HOMILY/REFLECTION FOR THE FIFTH SUNDAY OF LENT YEAR B
TOPIC: THE VALUE OF SUFFERING
BY: Fr. Mike Lagrimas
Gospel: Jn 12:20-23
Message # 71: “The Way of the Cross”
1. The Marian Message
a) The Blessed Mother reminds all her children, especially the priests, her beloved sons, that the only way they must follow is the way of the cross (letter b). There is no other way. It is the path that Jesus took in order to save mankind (letter c). It is also the same path “which your Mother has first traveled, together with her Son Jesus” (letter e).
b) The followers of Jesus must follow the way of the cross for it is the means to save sinners: “in order that men redeemed by my Son, but snatched from Him by Satan, may yet be saved today through the special intervention of this motherly Heart of mine” (letter d).
c) The way of the cross is also the only way for us to become “similar” to Jesus (letter h). It helps us become more like Jesus for we are able to deny ourselves in order to give ourselves to others.
d) The way of the cross is not attractive to many people. And still many are afraid of it and want to avoid it. But the Blessed Mother urges us to take it “without fear, because you will be led by the hand, by me, enheartened by my motherly tenderness” (letter f). We will never be alone as we take this path for “you will thus feel the presence of your Mother who will comfort and help you” (letter g).
e) Finally, taking the way of the cross will help us detach ourselves from everything is this world, making us ready to follow the will of the heavenly Father and join Jesus in His self- offering on the cross for the salvation of mankind (letter i).
2. The Value of Suffering
a) Why does God allow suffering? If He is a God of mercy and love, why does He not put an end to suffering in the world? These are questions, which are very difficult to answer, especially when we see innocent people, especially children, undergoing pains and sickness, injustices and oppression in the hands of evil people. And then we see the evildoers enjoying a life of pleasure, success and wealth.
b) We may not be able to fully comprehend God’s wisdom for allowing sufferings. Two things, however, are certain: first, God is not the cause of such human sufferings; and second, His own Son Jesus, though innocent and sinless, endured the worst suffering and injustice of all on the cross. Looking at the crucified Lord, we have no right to complain against God. He suffered also, and even worse than our own petty misfortunes. Let us be comforted by the truth that God is one with us in our sufferings and pains.
c) Nevertheless, there are several valid reasons why suffering becomes very helpful to us. The following is an article adapted from “10 Reasons to Believe in A God Who Allows Suffering.” (Michigan: RBC Ministries, 2002).
1. Suffering Comes With the Freedom to Choose Loving parents long to protect their children from unnecessary pain. But wise parents know the danger of over-protection. They know that the freedom to choose is at the heart of what it means to be human, and that a world without choice would be worse than a world without pain. Worse yet would be a world populated by people who make wrong choices without feeling any pain. No one is more dangerous than the liar, thief, or killer who doesn’t feel the harm he is doing to himself and to others (Gen. 2:15-17).
2. Pain Can Warn Us of Danger We hate pain, especially in those we love. Yet without discomfort, the sick wouldn’t go to a doctor. Worn-out bodies would get no rest. Criminals wouldn’t fear the law. Children would laugh at correction. Without pangs of conscience, the daily dissatisfaction of boredom, or the empty longing for significance, people who are made to find satisfaction in an eternal Father would settle for far less. The example of Solomon, lured by pleasure and taught by his pain, shows us that even the wisest among us tend to drift from good and from God until arrested by the resulting pain of their own shortsighted choices (Eccl. 1-12; Psalm 78:34-35; Rom 3:10-18).
3. Suffering Reveals What Is In Our Hearts Suffering often occurs at the hand of others. But it has a way of revealing what is in our own hearts. Capacities for love, mercy, anger, envy, and pride can lie dormant until awakened by circumstances. Strength and weakness of heart is found not when everything is going our way but when flames of suffering and temptation test the mettle of our character. As gold and silver are refined by fire, and as coal needs time and pressure to become a diamond, the human heart is revealed and developed by enduring the pressure and heat of time and circumstance. Strength of character is shown not when all is well with our world but in the presence of human pain and suffering (Job 42:1-17; Romans 5:3-5; James 1:2-5; 1 Peter 1:6-8).
4. Suffering Takes Us to the Edge of Eternity If death is the end of everything, then a life filled with suffering isn’t fair. But if the end of this life brings us to the threshold of eternity, then the most fortunate people in the universe are those who discover, through suffering, that this life is not all we have to live for. Those who find themselves and their eternal God through suffering have not wasted their pain. They have let their poverty, grief, and hunger drive them to the Lord of eternity. They are the ones who will discover to their own unending joy why Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Mt 5:1-12; Rom 8:18-19).
5. Pain Loosens Our Grip on This Life In time, our work and our opinions are sought less and less. Our bodies become increasingly worse for the wear. Gradually they succumb to inevitable obsolescence. Joints stiffen and ache. Eyes grow dim. Digestion slows. Sleep becomes difficult. Problems loom larger and larger while options narrow. Yet, if death is not the end but the threshold of a new day, then the curse of old age is also a blessing. Each new pain makes this world less inviting and the next life more appealing. In its own way, pain paves the way for a graceful departure (Eccl. 12:1-14).
6. Suffering Gives Opportunity to Trust God The most famous sufferer of all time was a man name Job. According to the Bible, Job lost his family to “a mighty wind,” his wealth to war and fire, and his health to painful boils. Through it all, God never told Job why it was happening. As Job endured the accusations of his friends, heaven remained silent. When God finally did speak, He did not reveal that His archenemy Satan had challenged Job’s motives for serving God. Neither did the Lord apologize for allowing Satan to test Job’s devotion to God. Instead, God talked about mountain goats giving birth, young lions on the hunt, and ravens in the nest. He cited the behavior of the ostrich, the strength of the ox, and the stride of the horse. He cited the wonders of the heavens, the marvels of the sea, and the cycle of the seasons. Job was left to conclude that if God had the power and wisdom to create this physical universe, there was reason to trust that same God in times of suffering (Job 1-42).
