Hannah, filled with grief at being childless, pours out her prayer to the Lord.
Hannah, filled with grief at being childless, pours out her prayer to the Lord.
The sorrow of Hannah resonates with all couples who long to parent children but are unable to conceive. This example of our human frailty underscores how our faith can strengthen us in times of trial.
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.
Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego walked in the fiery furnace with a fourth person who looked like a Son of God. During those times in our lives when we have been put to the test, may we trust that Christ walks with us as well.
While the phrase “love one another” sounds great when we like the people in question, the real test of faith occurs when it’s tough. The command of Jesus to “love your enemies” will demand us to become like the Lord – who even forgave those who nailed him to the Cross. To do this we call upon God for the grace we need to be filled with the love of Christ so that we can share his love in all moments of life…even when surrounded by enemies.
Study: Reflect on wounded relationships in your life. What needs to be done to bring them healing?
Pray: Ask the Lord for the grace to bring healing to the relationships in your life, especially where suffering has caused misunderstanding or fear has led to doubt and uncertainty.
Serve: Are there people in your life that are struggling in their relationships? How can you be a bridge that fosters unity and reconciliation?
Last week I focused on the personal nature of suffering. When we are in pain, when we hurt, we can easily focus on ourselves. This is not necessarily a bad thing; suffering can help us confront reality and strive for healing and wholeness. In our suffering we are aware of blessings that we may have taken for granted – our sight can become sharper as we realize the gifts that have been lavished upon us.
There is another dimension of suffering, however. Suffering commonly affects relationships; when one person suffers, it is often the case that others suffer as well. Consider the following:
There are countless examples, but the point is clear – the pain and anguish a person suffers can directly affect relationships with God and one another. Suffering can become an obstacle that blocks us from the very persons who can bring healing and relief. Often the greatest wound from suffering is isolation: in our weakness we withdraw from the very people who can help us the most.
The 1st Reading, Responsorial Psalm, and Gospel today reveal both the obstacles of suffering and the bridges that God makes possible through healing grace. In the face of suffering the Lord comes, not just to bring healing to a person, but healing to the relationships among persons. God longs not only to renew our lives but the lives around us as well. Where suffering brings isolation the Lord brings unity – drawing us together in reconciliation and love.
This communal aspect of suffering thus begs two questions for our consideration:
When the Jesus healed the leper in the Gospel today, he did more than give the man back his health – he gave back his relationships as well. The man (formerly cut off from human society) is now restored to his family, his friendships, and his participation in the community. His life has been restored.
As we look to our own encounters with suffering we keep an eye to the ways in which our relationships are harmed/healed. May we call upon the grace of Christ to touch our lives, and bless the lives of those around us.
Note: This post was originally published on February 9, 2015.
Suffering, for all its challenges and burdens, is a part of human life. How do we face it? How do we find the strength and wisdom to keep going? When we bring our faith in Jesus Christ into the center of our lives we find the courage and conviction to continue on as the Lord guides us through this life to the life to come.
Study: Reflect upon an experience of suffering. How did your faith help you face it?
Pray: Are you or someone you know facing pain or loss? Pray that God gives the grace needed to face it.
Serve: Walking with others on their journey of anguish demands time and attention. Are you being called now to assist someone in need?
Let’s take a look at these readings:
On the surface of these readings we see the obvious – there are times when we encounter suffering. Whether it’s body, mind, heart or soul…most people on more than one occasion are brought low by pain, struggle or loss.
What’s more, there is no “spin” in the Bible. Instead, we repeatedly see in the Scriptures a raw look at the challenges people face without trying to explain away the hardship. It’s almost as if the Word of God seeks to remind us that the journey of life often stops in places of anguish.
We might be tempted to ask the Lord why. We might try to find reasons why a good and almighty God allows it. Such a reaction is normal and typical.
Here’s the problem. Many of the hardships of life have no easy answers or simple explanations. Much of life is a mystery, and many things will not be explained until the day we stand before the Lord when all is revealed.
Suffering by itself serves no purpose, yet we often recognize that there are many times we “suffer” for something greater:
You get the point. We often embrace suffering because we recognize that there is meaning and purpose in much that is difficult, challenging and hard.
But what about when we don’t understand? One of the most helpful questions I have ever found in the face of suffering is this:
How does my faith help me face this?
For remember, when our lives are focused on the Lord all things – even suffering – fit into a proper perspective. Christ’s suffering on the Cross breaks the bonds of sin and death; Christ’s resurrection shows us that there is something far beyond the realm of pain and loss.
As Jesus healed and preached Good News we call upon our faith to help us face the difficulties of life with strength. Perhaps we will not know why suffering happens, but God will give us the grace to learn how we will face it.
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Following immediately after yesterday’s Feast of the Holy Cross, the readings today focus on Mary as she endured the “sword of sorrow” as she stood at the Cross of her son. Her sorrow reaches out through time and space to all people who have been overwhelmed by grief. May her example help us to face our moments of pain with a sure and steadfast faith in Jesus Christ.
The Descent from the Cross, Rogier van der Weyden, 1435, Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid.
Note: This is one of the most moving paintings I have ever stood before.
Surrounded by the glory of Christmas, we have a chilling reminder of the reason why the Lord came into our world. Fueled by rage, jealousy, and hate, King Herod attempts to kill the Christ Child by having every baby boy under two killed in the region around Bethlehem. The senseless violence strikes a chord in our hearts to protect life, inspiring us to proclaim the Prince of Peace in our world today.
Photo Credit: La Stampa