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June 23, 2013

Have you ever been in a delivery room? I’ve been there twice. I wonder why every baby cries when she comes out! A doctor once told me of a child who could not breathe when she was born. In order to make her breathe the doctor gave her a slight blow. The mother must have thought the doctor was cruel. But he was really doing the kindest thing possible. A new born child has to cry, for only in this way will her lungs expand! As with new born children the lungs are contracted, so are our spiritual lungs. Through suffering God strikes us lovingly, then our lungs expand and we can breathe and pray.

I know that some of you are nurses, doctors, hospital workers, or you have your relatives sick in the hospital, or you have some sufferings yourselves. That means all of us somehow have experienced suffering in our lives. The theme of suffering in a special way demands to be faced, to be reflected and meditated upon in the context of human life related to salvation, and this is so, in the first place, because the human salvation was accomplished through the cross of Christ, that is through his suffering.

The field of human suffering is so wide, so varied, and multi-dimensional. Suffering is something which is still wider than sickness, more complex and at the same time still more deeply rooted in humanity itself. Humans suffer in different ways either physical or moral. The many forms of moral suffering are certainly no less in number than the forms of physical suffering.

The Bible is a great book about suffering. You can see it from the suffering of Adam and Eve in the Book of Genesis to the innocent suffering Job, to the Crucified Christ, to the suffering of martyrs in the last book of the Bible, the Book of Revelation. We can find in the Bible an extensive list of variously painful situations of human being. Within each form of personal suffering, and at the same time at the basis of the whole world of suffering, there arises the question: why? It is a question about the cause, the reason, about the purpose of suffering, and about the meaning of suffering. Has someone ever asked you that question? Especially when someone asks, “Why suffering happens to me? What have I done wrong?”

In dealing with these questions often we find two different reactions. First, we can’t find a satisfactory answer from others and from the world. We put it to God. We link it to the fairness or unfairness, justice or injustice of God. We connect it with the punishment for evil and sins. It may lead us to many frustrations and conflicts in relation with others and with God. It may lead us to the point of denying God. On the other hand, there is a positive reaction to suffering as St. Paul says in his Letter to the Colossians, “I rejoice in my suffering because in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the Church” (Col 1: 24). In other words, we can find the meaning and purpose in suffering when we look at the suffering of Christ which brings us salvation.

In his ministry on earth Jesus drew increasingly closer to the world of human suffering. “He went about doing good,” and his actions concerned primarily those who were suffering and seeking help. He healed the sick; consoled the afflicted; fed the hungry; freed people from deafness, from blindness, from leprosy, from devil and from various physical disabilities; three times he restored the dead to life. He was sensitive to every human suffering, whether of the body or of the soul. In any rate, Christ drew close to the world of suffering through the fact of having taken this suffering upon his very self.

Some people have the mistaken notion that because Jesus has conquered suffering and death, he could and would take away all sufferings of our lives. But he insisted that we must suffer. He said, "If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.” We can see that countless people suffer a great deal every day. Every day they are tortured in body or mind or both. A friend of mine escaped from Vietnam. After his ordination, he went up north to serve the aboriginal people. Just 2 years later he got Lou Gerhic’s disease. He couldn’t walk, couldn’t talk, and couldn’t take care of himself and finally died a terrible death. Such people like him need not look for a special cross. The cross is already on their shoulders. All they need to do is carry it and offer up their daily suffering with the sufferings of Christ. In fact that daily cross becomes even more precious when united with the sufferings of Christ. Put your suffering into the chalice of the Precious Blood and offer it to the heavenly Father.

On the other hand, many suffer very little. They enjoy the good health, they have no worries, they have good jobs, good homes, good families, and good children. How do such people take up their cross daily? They should remember that we are the body of Christ. If one member suffers the whole body suffers. They should do whatever they can to help those who suffer. Like our Lord, they must sacrifice time and energy and money to help the sick, the starving, the needy, the unfortunate. This is a must, if we call ourselves a follower of Christ.
Why do I write about suffering in this week? Last week I went to the hospital more than ten times to care for our brothers and sisters. I witnessed their sufferings. Then we had 4 funerals in a week! Then this Sunday readings call us to reflect on the suffering of Christ. What I want is to prepare us to face the suffering either of our own or of our family or of any member of Christ’s body, to understand the value of suffering, and to share suffering with others. I also want to emphasize that through his suffering and death, the Lord Jesus has brought us eternal life, andonly Jesus Christ can make sense out of suffering. So if you suffer, thank God; at least it’s a sure sign that you’re still alive!