HOPE BEYOND SUFFERING

Seventh Sunday of Easter – Year A
May 4, 2008

Readings: Acts 1:12-14 / 1 Pt 4:13-16 / Jn 17:1-11

N.B. I am advancing this post as I will be traveling from May 1 to June 8. I hope to be able to continue on the postings from where I will find myself in all this time. Thanks for your continued patronage.

We live in a world fraught with suffering and pain. It is enough to see the TV, read the papers, and hear the radio. As of this time, food insecurity is on top of the list of the woes and worries, particularly of the poorest among us. Given the unabated rise in the prices of everything, including primary necessities, like food, people all over the world cannot but ask themselves and the Lord: “how long, O Lord, must we keep waiting?”

And yet, Sunday in and Sunday out, we gather together in Church, as we do today. We even proclaimed heartily in response to the first reading today: “I believe that I shall see the good things of the Lord in the land of the living” (Responsorial Psalm). Despite being surrounded by what Robinson (2004) calls “the contours of hopelessness,” we join Pope Benedict XVI in proclaiming that the basis of our hope is God and only God, “not just any god, but a God who showed His human face in Jesus Christ, our Lord” (Spe Salvi).

Although the words of our responsorial psalm today (Ps 27), almost sounds like wishful thinking for the man or woman who has no faith, we hold on with courage to the promise of the psalmist’s reassuring words: “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom should I fear? The Lord is my life’s refuge; of whom should I be afraid?”

There is no rhyme nor reason to suffering and pain. There is no cogent explanation that will ease away suffering, especially when it strikes close to home base. Only the person in extreme denial can talk away pain, and glibly explain it away facetiously with a few well phrased syllogisms. No … suffering is real … pain is something that cannot be thought out of existence. It cannot wished away, much like a child wishing that rain would go away and come back another day.

We have just celebrated Ascension day last Thursday. As you know, it is part and parcel of the whole Paschal Mystery, the whole Easter package of Christ’s glorification, even as next Sunday’s solemnity of the Pentecost is part of the whole Easter mystery. But the resurrection of the Lord, His Ascension into heaven, and the sending of the Holy Spirit, we all know very well, was preceded by the painful and ignominious suffering and death on the Cross. We are “surprised by joy” by Christ’s resurrection and ascension, and sending of the Holy Spirit. But joy, as C.S. Lewis long ago said, is but sorrow unmasked. And the whole package of joy includes the mystery of pain, of suffering, and that if joy were to be compared to a stone lying on the ground, when one turns it over, underneath lies the ineluctable component of pain. If we accept joy in our lives, we ought to be prepared for what comes along with the package – with the reality of pain, of sorrow, of suffering.

This must be the context of the disciples gathered in the upper room as we glean from the first reading. They were huddled together. There is no reason why we should not think that one of the reasons could have been fear, and uncertainty that comes along with fear. But fear can bring out the best in us, as it did to the disciples. We are told that “they devoted themselves to constant prayer.” And we also know that that fear and uncertainty eventually brought them out of that upper room on Pentecost day, to proclaim to the whole world, the effects of, and the reasons for, the hope that they had kept in their hearts even as they withdrew from the world in silence and prayer.


But today, too, Peter who knows what it means to be part of that huddled group up in the Upper Room tells us to hold up our heads high despite the suffering and fear and uncertainty: “Rejoice in so far as you share Christ’s sufferings. When his glory is revealed, you will rejoice exultantly.”

But take note, that Peter speaks not just of any suffering. He refers not to neurotic suffering that is self-inflicted, the kind of suffering that is born of sin, of selfishness, and pride – the kind that we inevitably heap on ourselves for reasons as many as there are people. This is avoidable pain. It is also called unnecessary pain, the kind that we ought not revel in, but the kind we ought to banish from our life and our world.

But Peter speaks of “sharing in Christ’s sufferings.” This the kind that one “suffers for being a Christian,” not because one is a “murderer, a thief, a malefactor, or a destroyer of another’s rights.” This suffering is not neurotic or self-inflicted, but a type of suffering that comes unbidden, that gets to your nerves even if you did not work for it. This is redemptive suffering – the same kind that Christ underwent, the very same suffering that led him from gory to glory, from calvary to the mountain of the ascension.

But there is more from today’s good news. The gospel passage is what is known as Jesus’ High Priestly prayer. He prays for us and on our behalf. As high priest about to offer the supreme sacrifice of himself up on Calvary, he not only bids good-bye to his flock. He also, and more importantly, prepares them for the trials up ahead. In his hour of glorification, he took up the cudgels for us, his flock, and prays for us with a prayer so passionate and so selfless, as to pray “not for the world, but for these you have given me.” This was no ordinary prayer. This was prayer of intercession, so pregnant with love and solicitude, as to be tantamount to being what Pope Benedict XVI calls no less than akin to the “divine eros” (Deus Caritas Est). It is God in Jesus Christ showing His love and compassion for his beloved people.


This Sunday immediately precedes Pentecost Sunday, the day of commemoration of the sending of the Holy Spirit to the Church. It gives an appropriate setting and framework to what will happen on Pentecost Day – the fulfillment of the promised sending of the Paraclete. But the promise would not have meaning if it were not framed in the context of God’s divine eros, His loving solicitude for us His people. And this setting is what we reflect on today – the passionate prayer of the Lord for his beloved flock.

I started with some kind of bad news in this reflection – the contours of hopelessness that surround us like the air we breathe. But I have no hesitation to end as I usually do as preacher – in the spirit of faith and hope.

Suffering is, indeed, part and parcel of our Christian and human lives. But sufferings that share in those of Christ are meaningful and redemptive. This is, at bottom, a message of hope in concrete, a continuation of my reflection on Ascension Day, that reminds us, as did the late John Paul II, never to be afraid. “Do not be afraid.”

Pope Benedict XVI is right. At the end of the day, the real foundation of our hope cannot be science and technology, or philosophy or sophistry of any kind. The real foundation is a God, who suffers with us in Christ, a Savior who did not hesitate to take up the cudgels for us, and die a shameful death up on the cross. Glory be to Him for ever.

“I believe that I shall see the good things of the Lord in the land of the living.”

DVMI House of Prayer
Tagaytay City, Cavite, Philippines
April 23, 2008

Comments

rooks said…
cruising around ^_^V

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