Broken: Good News in Tough Times, Labor Pains
Welcome to the first week of our new homily series we have entitled Broken. Over the next several weeks, we will take a look at the New Testament readings from Paul’s letter to the Romans and track a very exciting message to each of us today. We will look at good news in tough times: the all-conquering power of God’s love, and how it overcomes every obstacle to Christian’s salvation, and every threat to separate us from God. We will look at how God’s power manifested itself fully when God’s own Son was delivered, up to death, for our salvation. Through Jesus, Christians can overcome all of our afflictions and trials.
It is easy to see suffering in our world and think that God does not care about us; if God were so loving, why wouldn’t He simply remove all suffering and pain from the world? In order to understand suffering, and why it exists, it is necessary to view suffering through the lens of the cross of Jesus Christ and to look back to the very beginning of how God created the human family in Genesis.
God created Adam and Eve (the human race) out of love and not necessity. He did not need us in order for creation to exist. He does not need us to worship him in order for him to be God, so the only explanation for our existence is that God is all-loving. When God created the human race, He created us in His image and likeness. We have the ability to give and receive love. God also gave us free will, and Adam and Eve chose to sin against God. This sin introduced suffering and death into the world.
However, God did not abandon humanity to a complete death, which is, total separation from God. Instead, God began a plan to bring humanity back to Himself. God demonstrated His love for us by sending Jesus Christ to suffer and die for our sins. And because of Jesus’ death and resurrection, we can have eternal life with Christ and be forgiven of our sins. That is the Good News! However, the effects of sin do still plague the world, and we still must endure suffering. God does not bring about suffering, but permits it for reasons we may not understand.
We know that God has given us free will, and we know that some suffering is the product of our own sin or the sin of others. This misuse of our free will causes suffering. But, also, disease or natural disasters, or just the weakness of our mortal bodies, can cause other sufferings. These are still results of original sin, and we must endure them until Christ returns to perfect all of creation in a New Heaven and New Earth.
Sometimes we suffer because of our own sins, or the sins of others. Since we were created with free will, God allows us to make decisions even if they hurt ourselves or others. In situations where we sin, we may experience the suffering of consequences. These consequences can be minor, but sometimes are very painful.
God does not abandon us when we sin, but when we truly seek forgiveness and receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation, God can even bring grace out of our suffering – even if we caused it ourselves.
One of the most challenging causes of suffering comes from sins that other people commit against us. It doesn’t seem fair that one evil person should cause so many people to suffer. Again, God promises to be with us in our suffering. When another person hurts or wrongs us, or even commits evil against us, God is there walking alongside experiencing our suffering as well. Remember, Christ Himself was betrayed and denied by friends, beaten, and crucified unjustly, because of the sins of others. He understands our hurt.
Though we may not understand all suffering, Christ assures us that He is with us through suffering. Because He suffered, he understands our pain and sorrow – and He even allows us to find joy in suffering by uniting it to His own. We call this “redemptive suffering.” In another letter, Saint Paul writes: “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the Church.” (Colossians 1:24) This doesn’t mean that there was anything lacking in Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, but that we can unite the suffering in our own lives to the same cross for the sake of others. Like offering up prayers, we offer up our sufferings. Our suffering does not need to be in vain, it can be for the glory of God.
This is not to say that as Christians, we enjoy hardship or pain, but rather we can take hope in knowing that Christ has won the victory. We know that suffering isn’t eternal, and will not lead to true death.
Saint Paul experienced great suffering in his life. If this discovery is valid for him, it is valid for others. The Apostle shares his own discovery and rejoices in it because of all those whom it can help—just as it helped him—to understand the salvific meaning of suffering. He calls his suffering nothing compared with the glory that God reveals to us in Jesus Christ.
There are two basic types of suffering: goal driven and injustice.
Many people in our world hear the word “suffering” and automatically associate it with the word “bad,” but this is not always the case. Think of the suffering an Olympic athlete endures to get the gold medal. The great suffering that the athlete endures has a purpose. While some of the training may be painful, it is not in and of itself bad.
We may purposefully enter into a time of sacrificial suffering in small ways. During the season of Lent, our fasting from meat on Fridays and making other small sacrifices and fasting helps us experience a degree of suffering. We can offer this suffering as a prayer for others. This intentional suffering also draws us closer to Christ, who suffered on our behalf. Just like an athlete training, this suffering makes us stronger spiritually.
The second type of suffering comes from social injustices, natural disasters, or evil that a person has no control over. This type of suffering can appear to be meaningless, but it, too, can have a greater purpose. Although no one wants to suffer because of social injustice or natural causes, we know that this still happens. We have to decide, as Christians, how to respond.
When we see others suffering because of injustice, we are called to reach out and offer whatever we can to help them out of the suffering. This means more than offering a “quick fix” to a person’s suffering; it also means walking with them through their suffering.
Consider a person who is homeless. We want to ease their suffering immediately by providing food and shelter for him or her. This can be relatively easy, but may not solve the cause of their suffering. In order to truly ease that person’s suffering, we need to walk with them. It may require finding other services, or helping in other ways.
Take into consideration also the most current injustice that we see towards people of color. It can be very disheartening for those who suffer discrimination and injustice because of the color of their skin to see people initially upset and protesting these things, only to forget a few weeks later and nothing really change. Because of the sustained protesting, there is so much hope, at the moment. There is hope, that past injustices will not be swept under the rug, or ignored once again; but that there will be change, real substantial change. We should work and pray for this.
Jesus Christ had Simon of Cyrene to help him in his suffering on the journey to Calvary. I’m sure it took great courage for Simon to step out in front of the Roman guards. We will all have the opportunity at some point to be a “Simon” for someone. To make a difference. By making small sacrifices daily, we will hopefully be ready to answer that calling when the time arrives.
Although it can be very painful and difficult to endure, suffering always offers an opportunity to share in the Passion of Jesus Christ and grow closer to Him. We should also take comfort in knowing that we worship a God who understands our suffering, and promises to be with us through it. Jesus suffered for our sake, and He knows the feeling of abandonment, pain, and even death. God the Father, in turn, knows the pain of losing a Son.
We also know that Christ has won the victory over death, and that our suffering has an end. This should not only give us comfort, but a great hope in a God who loves us so much he would share in our suffering so we could live eternally with Him.
So this is what we want you to know: The glory that believers are destined to share with Christ far exceeds the sufferings of the present life. As we share in the penalty of corruption brought about by sin, we will also share in the benefits of redemption
And this is what we want you to do: Have faith. Know that your suffering is not meaningless. Journey with those who are suffering; support them; love them; pray for them; fight with them and for them. And for your own sake, trust your unknown future to a known and good God.