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Fr. Glenn: The Mystery Of Suffering

on September 10, 2017 - 6:48am
By Rev. Glenn Jones
Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic Church
Los Alamos

If the forecast on Friday was correct, and if you’re reading this on Sunday, at this very moment hurricane Irma will be grinding its way through Florida and perhaps up the East Coast. And José is swirling around the eastern Caribbean, building up steam for yet another possible assault. All affected by such storms are in our prayers, and we urge all to charity to help victims rebuild.

We wonder why disasters occur—natural, manmade, and even personal accidents and illness. These are the common lot of all mankind. The perennial and eternal question is: Why do bad things happen to good people? Isn’t this contrary to the idea of a loving God? It would, at least, seem so. For instance, in my years of ministry, it seems that there is no agony as intense as a mother’s agony at the death of her child. Yet we see God the Father’s own eternally-beloved Son suffered one of the cruelest deaths ever devised: crucifixion.

Why suffering? There is no simple answer to this apparent contradiction … paradox … dilemma, and for many, no answer will suffice. And yet … God responds to this question only three days later—in Jesus’ resurrection. 

Yet while created by God in time, our existence is thereafter permanent—in the soul, and in God’s promised future resurrection of all. Thus our (very!) brief earthly life is simply given as preparation for eternity. For His faithful, in the immeasurable expanse of the eternal, the memory of trials and sorrows of our earthly life—regardless of intensity—will fade into oblivion, wiped away in the eternal embrace of Love itself, as St. John assures us: “…we know and believe the love God has for us. God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him” (1 John 4:16), and in Revelation: “…he will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain any more, for the former things have passed away." (Revelation 21:4) Our avenue to this love? Trust in God, and an active faith in Jesus Christ.

In our typically myopic vision, we focus on the immediate, forgetting—or simply not believing—that eternal promise of God. But we remember the examples of those who have gone before us—the Old Testament faithful, the New Testament apostles and disciples of Christ, and all God’s faithful from then until now—who endured in faith despite often unimaginable sufferings. And suffering (or lack of it) is neither an indicator of one’s vice nor virtue, Jesus Himself revealing this truth in Luke’s Gospel when He speaks of some who suffered apparently unjustly: “‘Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered thus? I tell you, no … Or those eighteen upon whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them, do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who dwelt in Jerusalem? I tell you, no…”  (Luke 13:1-5)  The whole theme of the book of Job centers on the mystery of why bad things happen to even good and holy people.

Tragedies are inevitable in our world; “I/We don’t deserve this!” a common plaint. But we are never promised a rose garden in this life; only in the next. Suffering is a general condition of humanity, whether he be good or bad. But Jesus—absolutely underserving of it—suffered more than all Mankind, for He is also God, and yet gives us the ultimate example of patient suffering. But from this greatest evil of His crucifixion came the greatest of possible goods: our salvation. Thus we trust in God’s providence and will, prepared to carry our own cross, remembering Jesus’ prayer before His crucifixion: “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet, not as I will, but as you will.” (Matthew 26:39)  And as the prophet wrote so trustingly: “Though the fig tree do not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will joy in the God of my salvation.” (Habakkuk 3:17-18)

As we saw so poignantly in south Texas recently, from tragedy can also come great good—charity and support and love of neighbor, and thus opportunity to be light to the world as Jesus calls His disciples to be. So when tragedy and misfortune inevitably arise—whether small or large, public or private—let us provide succor, comfort and aid as best we can, remembering Jesus’ words: “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.” (Matthew 25:40)