FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 5th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, February 7, 2021:
Our Scriptures today invite us to contend with the most difficult question in all of religion: Why do we suffer? It is a question that each one of us has thought about at one point or another on our spiritual journey. And it is a particularly relevant question in the midst of this year of pandemic. There is a lot of suffering in our world, and it is natural for us to want to know why.
Our first reading today is the most iconic story of suffering in Scripture – the story of Job. We heard his desperation, “My life is like the wind; I shall not see happiness again.” Job had lost everything – his land, his possessions and even his family; add to that a plague and other horrors. Listen to the anguish in his words, “My days come to an end without hope…I shall not see happiness again.”
Job sees no purpose in his suffering. He can’t make meaning of what he’s enduring and so he complains to God. Job feels helpless and hopeless. I imagine that when we hear these words of Job, we can identify with him in one way or another – either in trying to make sense of our own suffering or in trying to understand why others suffer; or trying to understand this virus that has taken 2.3 million lives around the world in less than a year; nearly half a million of them here. We’ve all felt like Job wondering why things have to be the way they are. Why bad things happen; especially to good people.
Job reminds me of the mother of a good friend of mine. Her name was Adele and she passed away a number of years ago. She was a wonderful, joyful, beautiful woman, but she also had many Job-like moments in her life. She lost her father when she was very young, her brother died at 16, she had 7 miscarriages before finally carrying a baby to term in her 40s, she suffered through cancer, heart attacks, lost her kidneys and had to undergo dialysis for years, and she suffered from diabetes that in the end required the partial amputation of a leg. She had sufferings that could give Job a run for his money and she could have very easily said like him, “I have been assigned months of misery, and troubled nights have been allotted to me.” But, Adele never spoke the words of Job. Instead, she said regularly, “Don’t waste your suffering. Offer it up and unite it to the suffering of Christ.” Even when faced with amputation, she didn’t ask how she could avoid it or ask why this was happening to her. Instead she asked, “What does God want me to do with this suffering?” And before she was taken into surgery, she prayed thanking God for the use of her legs all those years, for carrying her around, and allowing her to be a good mother. She was an incredible witness of faith in the transformative power of suffering.
The dramatist Paul Claudel said, “Jesus did not come to explain away our suffering or remove it. He came to fill it with His presence.” You see, for we who believe in Christ, suffering is never without meaning. With the eyes of faith, in our suffering is an opportunity to participate in the great act of our redemption. What our world forgets in our no-pain-day-and-age is that suffering is an invitation to be united with Christ on His cross; to be united in the salvation of the world. Souls can be redeemed and saved and prayers answered when we direct our suffering, offer it up, to this spiritual end. And, importantly, in our suffering, we are not alone. Jesus is right there by our side carrying the cross with us, filling our suffering with His loving presence; giving it meaning; making it holy.
So, we can continue to ask why there is suffering in the world, but the evidence would suggest that we are not going to get an answer to that question. Suffering and pain seem to be part of the human condition. We do know this – they are not caused by God. We do not have a spiteful God content with afflicting people. Job, for example, was righteous and did nothing wrong to warrant his suffering. And when we stop asking why is there suffering, we can move on to the more meaningful question, “What can I do with this? How can I invite God to be with me in this moment?” These are the questions worth asking and the ones that invite us into the amazing opportunity to allow God to transform our suffering. Let God fill it with His presence; fill it with His grace, His mercy, His forgiveness, healing, and the very salvation of souls. Remember that it is Job, even in the midst of his suffering, who proclaims one of the most famous statements in Scripture: “I know that my redeemer lives.”
So, my friends, tonight, let us bring whatever pain and suffering we experience; as well as all of the suffering that we see around us and in our world; especially the suffering from this pandemic – let us bring it all to the Lord and ask Him to fill our suffering – as well as every part of our lives – with His presence and transform it into nothing short of glory.
May the Lord fill you with His presence tonight – especially through this Eucharist, and may the Lord give you peace.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.