College Chaplain Reflection – September 8, 2016

September 7, 2016

How can we make sense of the suffering we encounter in this life? This question came up a lot at World Youth Day. For some the question arose from a deep sense of solidarity and compassion for others who were suffering. For some the question was more personal; they were trying to understand where God had been in their own lives as they suffered loss and grief.

I’ve grappled with the same question myself. And I will continue to struggle with it, because you really can’t make sense of the suffering of the innocent. There is no logic to be found in it. It was not how things were meant to be in God’s original plan. But Creation is fallen, its original order has been disturbed by sin, and so senseless, unjust suffering has entered our experience. Where can we find God in such darkness? Where can we find new meaning where reason has been disrupted?

Pope Francis took up this question when he spoke to us on the occasion of the Stations of the Cross, because in the Passion of Christ we see God’s ultimate response to our suffering. On the Cross we see’s God arms reaching out to us with compassion (which literally means to suffer with) and offering us hope in the midst of darkness. It is worth quoting the beginning of his homily in full.

I was hungry and you gave me food,

I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink,

I was a stranger and you welcomed me,

I was naked and you gave me clothing,

I was sick and you took care of me,

I was in prison and you visited me (Mt 25:35-36).

-‘These words of Jesus answer the question that arises so often in our minds and hearts:- -Where is God?– Where is God, if evil is present in our world, if there are men and women who are hungry and thirsty, homeless, exiles and refugees?- Where is God, when innocent persons die as a result of violence, terrorism and war?- Where is God, when cruel diseases break the bonds of life and affection?- – Or when children are exploited and demeaned, and they too suffer from grave illness?- Where is God, amid the anguish of those who doubt and are troubled in spirit?- These are questions that humanly speaking have no answer.- We can only look to Jesus and ask him.- – And Jesus’ answer is this: -God is in them-.- Jesus is in them; he suffers in them and deeply identifies with each of them.- He is so closely united to them as to form with them, as it were, -one body-.’

God refused to leave us on our own in our suffering. He quite literally joined us in it. We can recognise him in the faces of those who are in pain or in need. Our authentic response as Christians therefore is to be with those who are suffering too, to reach out to them in mercy. -In the face of evil, suffering and sin, the only response possible for a disciple of Jesus is the gift of self, even of one’s own life, in imitation of Christ; it is the attitude of service.- The way Christ shows us is the Way of the Cross, the way of compassion, -the way of personal commitment and self-sacrifice.- Just as our Lord cannot be indifferent to suffering but rather pours himself out in love, so are we called to give of ourselves.

This path must not be confused however with the path of despair. The Cross of Christ also shows us that there is the hope of dawn even in the darkest of nights. God can, and will, restore to us what is lost. The Way of the Cross is the way of hope in the midst of suffering. In taking up the Cross of Christ, by God’s grace we ourselves can give hope to the world. -Those who take up this way with generosity and faith give hope to the future and to humanity.- Those who take up this way with generosity and faith sow seeds of hope.- I want you to be sowers of hope.-