The reality of life, no matter who we are, is that we have both good and bad days. Life is always changing. The Church’s liturgical year seeks to represent this balance. We are given many great solemnities and feasts, as times to celebrate, and we are also given times to repent and reflect, like Lent and Advent. If it was all repentance or all celebration, neither would have the desired effect. One follows the other. Spring would not be a time of exciting hope, if it did not follow the cold and dark of winter. Maybe life can be compared to the “Irish” weather. In other words, life is constantly changing, nothing lasts. We don’t know what a morning, or afternoon, or day will bring. Although the blows can sometimes be painful, patience overcomes everything.
Nobody escapes suffering of one kind or another – not even Our Lord or the Blessed Virgin Mary. We suffer in many different ways: physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Humans suffer more than other creatures because of our intelligence. We can torture ourselves by thinking and thinking, over analysing and worrying. The animal doesn’t do this as it does not have the capacity to analyse and rationalise. This is why the Divine Mercy image asks us to try not to worry and fret. We are encouraged to hand over and trust, as everything changes, and God is in control. We are encouraged to say “Jesus I Trust in You.”
THE QUESTION OF SUFFERING
I recently saw a clip from Gay Byrne’s Meaning of Life Programme. The guest makes the point that if God exists, then He must not be a good God, because there is so much suffering in the world. Suffering has always bothered us and always will. Thousands of years ago, the Book of Job in the Bible, asked questions about suffering. Suffering isn’t something we like. God, however, can’t simply be defined by what we experience. For instance, if someone finds oil in their back garden, is God then good and wonderful, and if someone else experiences misfortune, is God therefore bad? If God is really God, however, then there can be no contradiction in Him, as God is perfection itself. He is different from a creature like you, or me. God isn’t inconsistent like us. He cannot be good one week and bad the next. If God had mood swings then He wouldn’t be God.
How therefore can we reconcile God’s goodness in creating us from nothing, in redeeming us from the cross, in the wonder and splendour of His beautiful creation, or in the incredibly complex and perfect order in the Universe that allows us to exist……with the suffering which certainly also exists? As Christians we of course believe that God is not only good, but that He is love. This therefore must be our starting point. Every action of God is governed by love, because God IS love (1 Jn 4,8). It is God’s nature to love. He therefore cannot do anything BUT love. Everything is therefore borne out of love.
God doesn’t want us to suffer. We have inherited this fallen condition of sin, death and suffering from the original sin of our first parents. Even though they knew the consequences of their actions, our first parents still chose to go against God. BUT God did not leave us alone to suffer and die. In His great love, He sent His only son to repair the damage and to save us, so that we could have Eternal Life. God chose a certain path of redemption for His only Son, a path of suffering, so we could come to understand God’s love. He wanted to give us hope in the midst of our own suffering. Jesus gave us an example to follow by trusting in His Father’s goodness even in the midst of His own terrible suffering.
THE GOOD GOD CAN BRING FROM SUFFERING
St Faustina said that “if the angels were capable of envy, they would envy us for two things: one is the receiving of Holy Communion, and the other is suffering” (diary 1805). What does she mean by this in the case of suffering? Suffering is possibly the most disagreeable thing to our human nature, and we try to avoid it at all costs. Therefore when we offer our suffering to God, it becomes the most beautiful prayer we could make. It becomes an incredible act of love – a return of the love we have first received. This was how Jesus showed His love for the Father, and for us. We see in the Garden, the night before He died, that Jesus’ humanity did not want to the suffer, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me” (Matt 26,39). In an act of incredible self-emptying love, He then accepts the Father’s will “nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.”
Think of this incredible self-emptying love of Jesus when He prayed from the cross for those who were executing Him. What love He showed by dying to save the very ones who were condemning, mocking and executing Him. St Faustina was told about the good we can do by returning God’s love like Jesus, “you will save more souls through prayer and suffering than will a missionary through his teachings and sermons” (diary 1767). When we join our sufferings to Christ’s infinite merits, we become little co-redeemers, and help to save others. Therefore the smallest thing offered in union with Christ’s sufferings becomes something great in the eyes of God. You will see this time and time again in the stories of the saints, who understood the value of suffering offered up as an act of love. Remember the example given to us by the Apostles, who rejoiced in their persecutions (see Acts 5:41, 14:21, Rom 8:18, 2 Corinthians 12:10). As Christians we are called to trod the same path as Our Lord, not for sufferings sake, as suffering isn’t good in itself, but for love’s sake.
JESUS’ TRIUMPH OVER SUFFERING
God could have redeemed us in many different ways, but He wanted to show solidarity with us. He wanted to show us how suffering can actually be used to bring about tremendous good. Jesus triumphed over suffering, and even death itself, by rising on the third day. Through patience and obedience, Jesus conquered our greatest enemies, namely suffering, sin and death. Even though He was mocked, and must have been tempted to come down from the cross, Jesus stayed on the cross, so that you and I could be consoled in our difficult moments. He wanted us to be able to look at a crucifix and see our God’s unfathomable love for us. In the midst of His pain, sorrow and confusion, Jesus was always thinking of you.