Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church
Ever since the first Good Friday 2000 years ago,
the Cross and the suffering of Jesus
have been the focus of constant meditation and veneration by the Church.
We continue this tradition today, as we observe the seasons of Lent
–40 days and nights of meditation on the Cross of Jesus,
in preparation for the remembrance of the days
of his death and of his resurrection.
Lent is full of constant reminders of the Cross, and the suffering of Jesus.
we begin the season on Ash Wednesday
with the cross of ashes on our foreheads,
all during Lent we do the Stations of the Cross,
and we end Lent on Good Friday with the Solemn veneration of the Cross.
But perhaps the most vivid reminder of the Cross in Lent
are the small sacrifices we make:
the things we “give up” for Lent.
Each one of these is a reminder of the pain and suffering of Christ, of the Cross.
We are, truly, following our Lord’s admonition: “take up your cross and follow me.”
But some might rightly ask, “why do we need these small crosses
—our Lenten sacrifices—
when we all have large crosses in every day life?”
All of us have crosses we carry—some small and some huge:
maybe we, or someone we love, has a serious illnesses;
maybe we’re struggling in school with grades or with friends.
It could be a million different things.
In today’s Gospel we find a man who’s carried a heavy cross all his life:
the man born blind.
And because of his blindness he also had the heavy cross of poverty
—he had to beg for a living.
Why do we have these crosses?
If God is a good God and he really loves us, why do we have to suffer?
If Jesus could heal that man born blind,
why won’t he heal you or me from our suffering,
whey won’t he take my cross from me?
What is the purpose, the meaning, of suffering? 2
I think this is one of the worst parts of suffering: we can’t figure out “why me?”
When we look at Christ’s suffering, the meaning seems very clear:
he suffered and died to save us.
But for us, we don’t always see any reason at all for our suffering.
But the thing is, every suffering we endure has a reason.
Just as Jesus transformed his suffering and death on the Cross
into the Resurrection,
God always has something good he wants to bring out of our suffering.
I may have told you before, but in my first parish assignment,
the other priests and I had the responsibility of being
the Catholic chaplains at Alexandria Hospital.
Day after day I would see lots of terrible suffering.
But the greatest blessing of that assignment was to see over and over again,
how God always seemed to bring some wonderful good
from every single situation of suffering.
Sometimes it was the death bed conversion of the patient,
or the grace of reconciliation and forgiveness of family members.
Sometimes it was the grace of teaching a sleepy priest
that to be a true shepherd of souls
he had to get his lazy rear out of bed in the middle of the night
to take care of his dying sheep.
Or maybe it was the nurse, who was a fallen away Catholic,
taking care of a very devout Catholic
who was dying a terribly painful death from cancer.
In the middle of her suffering,
that patient was still full of hope and faith in Jesus Christ,
praying the rosary over and over every day.
And pretty soon that nurse was praying the rosary with her…
and at the funeral Mass the nurse resolved to come back to the Church.
All suffering has meaning.
There are two basic sources of suffering:
one is from sin, and the other is simply from the direct will of God.
In the case of sin: suffering can come from either our sins, or sins of others
—in other words, not God’s direct will:
he doesn’t make it or want it to happen,
he merely allows it as the result of someone else’s free will choices.
When we sin, there’s usually some sort of painful consequence
–a child is mean to his friend,
and so he doesn’t get invited to a birthday party 3
–or an adult gets drunk on Friday and has a hangover on Saturday.
The same is true with other people’s sins
–their sins cause you pain:
–a teenager gossips about another teen, ruining her reputation
–a father abandons his family, and wife and children are devastated.
Sin causes great suffering—even to the innocent.
But sometimes suffering has nothing to do with sin:
sometimes God chooses to allow us to endure suffering
as part of his plan for the world.
In today’s Gospel we read:
“His disciples asked [Jesus],
“Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents,
that he was born blind?”
Jesus answered, “Neither he nor his parents sinned;
…[ he was born blind] so that
the works of God might be made visible through him.”
