Lent greets us with the exhortation: “Repent and believe in the Gospel!” and, with a smudge of ashes, a necessary reminder of the passing emptiness of all that is not of God. The added prayers, fasting and almsgiving are a call to conversion, to clearing the paths of our heart that we may embrace reality more truly. Lent is a time of purification and a time of renewed memory – not just of our sins and shortcomings, but of remembering God’s answer to our desperate need: his Son, Jesus Christ. In coming to redeem us, the Lord chose to become one with us in every way, flesh and blood, one who suffers with and for us. Suffering is the inevitable result of sin – original, social and personal. In abolishing the reign of sin, the Lord chose to take suffering up as a weapon of love and obedience– defeating sin and death through His Cross. In Christ and in Christ alone, suffering no longer has the last word, but love does.
And yet, how we still suffer! We suffer even the fear of suffering and try to avoid it at almost any cost. And it finds us anyway. Each of us carries a cross – almost always unexpected and seemingly too much. Whatever its cause, suffering is an evil – a lack of the good that ought to be. The good news is that now this evil does not have the last word. In Christ, suffering finds its meaning. Each of us is made to become a gift, and our sufferings, too, can become a gift of love, transformed into a source of life-giving redemption for ourselves and others. In the deepest depths of our pain, our failures and sorrows, the risen Jesus desires to love us with great intimacy, broken heart to broken Heart. United with Him, He pours mercy and healing from his wounds through ours, out onto a thirsty world.
One of the most powerful sources of untapped energy in the world is found in suffering. Cardinal O’Connor used to exhort: “Do not waste your suffering!” Each silent offering of pain, vulnerability, abandonment releases a powerful dose of merciful and healing love into the world, converting hearts, giving strength, drawing people back to God and each other.
“Suffering passes, having suffered never passes.” If lived with reliance on Christ and supported by others, “having suffered” is one of the surest ways to human understanding and empathy. Suffering is but prelude to healing, wholeness and strength. Passing through the inevitable fires of sufferings, one can almost wish to suffer again, if only for the blessings, graces and growth in character, the capacity for love and wisdom which accompany suffering when lived with Christ.
Originally printed in IMPRINT Magazine Spring 2009.