The apostles “rejoiced that they were found worthy to suffer…”
“Worthy?” What kind of word is that? “Unworthy” is the easy word we use to describe ourselves so that we’re not responsible for anything or anyone. After all, I’m “unworthy.” Church prayers are loaded with “unworthy” sounding words and an optional rosary ending prayer has the folks “mourning and weeping in this valley of tears.” I guess those folks don’t live in the Highlands. Too bad.
But to rejoice in suffering is a big leap for anyone of any religion. It’s all about the pizza.
I got two new cats a couple of weeks ago. Thank you for your sympathy cards with financial gifts. (There weren’t any.) When I put my previous two cats to sleep they did not suffer. It’s not because of the injection, it’s because cats can’t suffer. Only we can suffer. Cats experience aches and pain. We suffer because we bring meaning and purpose to our lives – even if we’re wrong in our analysis. We all have aches and pains but they remain just that. To suffer means to infuse meaning and purpose into our lives.
Now what about those meanings and purposes? A seminarian fresh out of school glibly tells you that God doesn’t “permit” suffering but “allows” it. (A loving God that allows suffering?) Cute answer but doesn’t answer the question.
A quick list for you.
• God is testing you like He did Job, but Job had a happy ending
• In medieval times suffering was considered God’s wrath but then again they didn’t have a 65” flat screen TV in their living room
• God is is getting back at you, forty years later, for cheating on your third grade spelling quiz. “Thank you Lynn for showing me your answers in exchange for a kiss.”)
• God is punishing you for no other way other than He’s God and you thought you were
• You need to learn a lesson but you’re not sure what lesson needs to be learned
As usual, this is an easy homily to give you today because who’s the subject of my short list? You. Because it’s always about “you.” However I didn’t finish the Gospel sentence. The sentence ends with “in your name.” The apostles “rejoiced that they were found worthy to suffer in his name.” The name of Jesus Christ.
That’s our Christian faith. (I should have had my cats baptized!) Our Christian faith gives us meanings and purposes beyond ourselves. (It’s too bad more Highland people can’t be here to hear that last sentence.)
“Offer it up,” mother told the five of us countless times. We knew to whom but didn’t know the result. “Offer it up.” Did it mean finding someone in more suffering than myself so I can feel better about myself? What I talk to you about a month ago. We knew she meant the “poor souls in purgatory” which we never understood because those “poor souls” were in a waiting room on their way to heaven. Why didn’t we offer it up for those perpetual losers in Hell?
Suffering is a difficult topic in our sanguine society but it is a part of every human life. I don’t have a definition but we all know true suffering when we see it and marvel at its power to demean, decrease and disassemble us or those we love. But then we meet someone with cancer who’s smiling and happy. What’s with that? (“Those drugs finally kicked in?”) Someone with disabilities I can’t imagine on myself endures and flourishes. Someone with two months to live enjoys a pizza with friends. Who are these people?
In your suffering, when it happens to you or is happening to you this second, I hope that you are able to find the Lord’s name in your meaning and purpose; in God’s faithful trust. Not to find the Lord’s name in the cause (useless exercise) but in His divine promises (the very definition of faith). Pain is awful. That’s my cats. (When I took the two new cats to my vet for a checkup, I told him that this time “I’ll go first!”)
Those are aches and pains. To suffer is to experience the same pain but now with a faith-filled response. I wish I had a clearer, priestly answer for all those who suffer but I don’t. I can’t. (I was that glib seminarian but now I know better.) Suffering is so personal and yet it’s so universal. I can only repeat what the Gospel says today, the third time is a charm. It took Peter three times to finally realize that Jesus loved him as much as Peter loved Jesus.
“Ready, set, go” should be the sounding gun in all times of our lives. Those with aches and pains sadly stop at “ready” and stagnant there. Those who reach “set” are those knowing their life’s journey is with the risen Lord but not quite sure of the “why” part. (That’s most of us.) Those who reach “go” are those who rejoice that they were found “worthy to suffer in his name.” They too don’t know all the “whys” of their suffering but they’re enjoying pizza with their friends. Balistreri’s calls it “pizza,” in this sacred place we call it “Eucharist.”