Today I heard a great homily from a visiting priest from Africa. He was commenting on this weekend’s gospel reading where Jesus reminds us that we need to take up our cross and follow him.
Being new to our country, he is amazed at the wealth and resources that we have. Even individuals who are unemployed, disabled, sick or elderly have many resources at their disposal such as social programs, community outreach, food banks, soup kitchens, free basic health care, etc. Yet he’s surprised at how much people whine whenever we encounter obstacles to our happiness.
He said that many people in the world would have great difficulty believing that the lifestyle we live is possible. They can’t even conceive it. They have no idea that such prosperity and peace can exist on this earth because it’s so foreign to their personal experience. They think that such prosperity is only possible in Heaven. We are truly blessed, maybe even spoiled. And we whine soooooo much.
He made a blunt statement that caught my attention: being a Christian necessarily means bearing the cross. It’s not possible to be a Christian without it. It’s not optional. Christ said it himself in Luke 9:23-26:
If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it. What does it profit them if they gain the whole world, but lose or forfeit themselves? Those who are ashamed of me and of my words, of them the Son of Man will be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.
That doesn’t mean we have to enjoy suffering. Of course not. We should take reasonable measures to avoid suffering, but we should try to stop complaining about unavoidable suffering and make a conscious effort to unite it to Christ’s Cross.
Why does a good God and all-powerful God allow suffering? God only allows suffering because he can make a greater good come from it. Meditate on that statement. And notice the word “can”, which implies an uncertainty about the outcome. The success of this operation is conditional on how we respond to the suffering. If we let it transform and purify us, great benefits will flow.
St. Paul has an optimistic outlook on suffering in Romans 5:3-5:
And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.
St. Paul is telling us that nobody really grows through pleasure. We grow through adversity. It takes effort. Just ask any athlete. Ask any university student spending long nights to finish those assignments. Ask any soldier in boot camp. Too often, we wouldn’t choose that adversity ourselves if it were left up to us. God provides opportunities for us to become something greater.
But aside from these more “visible” consequences of suffering, there is an invisible spiritual dimension. Just as the sufferings of Christ brought down infinite graces for humanity, likewise when we unite our sufferings to his, we bring down graces for the conversion of ourselves and the world. This is the hardest part to accept because we don’t necessarily see these graces flowing and we rely entirely on faith.
So the decision is yours:
- You can deal with unavoidable suffering by trying to accept it peacefully
- Or you can get grumpy, angry and aggressive.
In the latter case, the suffering is all but wasted and you reject an opportunity to rise up to greatness. You also make the lives of those around you miserable because they have to put up with your complaints. In both cases, you still have to endure the suffering. So why not put it to good use by uniting it with Christ’s Cross? Amazing graces will flow and you may just find that the pain is easier to bear when you face it in faith, knowing that Christ is at your side every step of the way.