Homily, 24th Sunday of Ordinary Time
Fr. Miguel Marie Soeherman, MFVA
September 13, 2009
Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament, Hanceville, AL
Our religion is filled with a lot of paradox. It’s filled with an apparent contradiction that is really true. Fr. John Hardon said: “What is paradoxical about the mysteries of faith is that reason cannot fully penetrate their meaning, so that what seems contradictory to reason is profoundly true in terms of faith. (Modern Catholic Dictionary)”
As we have heard, Christianity is the religion of paradox:
— that God should become man
— that life comes from death
— that an achievement comes through failure
— that folly is wisdom
— that happiness is to mourn
— that the greatest are the smallest
— and that to find, one must lose.
This is the paradox Jesus says to us this morning: “For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and for that of the Gospel, will save it.” We heard the word “life” used here by Our Lord. It is used in a double sense. It has a double meaning: earthly life and eternal life (the life of man here on earth and man’s eternal happiness in heaven). Death can put an end to earthly life, but it cannot destroy eternal life. This is the same thing that Jesus said in the Gospel, “whoever wishes to save his earthly life will lose his eternal life. But whoever loses his earthly life for Christ and the Gospel will save his eternal life.
In the First Reading we heard the prophet Isaiah prophesy about the Suffering Servant. Who is the Suffering Servant? He is none other than Jesus Christ. In the previous stanza (which is not included in the First Reading today), it emphasizes the servant’s docility to the Word of God; that is, he is not depicted as a self-taught teacher with original ideas but as an obedient disciple, as an obedient son. The second stanza, which began the First Reading this morning, speaks of the suffering that that docility has brought him without uttering, without murmuring, without mumbling a word of complaint. He said “I was not rebellious. I turned not backward. I gave my back to those who beat me. My cheeks to those who plucked my beard. My face I did not shield from buffets and spitting.” In the third stanza, it shows how determined the Suffering Servant is: if he suffers in silence, it is not because he is a coward; it is not because he is weak, but it is because he knows that God helps him, and God makes him stronger than his persecutor. So the conclusion of this stanza is like the verdict of a trial. When all is said and done, the servant will stand tall and all his enemies will be struck down. Here is another great paradox: Jesus gives himself to be “defeated” in order to defeat all his enemies! Our Lord gives himself to be “defeated” in order to defeat all His enemies — to defeat our enemy.
The atheists view the Passion of Christ as one of the weak point of Christianity. They claim that since God has not eliminated human suffering, that means there is no God or they say he must be a weak God. This is a false argument for a couple of reasons. First, those same critics rarely consider how much suffering God does indeed prevent. They cannot explain why there is so much good in the world. If there is no God or if God is weak, the universe should be in total chaos — but it is not. Alongside sin, evil, and suffering, we all experience goodness, beauty, laughter, smiles, and satisfaction on a daily basis. Something evil is afoot in the word, true enough, but the only reason we can recognize that it is because we are surrounded by so many good things.
Also another reason is why would an All-Powerful, All-Good God have to eliminate suffering in this life? Why would He have to do that? Why couldn’t He solve the problem of suffering and evil in another way by giving it meaning? This what Jesus did through the Incarnation, through His Passion, through His death, through His resurrection and ascension. God has chosen to give meaning to suffering instead of doing away with it. When we suffer, we can unite ourselves to Christ on the Cross so that we become co-workers with Him on behalf of the Redemption.
Why would God choose this strategy? Why would He not choose a different way? So much of human suffering springs from our own free and selfish choices. To eliminate all suffering, God would have to eliminate our freedom. If we were not free to reject Him, we would not be free to accept Him, and He values our friendship too much to turn us into a bunch of robots.
John Paul II personally knew suffering in his own life. He lost his mother, brother, father before he became a priest. He endured the Nazi occupation and Soviet Communist control of his native Poland. He survived an assassin’s bullet, and bore the cross of Parkinson’s disease. John Paul II could and did speak not only with authority but from experience in his 1984 Encyclical Letter on the Christian meaning of suffering. There, he taught about the solidarity of suffering. Human beings are intimately connected to one another by sharing their grief, anguish, pain, sorrows with another human being. The old notion that only the evil suffer and the good have a charmed life is not based on the real human experience. It’s not based on a realistic view. It’s not even verified in the Bible. John Paul II wanted those who suffer in body, mind or soul to know that they are not being punished; instead they are being embraced by the Crucified Lord (cf. John Paul II for Dummies — Trigilio).
This reminds me of a story of a man who suffered a lot. And he did not really understand why he is suffering. He was constantly asking “why am I suffering… why do I deserve this?” Mother Theresa tried to explain to this man that this is a gift that you have that I don’t have. This is a sign of God’s love for you. This is a sign that Jesus loves you very much and that He is kissing you. So the man asked Mother Theresa, “Would you please tell Jesus then to stop kissing me?”
Whether we will or not, we must suffer. St. John Marie Vianney said:
There are some who suffer like the good thief and others like the bad thief. But you notice that they both suffered equally. There is no difference. But one knew how to make his suffering meritorious. He accepted his suffering on the cross. He accepted it in the spirit of reparation, turning toward our Lord and received from His mouth the beautiful words, “This day you shall be with me in paradise.” Again, they both suffered equally. But the other cried out all sorts of blasphemies and he expired in the most frightful despair, not receiving those beautiful words: “This day you shall be with me in paradise.” (Little Catechism of the Curé of Ars, “Catechism on Suffering”)
St. John Vianney said also:
There are two ways of suffering: to suffer with love and to suffer without love. To suffer with love is what the saints showed us. The saints suffered everything with joy, patience, and perseverance because they loved. But as for us, we suffer with anger, vexation, and weariness. Why is that? It is because we do not have love.
On the way of the Cross only the first step is painful. I think this is so true. But once we start embracing it, once we start seeing it as something that the Lord permits us to bear, it is something that the Lord shares with us. And then it is no more a cross. Our greatest cross is the fear of crosses. We do not have the courage to carry our cross and we are very much mistaken.
St John Vianney stated:
For whatever we do, the Cross holds us tight. We cannot escape from it. What then have we to lose? Why not love our crosses and make use of them to take us to heaven to make us holy? But on the contrary, most men turn their back upon crosses and flee before them. The more they run, the more the cross pursues them. The more it strikes and crushes them with burdens.
Jesus embraced the Cross in order to be “defeated.” But to be “defeated”, he had a bigger purpose: to defeat all of his enemies for our sake because of His love for us. May we not fear to embrace our cross so that we may find life. For Jesus said, “Whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the Gospel, will find it.”