~ by Sr. Mary Theresa Rozga
I do not like suffering. When I was a young novice in religious life, a wise sister once told me to never pray for suffering -I just might get it! I was inwardly relieved by her comment. Unlike some of the saints, I never had a desire to run through thorn bushes naked (St. Francis of Assisi) or take part in other ascetical practices that seemed to me masochistic.
As I have gotten older, and hopefully wiser, I realize that suffering is a normal part of life. If we live, we will suffer. I do not find this a source of despair, rather, just a healthy realization.
As Christians who follow in the footsteps of Jesus, we will be called to the cross just as Jesus was asked to embrace the cross. What will our response to suffering be?
Some churches like to embrace a "feel good" spirituality. People are on a perpetual, emotional high and almost think of God as a sweet and generous benefactor who will prevent any suffering in their lives. If they do experience suffering and a human abhorrence to it, other church members will often tell them that they have no faith.
I have encountered people who think that suffering the cross should be joyfully embraced and one should feel lucky being able to endure pain. I disagree with this mentality. to me it not only does not fit with Christian spirituality, it as a bit sick.
Stoicism is not a part of Jesus' experience of suffering. I am so glad that the Gospel Evangelists included Jesus' agony in the garden of Gethsemani (Mt. 26:36-46; Mk. 14:32-42; Lk 22:38-44) in their accounts of Jesus' life. Jesus in the garden was not stoic facing suffering. In Matthew's account it states that Jesus began to experience sorrow and distress (26:37). The evangelist Mark writes that Jesus began to be filled with fear and distress and that his heart was filled with sorrow to the point of death (14:34). In Luke's Gospel the story is even more dramatic as Jesus in his anguish prayed even more intensely and his sweat became like drops of blood.
The Gospel accounts are very clear that Jesus was not stoic when he encountered adversity. He was deeply troubled and wept with Mary over the death of Lazarus (Jn. 11:33-35). Jesus did not want to say yes to the cross or suffering. He did so because he believed that it was not only God's desire for him but that God would allow good to come from it.
Jesus expressed his human emotions in the face of suffering; but, he also had faith and hope. If Jesus, who was fully divine and fully human, could feel abhorrence over suffering, then God has no problem when we agonize over our experiences of the cross. Suffering is a way to be like Jesus. It is a means of encountering God.
Our call as Christians is to accept the reality of suffering; but, we do not have to like it. We are called to be people who believe that God is present in the midst of our pain. This belief is our source of hope that enables us to persevere through the most difficult moments.
The Catholic Church is very clear in both its tradition and spirituality that the way of the believer is the way of Christ: the cross, but also the resurrection. Every time we celebrate Eucharist we remember Jesus' suffering, death, and resurrections: his Paschal Mystery.
Suffering is a mystery. How can something good come from something seemingly bad? With God, all things are possible. Our call is to accept suffering and trust in a loving God who will allow good and growth to come from it if we are but open. We just do not have to like it.