At the end of 2009, my Ukrainian friend asked me how I would celebrate the beginning of 2010. I said I would probably pray the Rosary quietly at the very beginning of the New Year. She was not surprised to hear that as she knows my favourite hobby is to pray the Rosary.
On the last day of 2009, I attended the year end mass in the evening. After the mass, I was invited to go to the basement of the church to join a count down party. I politely declined the invitation as participating in a party with boisterous people has not been my cup of tea in recent years.
Also on the last day of 2009, my Portuguese friend who was at her California home was having a year end celebration but the celebration had to stop abruptly as she was under a panic attack unexpectedly and was rushed to a local hospital urgently. She stayed at the hospital overnight and was discharged the following day. I heard about the news that she had a panic attack a few minutes before 2010, so I spent the first twenty three minutes of the year praying the Rosary for her recovery. I had predicted to my Ukrainian friend that I would pray the Rosary at the beginning of 2010. Somehow the prediction came true but not in the way I had expected.
On Monday January 18, the holy day of the Epiphany of our Lord in the calendar of the Ukrainian Catholic Church, my Ukrainian friend told me her nephew, a 23-year-old young man, had been injured in a terrible traffic accident during the weekend and had been unconscious since then. She added that he may not be able to walk again. She was very depressed when she told me the news. A few hours later, my Portuguese friend was under another panic attack suddenly again and temporarily lost her ability to drive. She looked very uncomfortable. Although at a very young age, she has already been suffering from this illness for over two decades.
I am upset as my two best friends are suffering at the beginning of this year. “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.” ( Romans 12: 15 )
Suffering is perhaps the most fundamental and puzzling question that human beings have ever asked. No philosophers and theologians have been able to provide a satisfactory answer. If God is all merciful, why are there wars, diseases, poverty, fatal accidents, mental disorders, and catastrophes such as the recent earthquake in Haiti? Angry and disappointed people may ask, “Why do I have to suffer? Why me? Why do the innocent have to die?” Some of the people who ask these questions have used their pain as an excuse to abandon God and the Church.
Thank God that Christians who believe in the Lord Jesus have the answer, although only partially because suffering has always been a mystery. Jesus was and is the answer. The final answer will come when we encounter the Lord Jesus face to face after our death, when all the pieces of the puzzle of our life will fit together.
Lent is around the corner. Soon it will be time for us to look up at the Lord on the cross. He was lifted up on the cross for our salvation. Before He died He asked painfully, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” ( Mark 15:34 ) We need to remember that when we think the pain that we are suffering is too much for us, we should look up at Jesus on the cross. The agony that Jesus went through was God’s answer to our question. He came to the world to share in our sufferings.
I once shared with a coworker that when we look at the crucifix, we know that we do not have the right to say that God does not understand our suffering. He does. He went through the most excruciating pain, both physically and mentally, to save the world. He did not use His divine ability to melt the nails that went through His wrists and feet. But He did not save the world so much by the torture He went through, but by the love and obedience to His Father.
Suffering itself has no value whatsoever. However, the results of suffering are valuable to us. St. Paul said, “We even boast of our afflictions! We know that afflictions make for endurance, and endurance for tested virtue, and tested virtue for hope. And this hope will not leave us disappointed.” ( Romans 5: 3 – 5 )
Jesus did not come to this world to eliminate our suffering but to consecrate it, to make it our source of growth and holiness. He wants us to realize that our daily cross does not come from a merciless heavenly Father but from a loving Father who permits evil so that a greater good may result.
Our suffering is our valuable opportunity to make up for sin in union with the suffering Jesus experienced on the cross. Suffering can lead to holiness, maturity, and growth in virtue. St. Monica suffered because of her son Augustine’s licentiousness. In bitter disappointment, Monica prayed for the conversion of Augustine constantly for about thirty years. As a result, both the mother and the son have become great saints. When the young slave Patrick was a lonely shepherd boy, he had no friends to talk to. In utter loneliness, he started praying and became God’s friend. Patrick consequently became the patron saint of Ireland and we celebrate his feast day on March 17 every year. Our suffering knocks us down to our knees to pray for protection and solution, and we will be blessed when we always humbly seek God’s assistance on our knees.
In the liturgy on Good Friday the priest will say, “Behold the wood of the cross, on which hung the salvation of the world.” To each and everyone of us God says, “Behold the wood of your cross. This is the cross I have given you to shoulder. Let me use your pain and suffering for the salvation of this world.”
When our suffering comes, let us learn from Mary, our heavenly mother and model, whose prayer changed the fate of human beings, “I am the servant of the Lord. Let it be done to me as you say.” ( Luke 1:38 )
This world will not be saved so much by the number of people who have been baptized, nor by the number of churches that have been built, but by our prayer, sacrifice, penance, repentance, and suffering.
St. Paul once said, “We know that God makes all things work together for the good of those who have been called to his decree.” ( Romans 8:28 ) In some mysterious ways, our suffering in this world will one day become our blessing because God will make all things new. ( Revelation 21: 5 ) St. John said, “He shall wipe every tear from their eyes, and there shall be no more death or mourning, crying out or pain, for the former world has passed away.” ( Revelation 21: 4 )