Suffering, as part of the human condition, overlooks no one
It’s my cross to bear. How many times have we heard those words muttered by others? How many times have we been the ones doing the muttering? Suffering is one of the great mysteries of the world and what better time to reflection on suffering than during this season of Lent.
The term “it’s a mystery” is something we like to utter, when in truth we have no answer. Why would a good and loving God want his children to suffer? (Spoiler alert: There’s no profound answer at the end of this column. I have no idea either!) Suffering is part of the human condition; no one is exempt.
But here is what seems so contradictory to us, so frustrating. A faithful, prayerful, pious woman is diagnosed with untreatable cancer and suffers terribly to the end, praying for respite. On the other hand, there is the man who neglects his body, never gives religion a passing thought and then has a massive heart attack. He isn’t expected to live. From his hospital bed, he grasps at straws and utters the first prayer to touch his lips since he was a small child. “God, make me better.” Guess what? He’s the one who lives to see another day.
Read the story at the bottom of page two in today’s paper. An Iraqi Catholic family was forced to leave their home by IS extremists. They lost their house and all their belongings. The husband was blind. And then, if that wasn’t enough (imagine having to flee your own home with little more than the clothes on your back), militants took the woman’s young toddler.
I would imagine that mother is unable to close her eyes without seeing those many scenes of unspeakable violence this group perpetrates on innocent people, using some god of their own creation to justify their obscene acts. What prayer could possibly be on that mother’s lips at night?
This is suffering.
When my stomach growls at 3 p.m. because I’m trying to fast and I feel sorry for myself, I try to remind myself of real suffering, even if it does little to assuage my minor discomfort.
Suffering is the agony Abraham certainly felt when God asked him to sacrifice his long-awaited and most-beloved son Isaac. Look at this weekend’s first reading (Gn 2:2-1, 9a, 10-13, 15-18) and imagine yourself in Abraham’s place.
Suffering is seen in the actions of St. Maximillian Kolbe, a priest who, in 1941, was arrested and placed in the concentration camp at Auschwitz. Father Kolbe stepped up and offered to take the place of a young man – a husband and father – who was chosen at random with others to die in retribution for the escape of another prisoner.
Father Kolbe’s death wasn’t a quick pull of the trigger. He was left to die of thirst, starvation and the ravages of the elements.
That’s suffering. That is sacrifice and to acknowledge it is to put things into perspective.
So, Debbie, you might ask, are you saying that we should all shut up about our own aches and pains: trials and tribulations? No, not at all.
Each of us has crosses to bear in our lives. While the degree of intensity might vary, they are nevertheless our crosses to carry and we don’t carry them alone.
Yes, suffering is a mystery and only God holds the answer as to why it exists but God understands.
God understands so well that he sent his only Son to suffer on our behalf.
Stripped, whipped, beaten, broken, Jesus suffered his own immeasurable pain and humiliation and he did so, not cursing or turning his back on God, but rather keeping his focus – his constant prayer - on the Father, keeping his eye on the prize, so to speak.
If anyone knew about suffering, it was our Jesus.
We all suffer, some unexplainably more than others. Sometimes we are healed, other times, the answer to our suffering comes in a different form.
What I do know is God doesn’t expect us to ever suffer alone. God doesn’t expect we won’t pray to have those crosses taken from us. After all, isn’t that exactly what Jesus did in the Garden of Gethsemane before entering into his passion?
“Abba, Father, all things are possible to you. Take this cup away from me, but not what I will but what you will.” (Mk14:36)
No one in their right mind would want to go through what Jesus was facing, but what brought Jesus some measure of peace is the fact that the “whys” of the situation were known only to God and Jesus submitted to the Father’s will.
Yes, we suffer and most times, we don’t have a clue as to why. However we’re never alone. At our lowest moments in life, Jesus is standing right there, waving his hands to get our attention, “Been there; done that.
“Talk to me, please!”
Jesus built his ministry on the healing of others. He healed the many physical, mental, emotional and spiritual wounds of those who appealed to his compassion. Was everyone in ancient times healed of their crosses? I would guess not. Were others healed only to find there were more crosses in their lives? I would guess so.
Even though we can never grasp the full meaning of suffering, we should never stop crying out to God. We pray through our suffering; as Christians we join that suffering to Christ’s on the cross and we submit to God’s will
We don’t understand the mystery but we never give up on the goodness, grace and endless love the Father has for us all.