3rd Sunday of Easter. April 30, 2017.
Acts 2:14, 22-23; 1Pet 1:17-21; Lk 24:13-35
Easter and the suffering of the faithful
Was it not necessary that the Christ would suffer these things and enter into His glory?
She was a Filipina religious sister who had accepted to leave her beloved country to serve for close to 17 years in the foreign missions in the Middle East. She had contracted an incurable disease while on this mission and she was brought home to die. The recurrent question in her mind was, “Why me?” She had given her life to serve Christ in His Church, embraced the vocation to consecrated life and was generous enough to spend so much of her life serving those in need in a foreign land. What has she to show for all her lifelong commitment to Christ and to the Gospel? An incurable sickness and a long wait for death? It appears it was all a waste of time and energy on her part. Regardless of our holiness or sinfulness, we can never really understand why such suffering comes our way in this life as we strive to follow Christ.
This Easter season, as we contemplate the person of Jesus, all the good that He did on this earth, the unjust sufferings that He endured from men and demons, and how His Father raised Him from the grave, we realize that the suffering and death of Jesus were not in vain.
St. Peter explains to the Jews the presence of the Holy Spirit in the Pentecost event in today’s First Reading by telling the story of Jesus. Jesus, the one “without sin,”(Heb 4:15) “who did all things well,”(Mk 7:37) was also “commended by God with mighty deeds, wonders and signs.” By divine plan, this same Jesus suffered an unjust death and was “killed by lawless men.” His suffering and death was never in vain because “God raised Him up,” and, “exalted at the right hand of God, He (Jesus) received the promise of the Holy Spirit from the Father and poured it forth, as you both see and hear.” Because of Jesus’ bond with the Father by the Spirit, His sufferings and death is not in vain but His suffering has become the pathway to glory for Him and the means for us to receive His own Spirit.
Thus, we also gained a generous outpouring of the promised Holy Spirit today because Jesus Christ was crucified unjustly and raised by the Father into glory. By possessing this same Spirit today, we too are assured that our own sufferings is not going to be in vain but the way to our own glory. “If the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, then He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit dwelling in you.”(Rom 8:11)
In today’s Gospel, the two disciples on the way to Emmaus appear to have lost all hope because of the suffering and death of Jesus, “He was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people. How our chief priests and rulers both handed Him over to a sentence of death and crucified Him. We were hoping that He would be the one to redeem Israel.” There is a sense that all their years of devotedness to Jesus and His Gospel, leaving all to follow Jesus as His disciples was in vain. Jesus replied, “Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and so enter into His glory?” He reminds them that, in the eternal plan of the Father, His suffering and death was never in vain; but suffering is necessary for Him to enter into His glory.
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, when we have the Spirit of Jesus in us, we have the life of Christ in us as God’s own children and we truly belong to God. By this same Spirit in us, we can do the things that Jesus did and endured with love for God and for our neighbors. By this Spirit, we share in the suffering of Christ and receive divine guarantee that our sufferings will never be in vain but that God will surely bring good out of the evil that we suffer for Christ and with Christ. By this same Spirit, we share in the glory of Christ if only we too share in His suffering. In the words of St. Peter, “If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.”(1Pet 4:14)
St. Peter reiterates this point by stressing that the blood of Christ shed on the cross was not in vain but became the price that ransomed us from sin, “You were ransomed from the futile conduct, handed on by our ancestors, not with perishable things like silver and gold but with the precious blood of Christ as a spotless unblemished lamb.” We have faith and hope in God because Christ suffered while bearing in Himself the Spirit of love and the Father raised Him from the dead by the same Spirit, “Through Him (Christ) we believe in God who raised Him from the dead and gave Him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.”
We may not understand completely why we experience suffering and pain in this life as we strive to do God’s will and Him more faithfully. It may be the emotional pains from events and relationships, physical pains, spiritual sufferings from persistent temptations, moral failures that just seem to plague us for life, etc. we cannot pray these sufferings away nor avoid them completely. The “Why?” question seem unanswerable. The Spirit of Jesus Christ in us is God’s guarantee to us that He will surely bring good out of the suffering that we experience in this life and make these sufferings a pathway to our own glory if we suffer like Christ and with Christ.
Today’s readings show us some ways of dealing with the sufferings that we face as Jesus’ disciples. First of all, we must nourish and grow constantly in the life of the Spirit within us. Like the disciples in today’s Gospel, we must listen to the word of God, letting His words “burn within our hearts.” Listening to God’s words, we realize more deeply God’s intense desire to share His own glory with us through our sharing in the suffering of His Son. Secondly, we invite Jesus into each and every aspect of our lives, to abide in us and to take absolute control. Our invitation to Him, “Stay with us,” must be accompanied by a striving for complete surrender and purity of heart. Thirdly, we consciously unite our sufferings with Christ and see our sufferings as a sharing in His own suffering.
The Risen Christ is present in us through the Holy Spirit as we celebrate the Eucharist today. Only Jesus Christ can transform our sufferings and give them meaning and life-changing power by the power of the Spirit. We cannot fathom the good that God can do with our sufferings united to those of Christ and borne with His Spirit. Sinners can be converted, just souls can be strengthened, souls in purgatory can be relieved and released as we unite our sufferings with those of Jesus by the power of the Spirit that we have received in Baptism. Apart from Jesus and deprived of the Spirit that He won for us by His paschal mystery, our sufferings are useless and in vain.
This Easter, let our Eucharist today be an occasion of exchange where we receive the Spirit of Jesus, surrender our sufferings and pains to Him, and allow Christ Jesus to mysteriously bring good out of them for us and for the entire Body of Christ. We may never understand why these sufferings come. But the life of Christ in us assures us that, if like Jesus, we bear the Spirit of love within us as we suffer for Christ and with Christ, our sufferings will never be in vain but will become for us a Spirit-guaranteed pathway to our full participation in Christ Jesus’ heavenly glory.
Glory to Jesus!!! Honor to Mary!!!