God allows the suffering as part of his plan for some greater good:
It’s as if God gives you something important to do,
but like all important things it will be difficult to accomplish.
Troops in battle endure great hardship,
but they know their suffering is necessary
for the success of in the mission.
God always brings good from suffering: but sometimes we fight that good.
And It’s not always easy to see the good.
But if you can have just enough faith and confidence in the love of God,
that in his plan, all the suffering in life will work out for the good,
then you can know there is a reason…and a great reason.
Think of it: your suffering is part of God’s plan for something great
—what difference does it make if you know what it is?
Even the suffering we bring on our selves, the suffering caused by sin,
even that has a purpose for the good.
Most people nowadays don’t want to think about this kind of suffering
as a kind of punishment—but that’s what it is.
We have a hard time accepting this, because most of us still view punishment,
like we did when we were 4 year olds: “daddy’s mad at me.”
Instead of looking at it like an adult, realizing that fathers who love their children
allow them to learn from their mistakes, to suffer the consequences.
As Scripture tells us: 4
“For the Lord disciplines him whom he loves,
and chastises every son whom he receives.”
So even when we suffer from our sins, God either allows it for our own good
—so that we can repent and change;
or for some other good in the greater plan he has for the world.
Now, sometimes people talk about “accepting” suffering.
What they usually mean by this is
that they’ve simply accepted the inevitable.
But what they should be doing is not merely accepting suffering,
but rather “embracing” their suffering.
This is where suffering, amazing as it sounds, can bring us joy.
Embracing the Cross as Christ did:
not as an act of masochism, of eagerness to suffer,
but as an act of love: to love us and the Father,
and fulfill the Father’s plan of salvation for us.
Today’s Gospel reminds us that
the man born blind had been blind from birth and all his life.
Imagine how many people discovered the love of God,
and the Lordship of Christ because of the blind man’s illness,
or rather Jesus’ curing of his illness:
maybe his parents or neighbors, even some of the Pharisees?
Imagine the joy of that blind man to know,
not only that God had healed him and spoken to him,
but that God, Jesus, had allowed him to help in healing and speaking to
billions of readers of the Gospel for 2000 years.
And so in the light, of Christ’s Cross we read and understand
“Come to me, all [you] who find life burdensome…
Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me;
…For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.””
Today we read that Jesus cured the man born blind….
but we know he didn’t heal every one.
Sometimes suffering is necessary…
The question is: how do we deal with suffering?
Let me say, we are certainly free, and sometimes even required,
to try to overcome suffering
—the sick normally should accept the cures modern science offers,
through the mercy of God.
But when that’s not possible, do we try to reject suffering altogether?
This is useless, because the suffering remains: 5
and we only wind up in frustration, and despair.
Or do we merely accept it?
This is better, more realistic,
but it can still leave us wallowing in pain and confusion,
and even bitterness toward God.
Or do we embrace our suffering
—do we pick up the cross as Christ picks up his Cross?
Embracing it with love, rejoicing as St. Paul did when he wrote to the Philippians:
“Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake,
and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ
for the sake of his body, that is, the church,”
Today priests wear the bright Rose vestments of “Laetare, or “Rejoice,” Sunday,
instead of the dark penitential violet of the other days of Lent
to remind us that glory of God
always shines thru the suffering of the Cross.
As we approach this Eucharist today,
let us see that just as the love of Christ Crucified
transforms the suffering of the Cross
into the glory of the Resurrection,
this Eucharist that same love transforms
the bread and wine into his own Body and Blood,
and our sacrifices into part of Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross,
and our suffering into a share of the joy of the Resurrection.
There is a reason for all suffering.
By God’s grace, the man born blind was able to see the reason for his suffering.
Let us pray today that God give us the grace in this Eucharist
to see the particular reason for our suffering.
But more importantly, let us pray for the grace
to see our suffering as truly Jesus’ gift to us
and to embrace our crosses in love.
“So that” like the man born blind,
“the works of God might be made visible through us.”