Finding Meaning In Suffering

Peace to you!

How do we find meaning in one of life’s most challenging experiences: suffering?

The first reading taken from Isaiah’s Song of the Suffering Servant sets the tone for the second reading and the Gospel.  Lumped together they point to the common theme of suffering and hence arise several thoughts in regard to suffering.

Whenever we encounter the impact of suffering, which is always around us, we are faced with finding a reason for it or a way to explain it.  For many, suffering seems to go against a basic image of a loving and caring God.  The question arises: how could a loving God let this happen?  I have heard many different explanations.  For some, suffering is simply a result of sin caused by ourselves or someone else.  Others explain it as a kind of trial or test by which we are challenged to be heroic and virtuous in our fidelity to God.  Some understand it as a time of grace in which God is strengthening our inner selves.  Some are content to view it as a great mystery that cannot be fully understood.

Through the lens of scripture we discover a valuable key to the meaning of suffering.  The Suffering Servant does not suffer in vain but will justify many.  He suffers injustice but chooses not to retaliate with hate or anger; he trusts in God and lives with love for God.   That sounds great but how does it help us?  There is not much solace at first glance.  If we look closer, we begin to realize that something amazingly good can happen.  The justification referred to is more than legal acquittal because we can confidently approach the very throne of God.  This suffering purchases more than pardon and more than friendship, it effects a bond of love with God in a covenant that the servant and others share in!  God acts for them in amazing ways!

This same theme resonates in the Gospel when we see the disciples idealizing themselves in a privileged status because they are chosen followers of Jesus.  They envision special honors for themselves above everyone else—as if they are immune from suffering which, is common for everyone.  Jesus radically reverses their worldly view of power.  Jesus shows that the suffering servant’s path is a sharing in his cup of suffering, a kind of baptism.  Leadership and authority are not about glory or special status but service and self-giving—sacrifice.  These are the hall marks of Christian discipleship.

If leadership and discipleship are given new and deeper meaning, so also does our personal share in suffering gain a new value and meaning.  We are united with Christ, and we share in his redemptive suffering for the salvation of the world.  We are invited to be with Mary, who consciously stood at the foot of the cross and united herself to Jesus’ offering to God.  Thousands of Martyrs and Saints walked this same path.  Let us use what we are given wisely because we are sharers in the mystery of Christ’s death and resurrection.  God bless you all! +++ Fr. Peter

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