From the book ‘The GreatRedeemer’ by The Very Rev. Thamer Toth Professor, University of Budapest Translated by V.G. Agotai Edited by Rev. Newton Thomas S.T.D.
JOY IN SUFFERINGIN the tenth chapter of Exodus we read an interesting thing in connection with the plagues sent upon the Egyptians. The Lord God sent a black darkness upon the people of Egypt who opposed His laws. For three days such darkness fell upon them that, according to Holy Writ, "no man saw his brother nor moved himself out of the place where he was" (Ex. 10: 23). But at the same time the homes of the Israelites who trusted in God remained in the light, in light so brilliant that not even the Egyptian darkness could obscure it. This Biblical scene illustrates the theme of my sermon today about the difficult problem of suffering. Believers and unbelievers, those who keep God's commandments and those who violate them, live in a great hurly-burly on the face of the earth; the disasters of life and its trials may fall alike upon each one of us. But, whereas unrelieved suffering envelops, in the hopeless gloom of a starless night, those who have no faith, an inner light glows, even in the darkest night of affliction, in the souls of those who believe in God. This light emanates from the cross of Christ. After the Savior's coming, man has been able to wrestle with the most terrible question, the problem of suffering.
It is interesting to note that the Gospel narrative records only one occasion when our Lord allowed Himself to be publicly feted, that was a few days before His agony, at the triumphal entrance into Jerusalem. On every other occasion when the people wished to glorify Him, yes, even to proclaim Him King after one of His miracles. He withdrew from the enthusiastic multitude and hid Himself from them. But now, just before He suffers, He accepts the salutations, the hosannas of men.
Why was this so? Because now He wished to correct mankind's former view of suffering. The chorus of hosannas on Palm Sunday enabled our Lord to call the world's attention to His new teaching: that suffering is not empty torment, not a raised fist, not an aimless struggle, not merely a burden and tears, but also an olive branch, the waving of palm leaves, the source of profound mercies and blissful spiritual peace. Then let us raise our eyes again to our blessed Lord suffering for our sakes, and let us ask Him what further guidance He wishes to give us by His suffering to help us bear our own. The reply will be: Follow Him in hours of suffering, thus through suffering we may draw nearer to God.
FOLLOWING IN OUR LORD'S STEPSOn one occasion St. Peter wrote of our Lord's sufferings as follows: "For this is thankworthy, if for conscience towards God, a man endure sorrows, suffering wrongfully. . . . For unto this are you called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving you an example that you should follow His steps" (I Pet. 2: 119, 211). That is, our Lord went through the most torturing suffering, so that in hours of pain we might be able to walk in His footsteps.
A) Our Master truly went through the most agonizing moments of suffering. Do you know what the most agonizing moments of suffering are? When man suffers all alone, when from his lips bursts the lament that there is no one in this world to take pity on him, that it even seems as if God had forsaken him.
a) Have you ever been seriously ill, somewhere far away, in a strange place, in a foreign land? Have you felt that dreadful spiritual forsakenness, when you start up from a feverish sleep at night? You light the lamp; ah, it is not yet half past eleven, when will the dawn come? If only someone were here beside me. Only one good soul to whom I could say how greatly I suffer. Because to suffer all alone, means that we suffer doubly. And our Lord accepted this, too: He willed to suffer all alone. To be alone in trouble dreadful! Look at little children when they go along the road. Instinctively they take each other's hands: they feel that in this way they are not alone. Look at men and women. They shake hands many times in a day; the handshake means: Do not be afraid, you are not alone, you can count upon me.
b) But Christ remained alone at the moment of His death. His disciples and His friends forsook Him, the angels forsook Him; humanly speaking, even the Father forsook Him. His disciples forsook Him. One of them swore that he had never known Him; another, when the Master was taken, cast off his garments and made his escape clad in a shirt; the others all fled in different directions. His friends forsook Him. Where are the vast numbers of people whom He healed? Where are those whom He comforted, that now they may come to comfort Him? They cannot come: all their time is taken up by preparations for the Passover. Five thousand people were well cared for by Him in the wilderness; is there not one among the five thousand who could now be here? Not one. The paralyzed and lame to whom He gave renewed health, at least they could come. They cannot come: the weather is fine, they must work in the fields.
But where are the angels? At least they might comfort Him. When Peter cut off the servant's ear, with what self- confidence our Lord said: "Thinkest thou that I cannot ask My Father and He will give Me presently more than twelve legions of angels?" (Matt. 26:53.) And now no legions of angels come, not even one angel comes. Because it is terrible even to say it is as if even the Father had forsaken Him. The Evangelist mentions that such a feeling of forsakenness came over the dying Christ on the cross, that He cried out to His Father. The Evangelist writes this in the original Aramaic language just as Christ truly uttered these words (perhaps that we may be able to repeat them with heartfelt piety until the end of the world): "Eloi, Eloi, lamma sabacthani?" "My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?" (Mark 15:34.) The dreadful cry dies away, and there is no response to it. Can we imagine a more grievous moment than this, dear brethren? Think in what annihilating loneliness our Lord bled to death.
