14 July 2017
Suffering is so often a part of life. We see it in our readings today. Joseph had been sold into slavery by his brothers at a young age. And both he and his father, Jacob/Israel, suffered the pains of loss and separation. Jesus today instructs his apostles very bluntly that they will end up suffering in their efforts to spread the gospel. And the saint we remember today, St. Kateri Tekakwitha, suffered with smallpox; she suffered under the demands that she get married; she suffered the loss of her parents; she suffered ridicule when she converted to the Catholic faith.
And, of course, we know about suffering as well. We have our physical aches and pains, our emotional aches and pains. We suffer when loved ones are ill, and when they pass on. We suffer other things more mundane, like heat and humidity and bad weather for the crops. We suffer the injustice of our neighbors, perhaps.
Suffering is so often a part of life. But it doesn’t mean that God has left us. It doesn’t mean that God is not almighty, or that he is not the good and gracious God that he is. Perhaps suffering is just a reminder that we’re not in heaven yet. Maybe suffering is something that’s meant to keep us from getting too comfortable now, so that we don’t forget about what where we’re going, and what we hope for in the end.
As we know very well, suffering can be a spring board to holiness. It’s why we put our heroes on pedestals: people who fought in wars and undercut evil in the world; people who suffered in the arena of politics for the good of others; people who took one for the team, for the sake of others and even ourselves. It’s why we admire the saints who suffered, and yet still triumphed. It’s why we venerate the Cross and celebrate the Resurrection in the same breath. Suffering can be a spring board to holiness.
Suffering in and of itself is just suffering. But suffering with hope can be redemptive. And so, as much as suffering is a part of life, hope must also be a part of life. Suffering challenges our spirit of hope, and hope keeps our suffering in check. Together, however, they take us to where we want to go: to heaven, to the breast of God, where there is no suffering, but only life in abundance, and the fulfillment of our hopes and all our longings.