Matthew 26:39 My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want, but what you want.
In some Christian circles, any form of suffering, especially if it follows a good deed, is seen as an “attack”. But, I think we do God a disservice if we are too quick to attribute these things to the evil one. I have often thought of what Sirach says about suffering:
“My child, if you aspire to serve the Lord, prepare yourself for an ordeal. Be sincere of heart, be steadfast, and do not be alarmed when disaster comes. Cling to him and do not leave him, so that you may be honoured at the end of your days. Whatever happens to you, accept it, and in the uncertainties of your humble state, be patient, since gold is tested in the fire, and the chosen in the furnace of humiliation.” [Sirach 2:1-5]
Read this again: “If you aspire to serve the Lord, prepare yourself for an ordeal.” How many of us know the truth of this first-hand! St. Theresa of Avila, once complained to the Lord about a trial she was undergoing, to which Jesus replied, “Teresa, that’s how I treat all my friends.” Teresa responded, “No wonder you have so few of them.”
The point St. Teresa seems to be making is that the sure promise of suffering seems an odd way to build a following. Yet Jesus showed us that suffering is the very currency of love. A mother sits up with a crying infant all night. A father helps his child with homework instead of going golfing. A priest sits in an empty confessional waiting for and praying for that lost sheep to show up. Jesus pays the price for our sin through his suffering and death.
Suffering entered the world with original sin. But God wastes nothing, not even our suffering. Jesus redeems everything he touches. And on Good Friday, he redeemed suffering. He took something that appeared to be evil and used it to work the greatest spiritual good of all time. As we see in the quote from Matthew, God not only allowed the suffering of Jesus, he willed it. In obedience, Jesus embraced human condition of suffering proving that he is with us in our suffering. As Jesus said to St. Faustina, “My daughter, suffering will be a sign to you that I am with you.” [Diary no 669]
Suffering is not a sign that God has abandoned us. On the contrary it can be seen as a sign of God’s favour. It links us in a real way to the cross, and we come to resemble Jesus in his eyes.
Jesus does not leave us orphaned in our suffering. He is with us and he carries us. Hard as it may be we should get in the habit of giving thanks to God in all circumstances, of praising him even in suffering, and of course offering all to God—joys and sorrows alike—for the conversion of sinners. That way, even if the ordeal is from the evil one, we turn the tables on him, and what he means for our downfall accomplishes great good.
One day at Mass I was looking at the crucifix and praying for the coming of the Kingdom of the Divine Will. I felt the Lord tell me that the road to the kingdom is the way of the cross. We need to view the hardships we are asked to endure, through the lens of the cross, from the vantage point of the Kingdom.
Jesus we trust in you. Even if your designs are too mysterious for us, we trust in you. Father, not what I will, but what you will. Amen.