Fr. Joseph K. Horn
27 August 1995
St Norbert’s Parish
Everybody’s pain is different. Some have lived for years with the disappointment over the death of a spouse or a child. Some have been suffering an insufferable marriage for as long as they can remember. Some live with the heartache of children who have lost their faith. Some have suffered a painful physical injury, or suffer from inoperable chronic pain. Everybody’s pain is different.
But there is a Christian way of approaching pain. For the non-Christian, sufferings and disappointments are pointless evils. Some Christians even think that when we pray “Deliver us from evil” that we are asking to be delivered from pain. But this is not the case. Why does God allow suffering? God allows suffering because He always brings some greater good out of it. Always.
Here’s a silly example. I was riding a skateboard once in 1985 and fell off and broke my leg in three places. If you’ve never broken a bone, let me just say that I don’t recommend it. It’s not fun. You might wonder how on earth I can see God’s will in such a painful experience. But I do, and here’s why. Getting around was very painful for me, so I begged the Abbot to reassign me to a closer parish. And that’s how I came to be assigned to St Norbert’s. I’d have never known all you good people if it hadn’t been for that skateboard and God’s sense of humor.
The Bible is full of stories of good coming out of difficult or hopeless situations.
King Hezekiah said of such an experience: “Lord... Surely it was for my benefit that I suffered such anguish.” (Isaiah 38:16-17). And King David said, “It was good for me to be afflicted... You are good, O Lord, and what You do is good.” (Psalm 119:68,71).
Now here’s a famous true story that illustrates this very well. See if you can identify these characters before I tell their names. There was once a teenager who was a total brat. His mother, who was trying to raise him alone, couldn’t control him at all. She wanted to raise him to be a good Christian, but he was just a hellion. Whenever she asked him to do something, he did the opposite. They fought all the time. One time she even paid for a boat trip to Italy for both of them since she thought that a nice pleasant vacation would be a bonding experience. But when they disembarked in Italy, the young man told his mother, “Wait here, I’ll be right back” and then unbeknownst to her he got right back on the boat and sailed home, leaving her alone in Italy. She was deeply hurt, but she didn’t stop loving her son. He even went so far as to shack up with his girlfriend and have a child without getting married, which greatly upset the young man’s mother, but instead of disowning him, she invited him to move into her house, with his girlfriend and their child! You see, she realized that her anguish had a purpose. Most ordinary people would never have known, but she was no ordinary person. She was a saint. Matter of fact, today is her feast day: Saint Monica, the famous mother of that famous wayward son who later converted and changed his ways and became another famous saint: Saint Augustine.
The bad times did not deter Saint Monica from doing what she knew ought to be done: tirelessly striving to bring her son to know God.
Why do bad times happen? Because God loves us. If this seems contradictory, remember St Paul’s words in the second reading today: “Do not disdain the discipline of the Lord, nor lose heart when he reproves you. For whom the Lord loves, he disciplines.”
We have forgotten that for a Christian, suffering has value. We are not hedonists. Hedonists worship pleasure; we worship God. Hedonists think that the greatest evil to be avoided at all costs is pain; we know that the greatest evil to be avoided at all costs is sin.
I’m painfully reminded of the recent document by some church committee about the crisis in the priesthood. You may have read about it. The document would be funny if it weren’t so pathetic. It bellyaches for pages and pages about how rough life is for priests. (Let me tell you, they’d stop griping real fast if they ever had to hold a real job in the real world doing real work). But what’s pathetic was the conclusion of the document. It said that the solution to this widespread anguish among priests is that they should take longer vacations, get more sleep, get regular exercise and eat healthier food! Never once did this stupid document say that if you want to be a true disciple of Jesus, then you must take up your cross, suffer persecution for his name’s sake, and follow in his footsteps. Never once did that document call to mind our Lord’s teaching that the road to salvation is often painful, humiliating, lonely, confusing, and sometimes even bloody.
Look! Why did Jesus die on a cross? Why did he suffer humiliation, pain, and death like that? Because he knew that everything is in God’s hands, even pain inflicted by wicked men, and that the humiliation of his crucifixion would be transformed by God into the salvation of the world. He knew this, so he suffered willingly.
We have the amazing grace of knowing that the same is true about our own sufferings. That transforming power is yours. You are a child of God. Your sorrows can be united with the sufferings of Jesus, and likewise elevated and transformed with salvific power. Take heart, be of good courage, and pray with me now:
Father in heaven, not my will, but thine be done. Jesus our Lord, I stand ready to help you carry your cross. Holy Spirit, give me the strength and courage I need in my daily struggle. Mary, Queen of heaven, comfort me in my sorrows. And angel of God, my guardian dear, to whom God’s love commits me here, ever this day be at my side, to light and guard, to rule and guide. Amen.