The Healing Power of Suffering

In 05 Homilies by Fr. Reid on 2016/03/18 at 12:00 AM

 Our readings today speak of human suffering, and although suffering is by its nature is unpleasant, it is a part of this life. None of us escapes it, although hopefully we’re not as bad off as poor Job, whom we hear from in our first reading.

 What we may not realize about suffering is that suffering always shapes us; it always changes us. Today’s readings challenge us to look not only at the sufferings in our own lives but the sufferings in the lives of others as well, and to respond like Christ.
 As I mentioned, suffering always changes us: either for better or for worse. Sadly, our broken human nature often tends toward selfishness in the face of personal suffering.
 When suffering enters our lives, we often turn inward, complaining, losing hope, and in the worst cases, becoming bitter, angry, or cynical.
 As a priest there is nothing sadder to me than seeing an older person whose heart has been hardened by suffering, especially the suffering endured at the hands of others.
 Because all of us are sinners, we all hurt others from time to time, sometimes grievously and even purposefully. That is part of the human condition.
 If we are not careful, the sufferings we endure at the hands of others can lead us to harden our hearts and withhold forgiveness, which Scripture tells us will keep us out of Heaven! Maturing as a Christian requires that we learn to respond well to suffering.
 The proper response to suffering is to imitate Christ and entrust ourselves to Him!
 The Gospel shows us Jesus’ willingness to heal all our infirmities. Whatever our illnessor demons may be, Christ can give us healing and peace. And He desires to do precisely
that with all of us!

 Last Sunday I spoke a bit about St. Clare and how she drove away a legion of soldierswith the authority of Christ. She was an extraordinary woman who was the disciple of
one of the most extraordinary men this world has ever known: St. Francis of Assisi.

 What is most extraordinary about St. Francis is not all that he accomplished in his short44 years of life.
 What is most extraordinary about St. Francis is how the tremendous sufferings in hislife made him the man who is widely acclaimed to be the saint most like Jesus Christ.
 Although he grew up in relative comfort as the son of a wealthy merchant, St. Francisbegan embracing a life of suffering when he chose to go off to war in the town of
Perugia at the age of 20.

 During this war between Assisi and Perugia, Francis was captured and held a prisonerof war for a year. During this year of captivity, the young Francis had a crisis of faith
that led him to search out Jesus and to begin alleviating the sufferings of others.

 Over time as he began doing works of charity, his relationship with Christ grew to thepoint where the gentle saint felt compelled to renounce his inheritance and all worldly
goods and to fully embrace a life of radical poverty.

 His choice to follow Christ in the most radical of ways by serving the poor, the sick, andthe outcasts of society in utter poverty resulted in Francis being ridiculed and mocked
by the townspeople, and being cut off from his family.

 Over time, even many of his fellow Franciscans, the brothers who joined with him in hiswork amongst the poor, turned against Francis in the most brutal and callous of ways.
 Yet Francis was not deterred. And his willingness to enter into the sufferings of others, and to endure sufferings at the hands of others – including his family and followers – eventually led St. Francis to a peace and joy that very few people have ever known.
 Over time St. Francis not only became like Jesus in his gentle bearing, patience, and inexhaustible charity, but two years before his death he even received the stigmata, bearing in his body the very wounds of Christ.
 If you ever have a chance to visit the Basilica of St. Clare in Assisi, there you can see the slippers that St. Clare made for the wounded feet of St. Francis, and the poultice that she applied to his wounded side to help stem the flow of blood and prevent infection.
 These little relics – along with many others there – testify to the Christ-like nature of St. Francis and his willingness to embrace suffering as a means of becoming like Jesus and coming to the aid of others.
 One important lesson that we learn from St. Francis is that as we get into the habit of turning to Jesus in times of personal suffering, we become better able to help others in their times of suffering. We also become more gentle and forgiving with those who cause our sufferings.
 That’s precisely the challenge St. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians makes to us today. St. Paul says that he has made himself a slave to all “so as to win over as many as possible.” He says: “I have become all things to all, to save at least some.”
 You see, St. Paul was willing to look past the sins and ugliness of others – intuiting perhaps that their bad behavior might be rooted in some suffering of their own – in order to minister to them.
 And so as we consider our readings today, as well as the life of good St. Francis, we must ask ourselves if we are willing to bear patiently with others when they treat us badly.
 To be sure, being patient with the sins of others doesn’t mean that we don’t correct them, for the Church has always recognized that admonishing our erring brothers and sisters is a spiritual work of mercy.
 However, it does mean that we must try to see everyone as Christ sees them, magnanimously looking past their faults and failings in order to see the good within them.
 Like Jesus, who was willing to suffer crucifixion and even death, we must be willing to suffer for others and at the hands of others to help them along on the path to salvation.
 When we can do this, it is then that we can best help them to find the remedy for whatever ails them.
 My brothers and sisters, all of us are sinners. All of us fall short of God’s glory. None of deserves God’s mercy, and yet His mercy is always available to us. No matter how terrible our sins, if we are sorry for them, God always forgives them.
 Even the worst and most evil of people are precious in God’s eyes, and He desires that they be saved too.
 Perhaps this mystery of God’s inexhaustible mercy is the most inscrutable of the mysteries surrounding God. Yet as hard to understand as it is, it is this mystery of mercy that we must all learn to practice with others.
 May we all learn to turn to God in our times of suffering and pain so that we may become more like Him who suffered for us. And may we all learn to show the same mercy to others that we have received from our Lord.
 St. Francis of Assisi, pray for us.

05 February 2012

© Reverend Timothy Reid

Fr. Reid is the pastor of St. Ann Catholic Church, Charlotte, NC

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