Study: Recall a moment when you encountered personal suffering. What gave you strength to continue?
Pray: Many people are suffering right now in our world. Pray for those in need and join your heart with them to God.
Serve: Where is the suffering face of Christ in your life right now? How can you help another who is in need?
Some of the toughest questions I routinely encounter as a priest occur during sickness or untimely death. In the midst of great suffering and pain, a loved one comes up to me and asks, “Father, why did this have to happen? Why do they have to suffer? Why doesn’t God take the pain away?”
In the anguish of the moment no answer is adequate; the pain hurts too much, and seeing another suffering is often too hard to describe with words. Our hearts feel more than we can say, and the emotions overflow the limits of our soul.
We encounter suffering in many ways: at the graves of loved ones; in hospital and nursing home rooms; at the bedsides and wheel chairs of homebound; through news stories of tragedy; and in quiet moments all alone. Many of us are familiar with the grief and pain of suffering, and we are quick to recognize its presence in those around us.
In the Old Testament and Gospel readings today we encounter suffering. Both Jeremiah and Jesus raise two crucial points:
1. The pain is real.
2. The suffering is part of their witness.
First, neither Jeremiah nor Jesus deny that suffering is part of their lives. They do not hide from it, repress it, pretend it is not there, or run away out of fear. Their suffering is real; they acknowledge the truth of what they must face and confront it.
Second, the pain they face is part of their ministry. Simply put, they suffer because they have remained faithful to God. Jeremiah burns with the fire of a prophet; to remain silent would destroy him and deny God’s word. Jesus knows that only through his death and resurrection can he fulfill his Father’s will; to run away would deny God’s plan for salvation history.
From the example of Jeremiah and Jesus we discover that our suffering is part of a much larger picture. We know that suffering is an element of life, mixed with the joy and beauty we encounter daily. We know that it will come in difficult and sometimes unexpected ways.
Yet God is present in our suffering. Just as Jeremiah and Jesus knew that God was present with them, so too we can see that the Lord is near, giving us strength and hope. Thus suffering may be a way that we draw closer to God, mindful of our need.
Note: This post was first published on August 26, 2014.