Discernment in Action Week 3: Meaning of Suffering

(Homily for Twenty-Ninth Sunday of Ordinary Time Year B)

Message: Suffering is like a reverse embroidery and it is the currency of love.

So far in this mini-series we have applied discernment to sexuality and money. Huge topics, but today we have something even bigger - the problem of pain, suffering. Isaiah writing about the "servant of the Lord" says, "The Lord was pleased to crush him..." Jesus fulfilling that prophecy speaks about his coming "baptism" - the humiliation and agony he would endure.

What sense can we make of suffering? Non-believers can throw in our faces Auschwitz, Hiroshima, Rwanda - the list could fill several pages. And we do not need to look so far. You and I experience suffering that seems senseless - and we know people who undergo fierce anguish.

St Pius of Pietrelcina, better known as St. Padre Pio, has a helpful image. He invites us to imagine a small boy looking up at his mother doing embroidery. Seeing only knots and tangled threads, he asks his mother what she is doing. She lowers the embroidery hoop, and shows the good part of her work. Says Padre Pio, "Each color is in place, and the various threads form a harmonious design."

That's the first thing we need to say about suffering. We see the knots and tangles; God see the embroidery from beginning to end.

There is, however, something we can know: suffering is the currency of love. After speaking about his "baptism" Jesus says that he did not come to be served but to serve. Service always involves some measure of suffering. By definition a servant does not do his own will. It's great when two wills come together, but even when they join perfectly (as was the case with Jesus and his Father) the suffering can still be horrific. Suffering is the currency of love.

This does not mean we go around telling everyone how much we are suffering. Let me take care of that for you. I've got subtle ways of complaining - enough to cover everyone in this congregation... Seriously, Jesus does say something about not letting your left hand know what you right hand is doing.

Know this: Our buildings will turn to dust, our nations will unravel, but every act of love - every suffering joined to Jesus - will shine forever.

So we have seen that suffering is like a reverse embroidery and that it is the currency of love. That's the reason, by the way, we do not consider useless the terminally ill person. If he joins his suffering to the cross, that love has incalculable value. And if you have good health, thank God and consider a quiet, unexpected service you can do today. The Son of Man, says Jesus, did not come to be served but to serve and give his life as a ransom for many. Amen.


Spanish Version

Plan for this mini-series:

October 4: Discernment in Action Week 1: Masculinity & Femininity
October 11: Discernment in Action Week 2: How Much Do I Need?
October 18: Discernment in Action Week 3: Meaning of Suffering

From Archives (29th Ordinary Sunday - Year B):

2012: St. Kateri, Pray For Us
2009: Whoever Wishes to be Great
2006: Vaulting Ambition
2003: Victims of Envy
2000: The Problem of Envy - And Jesus' Solution
Also: Serious Concerns (Terri Schiavo)

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