By Father James Rodriguez
One of life’s inescapable mysteries is the presence of suffering. No human person is spared this painful reality. From our first moments – and sometimes to our very last – our lives are marked by the fact that we are limited.
When we meet these limitations we quickly realize that we have a choice to make: We can give in and wonder why these things happen to us, bemoaning this basic truth of life, or we can face it, embrace it and grow. We can either be defined by our pain or in spite of it.
Throughout the past five weeks, we as a Church have read through the Acts of the Apostles, our family history, as it were. What we’ve seen over and over again is the stark reality of suffering in the lives of the Apostles. They proclaimed the truth to anyone who would listen, often to great success: scores of people were being baptized, healed and inspired by their testimony. Simultaneously, however, these men met constant opposition.
No Other Way
What is it that kept them going? Why weren’t they content with the many converts they had already made, leaving the work of evangelization to other, perhaps younger, believers? The answer is simple: They were priests, and for priests at the service of our beloved, the Church, there is no other way. We love her, and would do and give anything for her, even our lives.
To be sure, the work of evangelization does not belong solely to priests. Each person, as a living stone in God’s ever-new temple, has a part to play. Because of the efforts of these valiant fishers of men we have a model to follow, something to strengthen us in the face of our suffering.
Mother Teresa said, “I must be willing to give whatever it takes to do good to others. This requires that I be willing to give until it hurts. Otherwise, there is no true love in me, and I bring injustice, not peace, to those around me.”
She understood that our lives are a gift from God, and the suffering we endure is nothing compared to the glory that awaits. She also understood the price of selfishness and our need for strength. Similarly, runners have a mantra: “pain is only weakness leaving the body.”
While this is obviously not meant literally, it is a great motivator when the task at hand seems beyond our reach. It helps us to take the next step, trusting that the finish line is that much closer. Similarly, the Navy SEALs say “the only easy day was yesterday,” effectively taking away the excuse that today is beyond our strength. It is far too easy to be swayed by our natural desire to rest and relax, which we most certainly should do in moderation, but any attempt to escape suffering only leads to more of it.
Jesus did not escape. It was love, not nails, that held Him to the Cross. St. John, writing about his vision of the new Jerusalem, “coming down from heaven, adorned as a bride for her husband” was speaking about past and future at once. He, standing at Mary’s side on that Friday we call “Good,” looked on as Jesus, the bridegroom, made His vows to His bride, our Church: “This is my body, given up for you…”
On the cross, from the side of the new Adam, God creates the new mother of the living – those spiritually alive – and Christ gives Himself to and for her. And we, who make up this beautiful Church, are worth everything to Him: every suffering and the shedding of every last drop of His most precious Blood.
This is His definition of glory. From the throne of the Cross, the King of Kings is arrayed, with no clothes at all. He radiates dignity that is marred in blood, yet no less regal. He looks upon us, with eyes closed, and bestows on us new life as His own members, bathed in the water that flowed from His side alongside the blood that we drink in eucharistic communion. He is ours, and we are His. Such is the love that makes us who we are.
John heard the proclamation that “God’s dwelling is with the human race.” Paul and Barnabas preached the same. Judas refused to be changed, seeking empty comforts instead, only to end his own life in unimaginable despair. Where are we in this spectrum?
May we climb ever higher the mountain that is Christ, taking seriously the invitation and command to love Him and one another, indeed to see Him in one another. This is far easier to say – and write – than it is to do. Yet, though it brings suffering and sacrifice, so too does it grant us a joy beyond mere words.
Readings for the Fifth Sunday of Easter
Acts 14: 21-27
Psalm 145: 8-9, 10-11, 12-13
Revelation 21: 1-5a
John 13: 31-33a, 34-35
Father James Rodriguez is the associate vocation director for the diocese and teaches at Cathedral Prep and Seminary, Elmhurst.