Why We Suffer
November 24, 2021 (readings)
- Memorial of Andrew Dung-Lac, Priest, and Companions, Martyrs
- Deacon Erik Burckel, LC
Jesus said to the crowd: “Before all this happens, however, they will seize and persecute you, they will hand you over to the synagogues and to prisons, and they will have you led before kings and governors because of my name. It will lead to your giving testimony. Remember, you are not to prepare your defense beforehand, for I myself shall give you a wisdom in speaking that all your adversaries will be powerless to resist or refute. You will even be handed over by parents, brothers, relatives, and friends, and they will put some of you to death. You will be hated by all because of my name, but not a hair on your head will be destroyed. By your perseverance you will secure your lives.”
Opening Prayer: Lord God, I believe in you and in your words, even when they are difficult. Open my heart to understand the supernatural meaning of the Gospel. Strengthen me when I am afraid, and give me a love that is stronger than death. Amen.
Praise in a Fiery Furnace: The sufferings we undergo are not irrelevant to the witness we give concerning Jesus Christ. We all tend to look beyond a speaker’s words to his actions, his way of life. We ask ourselves if the way he lives lends credibility to his message. In today’s Gospel, Jesus says explicitly that persecutions and imprisonments will lead to our giving testimony. The one follows from the other. In Daniel 3, the three young men thrown into the fiery furnace were miraculously preserved, and sang praise to God. “And they walked about in the midst of the flames, singing hymns to God and blessing the Lord.” It is precisely their position of weakness in the midst of persecution that lends their praise of God its authority, causing the Babylonian king to convert.
Cross That Leads to Life: Christ can exhort us to bear suffering bravely because he first bore it himself. In his Passion he took on the sins of the world and suffered through to the end, his own death. Christ does not demand what we cannot bear, nor what he himself has not already undergone. What’s more, he says that “not a hair on your head will be destroyed,” because he knows that our suffering leads to eternal life. This is again prefigured in the book of Daniel: “And the satraps, the prefects, the governors, and the king’s counselors gathered together and saw that the fire had not had any power over the bodies of those men; the hair of their heads was not singed, their mantles were not harmed, and no smell of fire had come upon them.”
Because of My Name: “They will have you led before kings and governors because of my name…You will be hated by all because of my name.” We know that the divine name is eponymous for God himself. When we suffer because of the one we love, the suffering can be transformed into joy. The Apostles gave us this example: “Then the Apostles left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name. And every day in the temple and at home they did not cease teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ” (Acts 5:41-42). Christ wants to give us this supreme freedom that the Apostles had, the freedom we receive when we love ardently.
Conversing with Christ: Lord Jesus, into your hands I commend my spirit. You know the obstacles and disappointments I face. You are aware of my setbacks, limitations, and failings. I offer everything to you so that you can transform it into a fount of grace and seeds of eternal life.
Resolution: Lord, today by your grace I will take stock of those things which trouble me or cause me pain and offer them back to you.
For Further Reflection: Sometimes prayer itself is a great cross and a seemingly impassable roadblock. Thomas Green gives very good advice in his book on intermediate prayer, When the Well Runs Dry.
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