12th Sunday in Ordinary Time. June 23rd 2013
Zec. 12:10-11; 13:1; Gal 3:26-29; Lk 9:18-24
No useless suffering
I have never met anyone who loved suffering. I have also never met anyone who understood why we had to face suffering. But I had an experience some weeks ago that reminded me of the necessity of suffering and pain for us Christians.
I recently visited a Catholic Church in Northern Nigeria that was the scene of a tragic violent act in December 24th 2011. Shortly after the Christmas vigil Mass had ended on that fateful night and the parishioners were joyfully leaving the Church, a bomb was detonated by Islamic militants in the parking lot of the church leaving close to 60 people dead. As I prayed in this Church a few weeks ago for both the victims and the perpetrators of this senseless act, I tried to imagine what it felt like for those innocent worshipers after receiving the Lord Jesus Christ in Holy Communion and then suffering an unjust violent death. It dawned on me that they had no doubt shared in His life in Holy Communion and then shared in His own gruesome death. This reality left me with a deep sense of hope and courage that in our sufferings, we are indeed sharing in Christ’s own suffering and that our sufferings and pains were never in vain. The suffering and death of those worshipers a few years ago was never in vain; but it had served to strengthen my hope that evening many months later and encourage me to share in the suffering of Christ. Indeed, our sufferings, pains and even our deaths are never in vain as long as we suffer and die as God’s beloved children in Christ Jesus.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus asked the disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter responds, “You are the Christ of God.” For the Israelites of Jesus’ time, the “Christ of God” is the Anointed One, the Messiah King, the One whom God upholds and sets apart from others. He alone is anointed with the Spirit of God to restore sovereignty to the Israelites and conquer their Roman enemies. Jesus does not deny that He is the Christ of God but chooses to call Himself the “Son of Man.” He calls Himself the Son of Man to remind us that He has become one of us so as to share His own anointing and redemptive mission with us. By this His anointing, Jesus’ suffering and death could never be useless or in vain simply because He suffered and died as a Son of God. Though He would “suffer greatly and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the scribes and be killed,” His death would not be in vain because the Father will “raise Him on the third day” and make Him the source of salvation to all mankind.
St. Paul reminds us that “through faith we are all children of God in Christ Jesus,” “we who have been baptized into Christ have clothed ourselves with Christ,” and we now “belong to Christ.” As God’s children in Christ, we too inherit all that is Christ’s by right, including His own anointing and His mission to suffer for the salvation of all men in all times and places. From the moment that we received baptism, the sacrament of faith, we began to share in Christ’s own anointing and thus our sufferings, pains and even our deaths would never be in vain because we now suffer as God’s beloved children. Jesus does not monopolize His own anointing or His own mission of redemptive suffering but He generously offers us a share in both. This is why He said to His disciples and to us, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow Me.” Jesus is not just another Messiah to be revered but He is one who has granted us a share in His anointing so that we too play a role in the salvation of the world by sharing in His suffering and knowing that our own pains and sufferings will never be in vain as long as we remain united with Him as God’s own children.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, we may never understand or like suffering. In truth we are not called to love it or understand it; but to participate in Christ’s own suffering. By baptism and faith, we are now God’s children in Christ Jesus alone and thus we share in Christ’ special anointing and In His mission to redeem all mankind. We cannot share in His anointing of the Holy Spirit and then shrink from playing a role in the salvation of others by embracing our own suffering and pains as God’s beloved children. We must not succumb to the temptation to say, “I am suffering because God is punishing me for something that I did wrong.” Suffering is a consequence of our being incorporated into Christ by faith and baptism and sharing in His anointing and in His mission to redeem all mankind through the Cross. Isn’t this what St. Paul means when he said to the Colossians, “I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of His body, which is the Church?” (Col 1:24)
A parishioner who attended daily Mass approached me once and told me that her daughter had run away from home to live with her female partner in a lesbian relationship. This really wounded this mother’s heart. She asked me what she was to do. I told her that she should pray for her daughter and her partner and then unite the pains and sorrows of her heart with the sufferings and pains of Christ at Mass each morning. A few months later, she told me that her daughter had quit the relationship and had returned to the home repentant and a changed person. This mother’s pains and sufferings had not been in vain because she had learned to unite them with the Paschal Mystery of Christ’s death and Resurrection made present in the Eucharist. In Jesus alone, our sufferings and pains is never useless or in vain.
There are many souls in our world today in need of many graces. They are living in sin and without hope. They are blinded by sin and strongly urged on by a morally bankrupt world. There are countless souls in the flames of Purgatory suffering the flames of purification before they can see the face of God. They are waiting for us to embrace our own sufferings like children of God and unite them to Christ’s own suffering in the Eucharist so that it can become redemptive for them. We cannot help them on our own. But remember that Jesus, the “Christ of God,” and the “Son of Man,” also gave us the Eucharist so that we do not just share in His life but also share in His mission to redeem the entire world through suffering love.
In times of suffering, we must not look inside at self but look outside ourselves and remember these souls in need of graces, living and dead. We cannot afford to receive Christ’s anointing in vain. His anointing assures us that our suffering, like His, will not be in vain but it will be redemptive for our brothers and sisters if we learn to unite it with His own perfect redeeming self sacrifice. We should then confidently unite our prayers and sufferings with the Eucharistic sacrifice of Christ as often as we can. Things may not change in our lives, our sufferings may persist without respite, we may never understand or love suffering, but we must remember that, because we are now one with Christ by His merciful love alone, our suffering cannot and will not be in vain in this world or in the world to come.