The challenge of suffering

By | February 8, 2012

Suffering is a great burden. Of all the big challenges that come to our belief in a good God, suffering and pain seem to consistently rank near the top of the list. Without Christ, suffering is a sad, lonely experience that the world often would sooner ignore or hide away. In today’s Gospel, we see Christ receiving the suffering leper, touching him and healing him. Christ draws near the suffering and will not leave them. He always heals the soul and sometimes he cures the body.

Leprosy is an awful disease that still exists in our world. Those with leprosy had to dwell apart from the community, their family and friends so as to not infect others. It was horrifically lonely. The length of the leper’s suffering must have been great. When he heard that our lord was near, he knew that he needed Jesus. Long suffering can have the same effect in our lives. The common cold and flu normally do not drive us to God, but an experience of great pain, sorrow and long-suffering inevitably turns our souls to God. We, like the leper, need Jesus if we are going to make it through the pain. Though God is fully capable of healing, he does permit certain sufferings and struggles to linger with us so as to turn the soul toward reliance on him.

Some suffering is not physical. There is the spiritual suffering of every person’s battle with sin. It can be a long, drawn out affair, even over a lifetime. Persons often experience a certain distance from others when sin seems to have triumphed. Like leprosy, our hearts feel as though they are dwelling apart both from God and from others. There is a deep desire to be healed but the soul’s sorrow sometimes can keep even the best of hearts away from Jesus. The good news is that Jesus desires to heal us. As he says in today’s Gospel, “I do will it, be made clean.” These words ring true in our lives. There is never a time when God does not wish to heal and restore a person to full spiritual peace. God is for us and not against us. He is on our side. This is especially encountered in confession.

There are blessings that can emerge from suffering for persons who have walked this path with God. They gain a sincere empathy for others who suffer and do not dismiss the depth of another’s pain. They gain insight into the fragility of life and thus gain a great reverence for the gift of friendship, love and family. They often have experiential wisdom on how to navigate the prayer path of suffering safely to Jesus.

Like the leper, it is sometimes the case that those who have been healed of great suffering want to give their lives to him in a consecrated, vocational way. We see today however that Jesus sends the leper back to his family and friends. He was not called to be an apostle in the strictest sense. You and I too, when healed, whether from sin or physical pain, are often sent by God back to our own lives and are simply asked to cherish the gift of the day and the persons within it.

Questions for Reflection

1. What suffering in my life needs to be brought to God?

2. How can my suffering help others?

Fr. Vander Steeg is pastor of St. Mary Parish, Greenville, and St. Edward Parish, Mackville.

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