end required the partial amputation of a leg. In her suffering she was very much like Job and could have very easily said like him, “I have been assigned months of misery, and troubled nights have been allotted to me.” But, Adele never spoke the words of Job. Instead she said, “Don’t waste your suffering. Offer it up and unite it to the suffering of Christ.” Even when faced with amputation, she didn’t ask how she could avoid the pain and suffering that procedure would entail; she didn’t ask why this was happening to her. Instead she asked, “What does God want me to do?” And before she was taken into surgery, she prayed thanking God for the use of her legs all those years, for carrying her around, and allowing her to be a good mother. She was an incredible witness of faith to the transformative power of suffering. It’s one thing for someone who has not suffered to tell you to “offer it up,” but it’s quite another thing when someone who really knows suffering, who’s walked the walk, to tell you the same thing.

You see, for we who believe in Christ, suffering is never without meaning. With the eyes of faith, in our suffering we can be united with Christ in the one great act of redemption. What our world forgets in this no pain day-and-age is that suffering is an opportunity to be united with Christ in the greatest moment of the history of the world – we can be united with Him on that cross and in the salvation of the world. Souls can be redeemed and saved and prayers answered when we direct our suffering, offer it up, to this spiritual end.

Jesus shows us this in our Gospel today. We hear about the compassion of Jesus. He cures Peter’s mother-in-law and then goes on to cure all who asked for healing. Suffering and pain are part of the human condition. They are not caused by God. The worst question we can ever ask in the face of suffering is, “Why did God do this to me?” God didn’t do it. Suffering is part of being human. When we accept that reality we become open to another possibility – instead of blaming God, our suffering can become opportunities to invite God into our suffering to transform it. Jesus reminds us of what is really important in life - that being healed in spirit is far more important than being healed in body.

As Jesus is healing in our gospel, he says, “Let us go on to the nearby villages that I may preach there also. For this purpose have I come.” Jesus came to proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom of God, to invite all people to let God reign as king in their hearts and in their lives, to reconcile us with God and with one another. This is the greatest healing that he has to offer us.

To seek physical healing and material well-being without first making peace with God and seeking His Kingdom is to miss the point. It is putting the cart before the horse. It doesn’t work.
Many of those who went to Jesus were looking for him for the wrong reasons. They were looking for Jesus simply to get what they wanted. They weren’t interested in what Jesus came to give. Jesus is interested in our physical welfare. But the spiritual must come first. Like the people of Capernaum we come to church on Sunday looking for Jesus. We come with our various problems of soul and body. The first thing we need to do is to forget our personal problems and seek the Kingdom of God that Jesus came to proclaim. The best cure for anything in our lives is the Kingdom.

In his own death, Jesus showed us how to face suffering and all the other evils we will inevitably meet during the course of our life. He showed us that suffering can have a purpose – even if we don’t understand it.

I’ll end with another example, that of Pope John Paul the Great, who also gave us an incredible example of purposeful suffering as he approached his own death. Pope Benedict reflected on John Paul’s final days this way: “No Pope has left us an amount of texts as he has left us; previously, no Pope was able to visit, as he did, the whole world and speak directly to the people of all the continents. But at the end, he was given a path of suffering and silence…With his words and deeds, he gave us great things; but no less important is the lesson he gave us from the chair of suffering and silence.”

Jesus is calling us to seek Him first, to seek His Kingdom first. Jesus is calling us to never waste any suffering that comes our way. We can offer any suffering in our lives to God. We can ask him to accept these sufferings as our share in the Cross of Christ, as our small contribution to Christ’s work of salvation. The more we are able to do this, the more we begin to see with the eyes of faith, and find the truest happiness – the happiness of the Kingdom. Suffering becomes glory, and the true meaning of our lives is revealed.

May God give you peace.

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