24th Sunday, OT, Year B
In the women’s concentration camp of Ravensbruck an unknown prisoner wrote this prayer on a torn piece of wrapping paper and left it on the body of a dead child, later to be found in her clothing:
Oh Lord, remember not only the men and women of goodwill, but also those of ill will. But do not only remember the suffering they have inflicted on us; remember also the fruits we reaped, thanks to this suffering: Our comradeship, our loyalty, our humility, our courage, our generosity, the greatness of heart which has grown out of all this. And when they come to judgement, let all the fruits we have borne be their forgiveness.
It seems unimaginable that in the midst of such suffering someone could pray for those killing them. Truly such a person is a martyr to their faith in God. The prophet Isaiah presents, in his third Servant Song, the picture of the perfect disciple: Someone who makes no resistance nor turns away from those who strike and insult him. He knows he can rely on the Lord in his hour of need. In the midst of his suffering his faith is strengthened.
A question often asked of a priest, asked of those who are Christian, is: why does God allow suffering? Now, there are many complex aspects to the answer to this deeply human dilemma, all of which ultimately lead us to delve into the mystery of Christ and of our Faith. There is no human answer which satisfies those with a hungry mind, or those who seek to undermine our faith and much less those who are in the midst of deep personal suffering.
Suffering has many faces, but in the end it is the cross of Christ and it is a mystery. Jesus tells his disciples, today, for the first time that the Son of Man is destined to suffer grievously and to be put to death. He invites those around him, and this includes you and me, that if we wish to be a follower of His, then we must take up our cross and follow Him.
What is this suffering, then? Is it to suffer because of our sins? The result of our freedom to choose: pride, selfishness, greed, envy. If I am inquisitive and put my eye to the keyhole to see what is happening next door, then I catch a cold in the eye! Is it suffering because we are followers of Christ, in love to the point of martyrdom? Could I pray for those who persecute me, those who ridicule my Faith or pour scorn upon me because I fail in my professed Christian values? If I was a nurse, would I have the courage to suffer the loss of my job because I refused to assist in an abortion?
Or is it the suffering God gives us to prune and cut back, like the gardener who prunes the vine that yet more fruit will grow? Perhaps it is the suffering inflicted by others, intentionally or unintentionally. One thing is certain, however, that Jesus does not teach in parables regarding the pain He will suffer. He is quite open and we should not, therefore, deny that suffering is a part of our Christian life. That is not to say that God inflicts or even desires that we suffer for its own self. He does not desire that we be in pain because He is a cruel and harsh God.
Christ shows us, through His cross, the way to the resurrection and it is a way that is for others. He did not die in order that He could get into heaven. Jesus Christ is and was always fully divine. He died in order that we could get into heaven. He is the perfect example of which St James talks in his letter when he says “I will prove to you that I have faith by showing you my good deeds.” Greater love has no man that to lay down his life for his friends and we must do the same. We do not know the way in which we will suffer in this life, we do not know why we are suffering now and we do not yet understand why we have suffered in the past. We do know, however, that we can offer our suffering, with a willing heart, for those who need our prayers and we thank God above for the sacrifice of those who give their lives that we might have life and life to the full. And we pray, too, for our enemies!