My brothers and sisters, in last week’s Gospel we heard Jesus’ first prediction that He would be handed over to the authorities, suffer greatly, die, and will rise from the dead on the third day. In my homily last week, I answered why Jesus suffered, as well as why we are called to suffer and pick up our Crosses and follow Him. I talked about the tremendous value there is in uniting our suffering to Christ’s, and how doing so helps us to see from God’s perspective and allows God’s will to be done through it. This week we hear Jesus’ 2nd prediction telling his disciples what He would go through to save us. What I want to do in my homily this week is kind of a sequel to my homily from last week. Several people told me that they found my homily last week on the purpose and value of suffering beneficial, so I encourage you to read it. You can find it on our website under homilies. This week we are called to learn from how Jesus suffered, and learn how to unite our suffering to His.
Today’s 1st reading is a foretelling about what would happen to Jesus. The wicked say: Let us beset the just one, because he is obnoxious to us and sets himself against our doings. So, let us see whether his words be true, for if the just one be the son of God, God will defend him. With revilement and torture let us put the just one to the test that we may have proof of his gentleness and try his patience. Let us condemn him to a shameful death; for according to his own words, God will take care of him”. Is this not exactly what happened to Jesus, he was persecuted, arrested, and sentenced to suffer and die. And now let us see how Jesus suffered- and if Jesus proves his gentleness and patience, and trusted that God would take care of him. Jesus, though innocent, willingly accepted the unfair torture and tremendous suffering, even to the point of death, and never once did he complain that the suffering was too much, he never asked anyone to help carry the Cross, and never did Jesus think God the Father was not with him or would not take care of him. And before you think, well what about when Jesus yelled out from the Cross- ‘My God my God why have you forsaken me’- read all of Psalm 22, especially the end, to see what Jesus was really saying to the people- it was not because Jesus felt God had abandoned but that he wanted to remind his disciples of that Psalm 22. Rather than feeling abandoned, instead, Jesus said, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do”. If he thought God had forsaken him, why would Jesus call upon God and pray for others? But at the point of death after suffering so terribly, Jesus actually prayed for forgiveness for the sins of the people. You and I would have probably said, ‘Father- smite them, punish them for what they are doing to me’- but no, Jesus pleads on their behalf, he intercedes and prays for his persecutors. By that, my brothers and sisters, Jesus proves his gentleness and patience, that he knew God the Father would take care of him.
Now, my brothers and sisters, let’s apply our 1st reading to ourselves. Do not the wicked, or at least Satan, also persecute us because we are against their wicked doings? And do not they persecute us to see how we will respond, to, in a sense, prove our gentleness. My brothers and sisters, our suffering, and how we suffer, is a real test of our faith in God. To willingly suffer, and to have authentic peace and joy in the midst of tremendous suffering, itself helps to prove to others that the gentleness and patience is not fake or self-taught, but it is real because of our faith in the living God and Resurrected Jesus.
So how do we have real faith in God in the midst of suffering? How do we not complain and think that God has abandoned us? How do we have real and authentic peace and joy in the midst of suffering? How do we offer up our suffering and unite them to Christ’s? We do so by learning from Jesus and what allowed him to endure. My brothers and sisters, we do not need to be afraid of suffering, Jesus certainly wasn’t. Notice in each of the predictions of the Passion, Jesus never only or just said that he would suffer and die, but he always also said that he would rise from the dead. Jesus knew that he would suffer, but Jesus also knew the suffering was not the end, nor would the suffering, and even his own death, be the end of him! So, first we have to, like Jesus, accept that we are called and will have to suffer in some way, to one degree or another, but that the suffering will not be the end of us. If we complain about our suffering, thinking why me, or that God doesn’t care about us, then why would another person, especially our persecutors, believe in God too. In our humanness, we can tend to turn inward and focus on and let our suffering get us down, and it is easy to complain and think that God doesn’t care about us. It becomes easy to walk through life in a kind hum-drum kind of way, as if coming from a funeral, thinking there is no way out of our suffering and pain. And when we are turned inward on ourselves, focusing on our own suffering, then we fail to see the good and the value it can be for others. And when we wallow in our misery, we also can have a tendency to self-medicate in the midst of our suffering. We try and escape the pain by finding temporary self-pleasure in drinking, drugs, lust, junk food, tv, etc. etc. Take time this week to think about what you use to self-medicate and try and escape from the pain and suffering you feel.
But instead of self-medicating, again let us learn from Jesus. Jesus never felt abandoned, and he never tried to find escape from the suffering in any way. Instead, Jesus was always consciously in communion with God the Father. Even though Jesus was betrayed by his friend, abandoned by his disciples, Jesus never lost faith and stayed in communion with the Father, fully knowing that God would take care of him. Therefore, let me share with you a technique I learned in seminary to help pray and stay in relationship with God throughout any of our difficulties- that technique in prayer is the acronym- ARRR. The A stands for acknowledge. Acknowledge how your heart is feeling in the suffering. Acknowledge the source of the suffering. If the suffering is due to another person’s sin, or even your own, simply acknowledge that awareness to God. So, the first step is to acknowledge what your heart is feeling. Next, the first R stands for Relating. After you have briefly acknowledged, relate or surrender what your heart is feeling to God. Relate the hardship of the suffering, relate to God how the other person who made you suffer makes you feel- relate, surrender that emotion to God. Relate to God the difficulty in accepting or enduring the suffering. Relate that you are tired of the suffering. Relate that you want to understand why God wants you to endure it. Relate or surrender whatever is on your heart, and how your heart is feeling to God. Then stop relating, and receive. The third step is to receive from God. To be able to receive from God means that we are not trying to self-medicate apart from Him. To seek to receive means that we truly believe that God is with us and has not abandoned us in our suffering. Intentionally try to be open to receive whatever God wants to give. Sometimes God will give you a direction or something to do to help the situation. Sometimes God will work in some way on his own to calm the situation. Other times instead of calming the situation, he will calm you and I. Most often, though, God will give to us an awareness that He hears our prayer, that He is with us, that he has a purpose and will use it for good. Most often God gives a true sense of peace, an interior calming peace. Remember when Jesus appeared after the Resurrection and said to his disciples: “Peace be with you, my peace I give you”. That same peace that Jesus felt from God the Father upon the Cross, is the same peace the Resurrected Jesus gave to his disciples- and wants to give to you and I also, today and every day in the midst of our suffering. How necessary it is then for us to receive from God in the midst of the suffering to strengthen us to endure it. Finally, the last R stands for Respond. Respond to whatever God gave you in your heart with gratitude and love. Respond by doing what direction He gave you. Respond by thanking God that He never abandoned but was and will always be with you. Respond with heartfelt honor and gratitude that God called you through the suffering to participate in our salvation and the salvation of others. This ARRR can be practiced in every prayer time, but also throughout the difficulties and suffering we face every day.
So, my brothers and sisters, I know how hard it can be to suffer, how easy it is to wonder if there is a purpose or good in it. We can self-medicate thinking that God doesn’t care or has abandoned us. But let us learn from how Jesus suffered and stay in communion with God through the suffering by continual prayer. And when you pray: Relate and give God your heart in your suffering, then receive and let God give you his Resurrected heart full of trust and peace, so that you can know that there is an end and a purpose for the suffering- and that purpose is participation in the salvation of souls.BACK TO LIST