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The Solution to Suffering in Sunday's Scripture

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By Marc Massery (Sep 1, 2017)
The Church this weekend explores the purpose of suffering and shows us that through the paradox of the Cross, we can experience the fullness of joy.

In the readings at Mass for the 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, the prophet Jeremiah and the apostle Peter both sense the suffering that doing God's will requires, but in pain, they quickly turn away from the Cross. In both men, though, God's grace helps to turn them back to the Cross and embrace it.

God calls Jeremiah to tell the Judeans that if they do not turn from their sins, then they will suffer destruction. They do not listen, though, and even worse, they make Jeremiah an object of "derision and reproach all day" (Jer 20:8). Surely, he thinks, God does not want him to experience this torment. God wants us to be happy, right? Why would a good God force Jeremiah, His faithful servant, to have to suffer such disgrace? So, Jeremiah resolves to "speak His name no more" (Jer 20:9) and avoid this suffering.

Peter responds to this problem of pain in a similar way. Jesus tells His apostles that He must go to Jerusalem to suffer and die before rising again. Peter imagines Christ in agony, murdered at the hands of the elders, chief priests, and scribes. Like Jeremiah, he cannot imagine that a good God would ask someone to suffer so greatly, to watch his teacher — God's own son — die a disgraceful death. He cries out, "God forbid, Lord! No such thing shall ever happen to you" (Matt 16:22).

But Christ rebukes Peter, calling him Satan for rejecting the Cross. At this point, Christ knows the will of God — that He must suffer and die. He even feels the same temptation that Peter does to turn from the Cross. Christ after all, as man, has the right to say, "No, a good God would not make His son have to suffer such an evil fate." Peter, at least, would not have blamed him.

Similarly, it's hard to blame Jeremiah for complaining about God's demands that he must preach to the people of Judah. Imagine if our full-time job required us to stand in front of a crowd and say, "Because of your sinfulness, violence and destruction are coming!" But God often asks His people to suffer for His sake. We are called, like Jeremiah, to admonish sinners. It is a spiritual work of mercy — but it is not the least bit easy. Still, He asks us to embrace the Cross, like Christ did, and face the difficulty head on. Embracing the Cross, after all, is the only way to experience the joy of the resurrection.

When we embrace the suffering of the Cross, God ultimately makes it worth it for us, not just after death, but even here on earth. Jeremiah, at first, stops preaching because he fears having to undergo any more suffering. But he recognizes that when he stops prophesying, when he stops doing what he knows God is calling him to do, he experiences an even more profound sense of suffering. As soon as he resolves to stop prophesying, he says, "... [God's] message becomes like fire, locked up inside me, burning in my heart and soul. I grow weary of trying to contain it" (Jer 20:9). Jeremiah recognizes that the suffering and humiliation that his calling as a prophet requires does not compare to the relief that doing God's will provides.

Peter, on the other hand, needs a direct rebuke from God, Himself, to set him straight. He rejects the suffering of the Cross even at its first announcement. He does not yet see it in its full context — with the resurrection. In his own fear and ignorance, he calls Christ to turn away from the Cross. If Peter had his way, Christ would not have redeemed us. But by the grace of God, the message of truth reaches Peter, too. He comes to realize that he must accept the Cross and "offer [himself] as [a] living sacrifice ..." (Rom 12:1). Peter eventually reaches the point where he loves and honors the Cross so much, that at the end of his life, he finds himself unworthy to hang upon it in the same way as Christ. At his own execution, he asks the Romans to crucify him upside down, revering the Cross rather than reviling it.

If we "discern what the will of God is" (Rom 12:2), we must not allow temporary fear or suffering to stand in the way of fulfilling it. Though pain can reach the point where it feels unbearable, seeming to serve no purpose, this is the exact moment when God intervenes and asks us to hold on even tighter, push forward even further, and rely on His grace to sustain us. Otherwise, we will remain in anger like Jeremiah was, begrudging those who deride us. Or we will continue to be wracked with anxiety like Peter had been, groaning about the future crosses we might have to bear. We must follow Christ's command to lose our lives here on earth in order to find them (Matt 16:25). Jeremiah and Peter eventually realized this and we must follow their lead.

When we lose ourselves to God's will and accept the Cross, even in the face of pain, we receive from Him a supernatural grace that allows us to remain patient and even in some ways joyful in the midst of suffering. When we embrace our own suffering, we become "transformed by the renewal of [our minds]" (Rom 12:2). When we no longer fear the Cross, we begin to receive the joy that God desires to give us. Then, His Grace starts to transform us into "what is good and pleasing and perfect" (Rom 12:2) in both this life and the life to come.

Readings for the 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time

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Yolanda - Sep 3, 2017

So beautifully explained! Thank you and God Bless

Sonia - Sep 2, 2017

Wow, very well explained. This is wonderful. Thank you.