29th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year B

     Perhaps the hardest question most of us will grapple with in our faith is the age old question of the problem of evil. I’m sure we have all asked this question to ourselves at one time or another: it goes something like this. “If God is all knowing, all loving, and all powerful then why is their pain and suffering in the world?” On the surface this question may even seem like a good reason to doubt the existence of God, but the problem with this question is it seems to imply that nothing good comes from pain or suffering. Today’s readings flip that question completely upside down and remind us that as Christians, suffering has meaning and power. St. Paul, in today’s second reading, reminds us that we are not alone in our suffering. Christ Himself, God Himself, suffered and knows our afflictions. In our Gospel we are reminded that if we want to enjoy eternal company with God in heaven, we too must suffer. Jesus reminds James and John that if they want to share in eternal life with Christ they must drink from the same chalice He does. In short if we, like Sts. James and John want to rise with Christ to eternal life we must also be willing to suffer with Christ. If Christ, whom we follow had to suffer, why should it be any different for us as Christians who are followers of Christ?

     Sadly today there are many Christian preachers out their preaching what has been called the Prosperity Gospel. This notion which became popular in the 50’s very simply says that if you are living a life pleasing to the Lord, God will bless you with great earthly riches and comforts, but if you are living a bad life, God will punish you with pain and suffering. Yet we must never think that any suffering, disaster, or misfortune that comes our way, is a punishment from God for our personal sin. If suffering was God’s punishment for personal sin, Jesus, God who became man and never sinned, would not have experienced suffering. We need to look no further than the crucifix to see that He suffered more than most of us ever will. Certainly suffering is due to sin in general, but God never punishes us for committing a specific sin by bringing disaster into our life, just as He does not bless our good actions with financial gain. There are certainly natural consequences for our actions. If I go out and gamble away all of my money, I may find myself knee deep in debt and living on the streets and if I work hard I may find myself having financial success, but in both of these cases my fate is a consequence only of my actions and not a punishment or reward from God.

     We all know that at times in this life we will have to endure suffering and we can often be tempted to ask ourselves why does God permit this suffering, didn’t He come to heal the sick and cure the wounds of sin and division?Jesus did not come into this world to simply make us healthy, wealthy and wise. No, He came to preach the good news of the kingdom of heaven and to raise us up to eternal life. Jesus came into this world and freely took on our suffering to raise us up to eternal life. While God certainly has the power to remove all suffering from our life, in fact that was His plan before the sin of Adam and Eve, if He removed suffering from our world, He would take away our ability to choose, which would also take away our ability to love Him and others, so God did the next best thing, He made suffering the means of our salvation. “Christ took our painful condition and made of it the way of true life.”[1] While we can often be tempted to fall into the trap of believing that suffering is a bad thing, today’s readings remind us that our Lord has transformed suffering into the means of our salvation. The fact that God allowed His son to die “shows two things very clearly. The first is that suffering and even total ruin do not signify a lack of love on the part of the Father. The second is that suffering is not in vain; it bears fruit and has redeeming power.”[2]

     You see “ultimately, far from ruining Christian hope, suffering is advantageous for it; it is even necessary. Without it, hope would be vague, an ill-defined yearning for happiness.”[3] It is only because we suffer that we can hold out hope for eternal life for in suffering we imitate God who “is a sufferer because he is a lover; the entire theme of the suffering God flows from that of the loving God and always points back to it.”[4] It was Christ’s suffering that lead to His resurrection. Why should it be any different for us? When suffering comes into our life we must turn to the Lord and ask Him to give us the grace to endure that suffering and trust that He who suffered even greater sufferings than ours is with us in the midst of our suffering.

[1] Cardinal Albert Vanhoe. Our Priest is Christ. (1969) pg. 20.

[2] Wilfrid Stinssen. Into Your Hands, Father Abandoning Ourselves to the God Who Loves Us. San Francisco: Ignatius Press 2011. pg 15

[3] Cardinal Albert Vanhoe. Our Priest is Christ. (1969) pg. 57.

[4] Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. Behold The Pierced One. San Francisco: Ignatius. (1986) pg 33.

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