As we have come to accompany Jesus in this week when we enter into his paschal mystery which is the suffering, death, resurrection of our Lord, we also reflect his humanity that took upon himself the human sufferings, rejection, betrayals and sin so that we be freed from them all.
-We are sinners who have compounded the anguish of sin around us
-We are simple people who tend to act like kings expecting respect and reverence; our pride has prevented us from being Christians
-We have been fickle and wavering to stand by your values and principles
The suffering in our world seems overwhelming at times. It cries out from countries devastated by famine, afflicted by the pestilence of AIDS and torn apart by an unending cycle of violence and war. It confronts us in the immediacy of our own country: families crowding into slum and shelters, and the elderly living alone and lacking adequate medical care, as well as in the senseless shootings and bombings that erupt every now and then. Suffering afflicts our own flesh in sickness and weighs down our spirits in depression and discouragement. Yes, our world is awash in pain and suffering. How do we choose to respond?
a) Denial is one of the easiest and least fruitful reactions. We see, we hear, and we turn away as quickly as possible — tune into another channel, or bury the troublesome front page with the glowing promises of the ads or the sports page. We put off visiting the friend in the hospital; we forget the dire warnings of our doctor about the consequences of not making unwelcome lifestyle changes. Like children we hide from what we don't want to see and grow deaf to any summons that threatens our comfort level.
B) Discouragement and defeatism are another unfruitful response. It is all beyond us so we do nothing. We withdraw from life, allowing sadness to paralyze us. With our face to the wall, we shut out the light and live in a world of gathering darkness. Hopelessness prevails. At the opposite end of the spectrum, we may grow angry, but instead of being energized by our passion, we allow it to fester into bitterness. We complain endlessly about suffering's unfairness, raging against the injustice of it all. We blame everyone but ourselves, castigating "them," including God, for being so heartless. There is no good news, no realistic hope of change. Suffering is truly a two-edged sword, cutting and dividing, revealing and changing. It can either deform us or transform us, never leaving us the same. Just as it can discourage and defeat us, so also it can make us stronger and more open of mind and heart. And what makes the difference? Our response to suffering?
"Pain will occur; suffering is a choice." We often use the two terms interchangeably. But they are not. Pain seemed the immediate response to something hurtful. A wide range of experiences came to mind — everything from a sliced finger to major surgery, from the relatively brief encounter with the dentist's drill to the all day, most every day of something more chronic like arthritis. I could also easily recall the times when my heart hurt but the pain came not from clogged arteries but from another's words or actions...or my own.
i. Pain comes in many sizes and degrees. Each individual experiences it differently depending on a host of variables.
ii. All pain is psychosomatic. It may begin in my body, but it eventually reaches into the very fabric of my being, or it can begin in the mind or the spirit yet end up as a stomach cramp or a bad headache. Doctors say that a patient's attitude makes a major difference in something as organic as the progression of a tumour or healing after surgery. And we all know how even a bad cold can darken one's disposition and how a bad day at work can result in an upset stomach.
iii. Despite our instinctive reaction to it, pain is basically good; it is a healthy response that tells us something is wrong. If we were unable to feel pain, we would have to be on constant alert to dangers we could not perceive. Hot water would scald us; sores would become infected wounds. Grief, our own or that of others, would leave us untouched. Numbed to the world around us and inside us, we would be only half-alive.
iv. Suffering is our response to pain; it is the attitude we choose when we experience it. We can, for example, simply ignore the pain we are feeling, or we can let it become the focus of our concentrated attention.
v. Pain gets our attention, warning in strong language that something is wrong. Put more positively, pain calls for change
Acknowledging our pain not only refrains from denial but also refuses exaggeration; it keeps pain in perspective.
vi. Mine is neither the only pain nor the worst pain. Despite its immediacy and insistence, it is not even the whole of my reality. I am left with the freedom to choose, if not whether I will suffer, at least how I will suffer.
vii. It is this attitude of receptivity that pain tests. Redemptive suffering moves in quite a different direction. Having acknowledged pain with some appropriate expression of our naturally felt resistance, we remain at peace because we know that a good Giver is always giving good gifts.
We wait in patience for time to reveal the potential in this strangely wrapped present. We trust, knowing that we are in for surprises as time reveals the potential hidden in what we have received.
"The iron stove glows red with fire, restrains the heat that I desire.
When I approach to warm my hands, respect is what the fire demands.
Too close, my skin begins to smart. Too far, the cold creeps round my heart.
The paradox is clear to me. The risk lies in proximity.
Permit me, Lord, to come so near that your warm love will melt my fear.
Loving Father, let me walk in the footsteps of your Son during these holiest of days. May I never fear the demands of his love or the risks of his sacrifice. Amen. " (Roger A. Swenson)