One bible passage that helps me to make sense of suffering in my life is Mt 12:30 where Jesus said, “Whoever is not with me is against me. Whoever does not gather with me scatters.” Faced with the inevitable sufferings of life, this verse reminds me that my choice to be united with Christ also entails gathering souls to Christ by sharing in His own attitude towards suffering.
When the disciples informed Jesus that the Greeks had come looking for Him, He reminded them of the unavoidable and unpreventable suffering that was coming His way, “Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat.”
He also does not intend to avoid or prevent this suffering, “I am troubled now. Yet what should I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But it was for this purpose that I came to this hour.” (Jn 12:24,27) Instead, He did three things in response to the suffering that was inevitable in His life.
Firstly, He continued to open His heart to the Father in prayer no matter the pains or the results of His prayer. In His humanity, Jesus “offered prayers and supplications with loud cries and tears to the one who could save Him from death.” Though He was “heard because of His reverence,” (Heb 5:7) His Father did not save Him from death. He had more glorious plans for His beloved Son.
Secondly, He continued to listen so as to obey His Father. Because the Father continuously spoke to Him even in His suffering, Jesus, “Son though He was, learned obedience from what He suffered.” (Heb 5:8) He experienced in His being the cost of loving obedience in suffering.
Thirdly, He completely surrendered Himself and everything to the Father in the face of suffering. He prayed that the Father, and not Himself, be glorified at that moment, “Father, glorify your name.” (Jn 2:29)
The Father responded by assuring Him that He will continue glorifying Him, “I have glorified it and will glorify it again. (Jn 12:28) When the Father is glorified in Jesus, Jesus is strengthened to face and overcome the impending suffering, He is raised from the dead to heavenly glory, and He is made the main source of eternal life in our world, “He (Jesus) became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey Him.” (Heb 5:9)
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, no matter how hard we try or what resources are at our disposal, there are sufferings we cannot prevent or avoid in our lives. And they do not mean that our prayers have not been answered. We just have to face them with this sense of our oneness with Jesus Christ and the accompanying call to be His fellow laborers. We just cannot separate our union with Christ from our mission to gather and bring souls to Him. This means that we willingly join Him in gathering souls to Himself by facing the inevitable sufferings of our lives just like He did and for the same purpose—the glory of the Father.
To gather souls with Christ, we must never stop praying to God, even if we have to do so “with loud cries and tears.” We must pray in tears for forgiveness for our sins and those of the whole world. We pray for light and grace to give witness to Jesus in our dark and hurting world. We pray in reparation for all the scandals tearing the Church apart today and for the conversion of the clergy and Church hierarchy who cannot tell the difference between divinely willed holy matrimony and debased sodomy. We pray for our loved ones who have lost their faith and have been swept away in the culture of death. We pray for the poor and forgotten souls in purgatory. We pray in tears for broken homes, abandoned vocations, aborted babies and their scarred mothers, etc. Our intimacy with Christ grows as we persevere in praying for all in need.
To gather souls with Christ, we must never stop listening so as to obey God’s will and fulfill the legitimate needs of our brothers and sisters. God speaks to us even in our sufferings, calling us to deeper repentance and showing us how we too can obey Him and become channels of His glorious life for many souls. Like Mama Mary who “pondered everything in our heart,” we too can fulfill the will of God even in our darkest and painful moments if only we do not become fixated on our sufferings. In this way, we too can learn loving obedience through suffering. Nothing worsens our suffering as disobedient and obstinate hearts closed to God’s loving words.
To gather souls with Christ, we must never stop surrendering all that we have and are to God. We should echo the prayer of Jesus in gethsemane, “Father, not my will, but yours be done.” God cannot manifest His glory in our lives as long as we are still trying to be in control of our lives and situations. Our surrender to Him allows God to be glorified in us and in our circumstances, filling us with His own life and making us channels of hope and life in our world.
Let us not be deceived: God must be glorified in us if we are going to hope for the eternal life of heaven. It is not enough to be united with Christ in baptism, receive Him in first Holy Communion, or to become a priest, religious, bishop, receive Eucharist often, etc. We must also allow Him to be glorified in us by gathering souls with Him in the same way that He did it.
We recall the promise of Jesus, “Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there also will my servant be.”(Jn 12:26) Jesus desires that we all be with Him wherever He is. He wants us to be with Him now in the Eucharistic sacrifice of the Mass. He wants us to be with Him in His suffering and in our suffering brothers and sisters. Finally, He also wants us all to be with Him in heaven. This is the desire that led Him to mount the Cross for us.
We sadly see many souls far away from Christ Jesus today and many more walking away from Him daily for many reasons. Do we share in this same desire of Christ for all of humanity? Do we desire to bring as many souls as possible to heaven with us? If this is our greatest desire, then we must not rest content with our oneness with Him. By His grace, let us also gather souls to Him by facing the sufferings we cannot avoid or prevent in this life just like He did—with unceasing prayer, obedient listening and continuous surrender of everything to our loving Father.
Glory to Jesus!!! Honor to Mary!!!