22nd Sunday of Ordinary Time. August 31, 2014
Jer 20:7-9; Rom 12:1-2; Mt 16:21-27
The lesson from the Cross
“Whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”
There is no single answer to that human experience called suffering. I was recently reminded of one of the often ignored purposes of human suffering in this life.
I was seated next to a Filipina on my return flight from Los Angeles to Manila last week. I asked her if she had any prayer intention that she wanted me to include in the Holy Rosary I was about to pray. She sat back and closed her eyes, tears suddenly streaming across her anguished face as she said to me, “My mother is terminally sick in Manila, my husband in Los Angeles has just been diagnosed with an advanced state of cancer. He is waiting to begin his treatment and we have no way of paying for his treatment. Please join me in praying for my mother and my husband.”
Her suffering was imparting to her one its painful but indispensable lessons. Her tears, prayers and anguish were not for herself now but for her mother and husband. This time of suffering had intensified her compassion for both her husband and mother. Without suffering in this life, we will easily live our lives only for ourselves. Suffering jars us out of our preoccupation with self, teaching and reminding us to live our lives for God and for others. It is only in the crucible of suffering that truly compassionate hearts are formed.
What is wrong with living our lives only for ourselves? We can choose to live our lives only for ourselves, seeking only what we can get and what makes us feel good. But such a self-centred living will deprive us of sharing in the joy of the Lord here on earth (Cf. Mt 25:23) and prevent us from hearing those words that the blessed and selfless ones will hear on judgement day, “Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” (Mt. 25:34) Self-centred living basically kills joy and deprives one of life.
The lesson of suffering is an invitation to clarify and reaffirm for whom we are living for – for self or for God and others. In the First Reading, the Prophet Jeremiah is beaten and placed in the stocks for prophesying and speaking God’s message of warning to the people. But in this time of suffering, in the midst of the mockery and insults he received, he is brought to remember for whom he is living for as a prophet. In these painful moments, the prophet reflects, reaffirms, and renews his choice to live for the One whose words are like “fire burning in his heart and imprisoned in his bones,” words so intense that he cannot endure keeping it to himself no matter the pains that these words cause him. In and through his trials, he moved from lamenting that God had duped him to recommitting himself to God’s service as His prophet.
This lesson from the Cross reaches its climax and perfection in Jesus Christ. From the moment of His conception in the womb of the Virgin Mary, Jesus freely chose to live for the glory of the Father and for our own salvation. It is through the sufferings at several points in His life, climaxing at the Cross, that Jesus imparts His divine life to us and gives greatest glory to His Father in the Holy Spirit. By embracing the Cross, Jesus did not live for Himself nor seek His own gain. In His determination to lay down His own life for us, Jesus will not allow Peter, whom he had earlier called the Rock, to stand between Him and His selfless living: “Get behind me, Satan.”
Nothing feels good about the sufferings of this life and Jesus does not demand that we feel good about suffering. Neither are we to seek suffering for its own sake. Thankfully He teaches us that we will be repaid in His glorious coming not based on how we feel but “according to our conduct” and the motive behind what we do and endure: “Whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” Doing and enduring all things for the sake of Jesus transforms us into what St. Paul called “a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God.” The suffering of the Cross is needed to constantly impart this lesson to us and to prevent us from easily embracing a self-centred life that only endangers the very life that we are seeking to save.
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, we can never be too selfless when it comes to our relationship with God and with others. No matter what our vocation in life may be, we can grow in selfless living for God and for others. We are thus in need of hearing the question that suffering poses to us constantly, “Whom are you living for?” The sufferings of this life are then seen as God’s loving invitations to advance along that path of selflessness that is indispensable for our holiness here on earth and our eternal joy.
For those of us who are so scared of suffering, let us draw hope and confidence from Peter who cowered when Jesus spoke of the Cross and merited being called “Satan” by Jesus. He eventually learned the lesson from the Cross and wrote consoling words about Jesus’ sacrifice: “Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example that you should follow in His footsteps.” (1Pt 2:21) The example of Christ Jesus is also a source of grace for us because Jesus lived and died for us and showed us the way to that truly blessed life.
In this Eucharistic celebration, we unite ourselves to this living and perfect sacrifice of Christ and draw from it the grace to follow in His footsteps. Sufferings will still not feel good. But if we are attentive to this lesson that it offers us, we will surely grow in that selfless living for God and for others that leads to joy in this world and the fullness of life in the next when Christ will repay us according to our conduct and not according to how we feel.
Glory to Jesus!!! Honor to Mary!!!