FOOLS FOR CHRIST’S SAKE

Novena in Honor of the Most Sweet Name of Mary
Dulce Nombre de Maria Cathedral-Basilica
Hagatna, Guam
9th Day: September 6, 2008

Based on 1 Cor 4:6b-15 / Lk 6:1-5

N.B. I am posting this ninth homily for the ninth and final day which coincides with the fiesta celebrations, although I will not be able to deliver it as I have to be at the airport at the time of the Mass. I take this opportunity to thank Archbishop Anthony Apuron, Msgr. Benavente, and all of my newfound friends on Guam! Hafa' Adai!

Suffering is not a very easy topic to talk about to a postmodern culture deeply steeped in the collective desire to get suffering out of the way, push it under the rug, or just something that one would simply wish would go away. George Weigel says that it is one of the hardest facts of life to face or understand.

I’ve got something to share with you … suffering is something that we all need to deal with. I don’t know whether that sounds to you like good news or bad news, or just plain reality check, but I do have good news to share with you in relation to this seeming bad news. We are not alone. And we were not created purposely by a masochistic God just to suffer.

First, let’s talk about not being alone. The traditional Latin hymn stabat mater says it all. When the Lord unjustly and unfairly was made to suffer and die a shameful and excruciating death on the cross, his mother was there juxta crucem to accompany him in his final journey through pain and sorrow. Only those who know pain and sorrow first hand, can credibly accompany those in sorrow themselves. Mary, the woman of sorrows, was there at the foot of the cross, and her being there was more than just an empty symbol of sympathy, but a deep and efficacious sign of com-passion, or suffering with.

This may well be one reason among others why the whole world loved and revered Pope John Paul II. He was schooled in suffering. He knew both physical suffering and what psychologists call “agent narrative suffering,” first hand. From his very early years, Karol Wojtyla was no stranger to suffering. His mother died when he was young, his brother when he was 12, and his father when he was still a teen-ager. Rarely is there anyone who has felt the pangs of aloneness as he did very early on.

This explains why when he wrote Salvifici Doloris, he was eminently and deeply credible, for like Mary, the woman of sorrows, he was equivalently speaking, juxta crucem, at the foot of the cross.

I remember having to comfort a couple after the totally unexpected death of their young teen-age and promising son a victim of a freak accident. When I came to the wake, I had no words to tell them. All I did was to sit by them, quiet, pensive, compassionate, and in the best spirit of concern I could muster. This I did, for more than an hour. I hardly spoke. They also barely talked. I held their hands and stayed with them for a while. When at some point I told them I had to go, they broke down and told me: “Father, please don’t go. Of all the priests who came to condole with us, you are the only one who did not try to rob us of our pain. All the others were trying to pressure us to get rid of our pain and move on.”
In their well-meaning desire born of the culture that is wary of pain and sorrow, those priests were actually doing more harm than good to the couple. They were making them feel guilty for feeling so bad at the death of someone they pinned a lot of their hopes on.

Stabat Mater, has to do with such accompanying attitude of com-passion of suffering with. Mary did it. Mary is an example par excellence of compassionate journeying with the one in pain. Compassion is not pity, nor sympathy. It is, on the other hand, empathy, that capacity to place oneself in the shoes of the other, or that ability to make the suffering one feel that he or she is never alone.

St. Paul, like Mary, endeared himself to the fractious and querulous Corinthians precisely on account of the same capacity to empathize with them. He was familiar with them enough to share with them his inner pain and turmoil:

To this very hour we go hungry and thirsty,
we are poorly clad and roughly treated,
we wander about homeless and we toil, working with our own hands.
When ridiculed, we bless; when persecuted, we endure;
when slandered, we respond gently.
We have become like the world’s rubbish, the scum of all,
to this very moment.

By so doing, Paul not only claimed he suffered. He also declared to them how close he had been to them in pain and sorrow. He told them how much of an authority he has become trained as he had been in the same school of suffering that they, too, are undergoing.

This not only endeared him to the Corinthians. This also made him credible and believable when he now claims himself to be a fool for Christ’s sake, that is, someone who has found meaning behind pain and suffering, someone who, whilst not purposely looking for suffering, knows that when it comes, he need not fear unduly, he need not lose hope, and instead would draw him closer as a disciple to the suffering Messiah, the suffering servant, who was led innocently to the slaughter.

I would like to quote George Weigel in his book “The Courage to be Catholic:”

“Christians believe that the worst in human history has already happened. It happened on Good Friday when humanity nailed the Son of God to the cross … The answer to that was given three days later when the light shown across the land again, indeed, shone as it had never shone before. That the cross leads to the resurrection is an article of faith. So is the hard truth that the road to easter glory always runs through Calvary.” (2002, p. 227)

And that worst that happened that eventful Good Friday afternoon happened with Mary, the woman of sorrows, at the very foot of the Cross.

Is there one who would not weep
Whelmed in miseries so deep,
Christ’s dear mother to behold!”

Consolatrix afflictorum, ora pro nobis!

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