B) But why, why? we ask. Why did our Lord will to suffer so very much alone? Quite certainly for us, for our sakes. Because of the lonely hours of pain which may come to us. To comfort our grieved hearts. That we may have Someone to whom to cleave in hours of suffering, that we may be able to follow in our Lord's footsteps, and by so doing learn the great secret: how to gain grace by suffering.
a) To suffer is the common lot of man. But to gain grace by suffering is a Christian privilege. The only unbearable suffering is that of a person who does not know the divine reason for suffering, who does not know what suffering is for. But if, through our suffering, our own or another's soul becomes better, our suffering is never unbearable. When grievous, pain-filled night falls upon us, and there is no one, no one in this world, who would understand our trouble, then let us stand beside Christ, beside the suffering Christ. And if our pain is very great we may lament, if it burns very much we may weep, only let us cling closely with our bleeding hearts and wills to Christ. Then this will be meritorious suffering.
b) How often we hear people complain: "This life is unbearable. Have we a heavenly Father? If He is our Father, if He loves us, why does He not spare us so many afflictions? Why, why?" Who can give a satisfactory answer to this question? But who can say why He did not spare His only begotten Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, when, for instance, He allowed the Child who was hardly a few weeks old, to be taken in flight to a strange land? We do well to recall this often. Also to remember St. Joseph's frame of mind in accepting this command. The Lord God gave St. Joseph a command: "Arise, and take the Child and His mother and fly into Egypt" (Matt. 2:13). Arise. When? In the dark night, without any preparation. Take the Child, the helpless little Infant. And fly. Whither? To Egypt, to a foreign country where you have no friend or acquaintance. If we had come to such a fugitive state, perhaps we would have said indignantly: Why does God allow such a blow to fall on me? Has He not a thousand other means at His disposal? Why does not bloodthirsty Herod die? Why must the Lord take refuge in flight? St. Joseph did not think in this way. He found strength in this thought: It is God's will, therefore it is surely best. For He is my Father even when He allows me to suffer. This is the Christian way of thinking: God is our Father even when He allows us to suffer.
c) We often hear people say: "My life is sheer pain, sheer misery." Brethren, do not speak so thoughtlessly. I believe that you are greatly afflicted. I believe that many troubles have come to you. But has your whole life contained nothing but grief and trouble? It may be that there were dark months, years, yes, even decades in it. But surely it contained sunny hours, too, and happiness. It is marvelous, how easily we forget our joy, and how hard it is to forget our grief. Grief is heavy, joy is light. The stone of grief presses upon the soul like early morning mists upon the Alpine landscape; the sunbeam of joy, on the contrary, speedily steals away. Do not weigh with false scales. You, who never cease to complain, just sit down at your table and write out a list of all the joy you have received from God. But write down every joy. Which joys? Well, a person breaks his leg, and only then does he know what he possessed when he still had sound legs. A person buys eyeglasses and only then appreciates what his sound eyes were to him. A person becomes ill, and only then perceives what an immense treasure health was to him. A person loses some members of the family, some relative or friend, and only then sees how many good people God had given him. And so on. Why must we fail to appreciate anything, until we have lost it? True, there is much grief in life, but there are also many little sunny joys which we are unwilling to see. Yet, if these could elicit such loud prayers of gratitude from our lips as the loud complaints which grief makes us utter, we would certainly bear the burden of life as easily as a certain laborer bore his knapsack with the little cricket in it. The summer sun was setting when a laborer, tired with his day's work, took his knapsack on his shoulder and started out for home. At home there awaited him only a thin soup, many hungry children, care, and anxiety. Ill-humoredly the tired man dragged himself along. Life was so hard and bitter, with no joy in it. But all at once a little cricket began to chirp beside or behind him, somewhere. Where could it be? Strange: it was in his knapsack. It must have crept into it during the day, when the knapsack was lying on the ground; and now the whole way it cheerily sang its little song into the gloomy laborer's ears. And the farther the man went and the more he listened to the chirping little cricket in the empty knapsack, the lighter his heart became, the gentler his expression, perhaps he even smiled a little by the time he reached home with his merry guest. Brethren, life's knapsack is burdensome on our shoulders. But let us listen to our faith singing in us: What you do for God's sake, what you bear with God, for all this God will be your reward. Blessed is the man, as he draws nearer to the twilight of his life, who hears the faith within his soul singing ... of what? Of the reward that awaits an earthly life spent according to God's will. Thinking in this way, we are able to understand even the unpleasantness, the helplessness, the illness of old age. We can see God's fatherly hand in this. When He is preparing to call someone to Himself, usually He does not wish that this departure should be a sudden rending asunder, but that the many hardships and ailments of old age should slowly loosen our earthly ties, I would almost say, should take away our pleasure in earthly life, so that we might await the liberator death as a good friend.
Nihil Obstat: Sti. Ludovici
die 18 Oct. 1937
Imprimatur: Sti. Ludovici
die 21. Oct. 1937
Joannes I. Glennon