No Pain, No Gain

Sunday, March 21 - Fifth Sunday of Lent
• Jeremiah 31:31-34
• Psalm 51:3-4, 12-13, 14-15
• Hebrews 5:7-9
• John 12:20-33

by Marc Massery

I was out of shape when I tried out for the soccer team sophomore year of high school. So out of shape that after the first few laps around the field for conditioning, I discreetly vomited. I was playing video games all summer and hadn't run more than once or twice. I liked playing sports, but did not want to tolerate the feeling of training - I didn't want to submit to the discomfort. Consequently, I never amounted to much of an athlete. Athletes, of course, need to willingly experience the pain of training in order to perform well. A similar principle applies to the spiritual life. God uses our suffering to teach us how to obey Him and receive graces He desires to give us.

In the first reading, the Lord explains the difference between the Old and New Covenants. The Old Covenant was based upon the Ten Commandments - a list of God's laws etched in stone. But the New Covenant is much different. He says, "I will place my law within them and write it upon their hearts" (Jer 31:33). Christianity does not consist in merely reading and following a list of rules. For this reason, God says that we have "[no] need to teach ... friends and relatives how to know the LORD" (Jer 31:34). In other words, God Himself teaches us how to know and love Him by speaking to us in many ways amidst our daily lives - through prayer, through Scripture, through the Sacraments, through daily encounters with other people, but especially through suffering.

The second reading says, "In the days when Christ Jesus was in the flesh, he offered prayers and supplications with loud cries and tears to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence" (Heb 5:7). This Scripture passage recalls Jesus praying in agony in Gethsemane. The word used for cry in Greek is krauge, which is a cry that a man does not choose to utter, but rather it "is wrung from him in the stress of some tremendous tension or searing pain," according to Scripture scholar William Barclay. This Scripture passage goes on to say that Jesus "learned obedience from what he suffered" (Heb 5:8). Though God can speak to us in many different ways, our sufferings often give us the greatest opportunities to learn. Of course, God hates seeing us suffer, but we live in a fallen world. Whether we follow God in this life or not, we will experience much suffering. We must, therefore, give our lives over to Him, so that He can use our suffering for a greater purpose: to teach us how to better follow Him.

In the Gospel reading, Jesus says, "unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit" (Jn 12:24). The New Covenant flips everything we thought we knew about the world on its head. Death yields life. Suffering brings glory. Obedience leads us to freedom. Christ says that we must die to ourselves, to the world, in order to grow. He says, "Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will preserve it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there also will my servant be" (Jn 12:26). If we want true joy, if we want true happiness in our lives and in the life to come, we must serve God. Many serve money, fame, power, or the flesh. But only serving Christ will give us true peace and more joy than the richest, strongest, most powerful people in the world. When we make God's will our greatest pleasure, anything that happens to us, even the greatest sufferings, will give us a sense of peace, because we will know that we are in God's hands. Every situation we find ourselves in, no matter how painful, is an opportunity to learn how to love the Father more deeply.

Photo by Victor Freitas on Unsplash

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