7. God Suffers With Us in Our Suffering No one has suffered more than our Father in heaven. No one has paid more dearly for the allowance of sin into the world. No one has so continuously grieved over the pain of a race gone bad. No one has suffered like One who paid for our sin in the crucified body of His only Son. No one has suffered more than the One who, when he stretched out His arms and died, showed us how much He loved us. It is this God who, in drawing us to Himself, asks us to trust Him when we are suffering and when our own loved ones cry out in our presence (1 Peter 2:21; 3:18; 4:1).
8. God’s Comfort Is Greater Than Our Suffering The apostle Paul pleaded with the Lord to take away an unidentified source of suffering. But the Lord declined saying, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” “Therefore,” said Paul, “most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore, I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distress, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor 12:9-10). Paul learned that he would rather be with Christ in suffering than without Christ in good health and pleasant circumstances.
9. In Times of Crisis, We Find One Another No one would choose pain and suffering. But when there is no choice, there remains some consolation. Natural disasters and times of crisis have a way of bringing us together. Hurricanes, fires, earthquakes, riots, illnesses, and accidents all have a way of bringing us to our senses. Suddenly we remember our own mortality and that people are more important than things. We remember that we do need one another and that; above all, we need God. Each time we discover God’s comfort in our own suffering, our capacity to help others is increased. This is what the apostle Paul had in mind when he wrote, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God” (2 Cor 1:3-4).
10. God Can Turn Suffering Around For Our Good This truth is best seen in the many examples of the Bible. Through Job’s suffering we see a man who not only came to a deeper understanding of God but who also became a source of encouragement for people in every generation to follow. Through the rejection, betrayal, enslavement, and wrongful imprisonment of a man named Joseph, we see someone who eventually was able to say to those who had hurt him, “You meant evil against me; but God meant it for good” (Gen. 50:20). When everything in us screams at the heavens for allowing suffering, we have reason to look at the eternal outcome and joy of Jesus who in His own suffering on an executioner’s cross cried, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” (Mt 27:46)
3. The Sunday Gospel
a) Jesus now speaks of his “kairos” (the appointed time) – his hour has already come. And so he is already speaking about his self- sacrifice, detachment from this world and his glorification.
b) The parable of the grain of wheat is taken from the common experience among farmers. A grain remains just a grain if it is preserved in its present condition. If it wants to have more life and meaning, it has to be buried in the ground. It means it has to die. But that death is not the end, but the beginning of new life; and not only new life but also more abundant fruits. One grain that dies gives life to hundreds of new grains. This is the mystery of our faith. Tertullian, one of the famous Fathers of the Church, wrote: “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of Christians.” In the early years of Christianity, when Christians were being persecuted, there were thousands of martyrs. The Roman Empire thought that killing Christians would put a stop to Christianity. The contrary happened. The more Christians were martyred, the greater the growth and strength of Christianity. The seed falls to the ground and dies, giving new life to thousands and millions more.
c) Jesus is not only talking about suffering; he is talking about dying as the only way to new life: “Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will preserve it for eternal life.” The use of the word “hates” in the English translation is not very accurate. What the text really means is that a person, realizing how infinitely superior and advantageous eternal life is, will be more than ready to sacrifice his limited life in this world in order to attain eternal life and glory in heaven. One who “dies” to this world (that is, one who is detached from the world) gains eternal life. That is why we should never be afraid of dying when we are convinced of the truth about eternal life. Based on the experience of many of us, the more we hang on to the life, the more miserable we live. After all, it is totally pointless to hang on to something we know is passing away. It is like a man falling from a cliff and desperately grabbing and holding on to frail twigs and grass. We have to let go and let God! This means being ready to die to ourselves. Then we become stronger and we find more meaning and a clearer direction in life.
d) What happens during winter is the best illustration of this point. In winter, the trees look dead: there are no leaves; the trunk and branches are dry. This is because of lack of sunshine and the cold weather. The tree is suffering and is practically dying. But in reality, it is not dead. Its roots are very much active. They dig deeper into the ground in search of nutrients to feed the tree. When spring comes, the tree once again grows its leaves, and looks very much alive again. But this time, with a big difference: since its roots have dug deeper due to the crisis, the tree has become stronger and more able and ready for more winters to come. This is the same with athletes. They work and train hard. They suffer a lot; they sacrifice and “die” many times by self-denials. As a result, their muscles become stronger and ready to compete in the games to attain fame and glory. “No pain, no gain.” This is the life of every Christian. Trials and sufferings will surely come. But they are not meant to destroy us. They are opportunities for us to “dig deeper” into our faith, to trust God all the more and to practice the Christian virtues. Eventually, all these trials will come to pass, and we emerge stronger and better followers of Jesus.
Dying to self and enduring all these sufferings will never be possible to a person who is proud. Humility will help us accept the trials that may come our way and bear our crosses patiently. Let us again recite the PRAYER OF HUMILITY.
QUESTIONS FOR SHARING IN THE B.E.C.
1. Ang pagnanais ng tao na umiwas sa krus at pagdurusa ang kadalasang ugat ng mga kaguuhan sa mundo. Ano ang kuro-kuro mo tungkol dito?
2. “Kapag gipit kahit sa patalim kumakapit.” Sapat na bang dahilan ang kagipitan para gumawa ng kasamaan?
3. Ano ang naiisip mo tuwing napagmamasdan ang larawan ni Hesus na nakapako sa krus? Gaano kaya ang paghihirap niya kumpara sa ating dinaranas na mga paghihirap?