As a child, I always dreaded Holy Week. I hated the sense of foreboding that came with Mass on Palm Sunday. I so squirmed under the reality of Judas' betrayal at the Last Supper that I essentially missed the beauty of the Eucharist. And Good Friday? I could barely allow myself to think of it at all. I liked to think of God as only good and kind and warm-hearted. God was the creator of flowers and sunsets and bouncing babies. The bloodiness of His sacrifice, the ugliness of His death, the reality of our suffering was too much for me to ponder. But, the truth is, suffering is part of the plan — the good and kind and warm-hearted plan.
We live and so we suffer. We live as Christians and so we suffer with Christ. What does this means, realistically, in our daily lives? What is it to suffer as a Christian? On the golden days, the happy days when life sparkles sunshine and the air smells like roses, we know that God is there. We give Him a smile and a wink and we go about our merry way, conscious of our blessings.
But what about those days when it rains? Those days when it pours buckets of unrelenting hard, driving bullets of raindrops on cold and stony ground. Where are the sweet-smelling blossoms; from where will blow the warm breezes? We cry out to God and we wonder, where is He? Has He forsaken us? In this damp, cold, barren garden, we wonder perhaps if there is a God at all. We suffer and we agonize over the seeming silence of God.
But He's there. He has allowed us to fall upon our knees in agony and to call His name again and again. He is there and is still the good God. He tests our faith . He allows us to scream "Why?" and to question His judgment, His authority, His compassion. He wants us to beg Him for mercy. Why? Because He wants us to acknowledge that He is God. That is faith. God want us to have the kind of faith that looks at Him in suffering and says, "I still believe. I am nothing without You and I need You desperately."
That is teeth-gritting faith. Peter Kreeft writes:
Teeth-gritting faith is valuable not because suffering is valuable or because teeth-gritting is valuable in itself but because such faith comes from the deep eternal center of the person, the I, the will, not from feelings, not from the parts of the person that are dependent on the environment and what happens in the world. For the world will pass away, but the self will not. What the self decides in time is ratified in eternity. The stronger the choice for God at this obscure and unemotional center of the self, the surer and deeper will be the eternal salvation of the whole self. The will is the custodian of the feelings and must learn to lead them and not follow them.
There is no question that we believe in an omnipotent, all-loving God. When bad things happen, that powerful God has allowed them. It is here, when life is dark, that only Light can fill it. We stumble in our darkness and fumble with the Light, our pain dulling our senses. Perhaps you are kneeling in darkness now. You know there is a God, but you know that he seems cold and distant and painful as a driving rain. You have cried and begged and perhaps even screamed in anger. But now you sit, spent and silent, looking for God. And that's where He is. He is in your silence and He will fill you with Himself.
In this dark garden of your suffering, you are being drawn to the good God. In this dark garden, you are being made into His image and likeness. You are emptying yourself of you, broken and bruised, to be filled Him, whole and illuminated. This is a holy garden.
St. Therese lived her whole life in the garden of the Lord. She exhorts us to "seek only to gather flowers, the flowers of sacrifice, and offer them to the good Lord for His pleasure." There is no doubt that we will suffer. I want to suffer well. I want to offer that suffering as a sweet smelling bouquet from the garden. But how? How do I do that? How can we transform our suffering so that it's all good? The Little Flower writes, "If I did not suffer simply from moment to moment, I would find it impossible to be patient, but I look only at the present, forget the past and am careful never to anticipate the future." And there it is. Find God in the quiet of this present moment — this bit of suffering — whether it be an afternoon with a trying, overtired child or the horror of hearing the diagnosis of cancer. Be still and let Him fill you, empower you, bless you. Offer this one thing, this one cross to Our Lord and ask Him to breathe the warmth of His grace on it. Ask Him to take the pain and to help you to make it holy. One by one, we turn our sufferings to flowers, so that at the end of our time in the garden with the Lord, we have gathered a fragrant testimony of faith, an Easter bouquet.