HAVE you ever wondered why people suffer? Have you ever complained to God about an illness, death, or a crisis? Have you ever questioned some unfairness in your life and the lives of other people?
Well, I’m sure that each of us has grappled with these issues in one way or another. But have you ever thought that it is through pain and suffering that we become strong and wise; that we become more compassionate and sensitive to people and understanding of their lot?
Many years ago, Henri Nouwen wrote the classic book, “The Wounded Healer.” In this work, he presents the irony that ministers become more competent when they recognize their wounds and traumas and embrace them in a spirit of surrender to God to become healers of souls. Gerald May, in his book, “Addiction and Grace,” expresses the similar thought that any addiction can be transformed into a blessing: the grace of peace that comes from a total submission to God’s power.
Of course, St. Paul is a proponent of the value of suffering and crosses in our earthly journeys. In 2 Corinthians 12:10, he says: “That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” In Romans 5:3 he also reminds us that “suffering produces perseverance.” Then, again, he says in Corinthians 1:18: “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”
The Gospel this Sunday also conveys a reason for people’s suffering. The disciples asked Jesus: “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “Neither he nor his parents sinned: it is so that the works of God might be made visible through him.”
Yes, I would say that God allows suffering so that he can reveal to us and the world his redeeming power, and so that we can be instruments of his salvation. Imagine the world without poverty? Imagine people without pain and struggles? How can we put into practice the mandates of the Gospel? How can we show love, charity, and justice? Indeed, how can we show strength and hope in the midst of difficulties? How can we inspire people to believe and trust in God?
Now, I’m not saying that God is a masochist. I’m saying that God, in His mysterious plan, allows misfortunes to happen in our lives to strengthen our faith in Him. He allows these things so that we can share in His redemptive acts and live as “children of light” that “produces very kind of goodness and righteousness and truth” as this Sunday’s Second Reading tells us. (Ephesians 5:8-14)
Psalm 29 asks us to trust God’s mysterious ways, to guide us in right paths. It says, “Even though I walk in the dark valley I fear no evil; for you are at my side with your rod and your staff that give me courage.”
The First Reading from 1 Samuel 16 also tells us that “not man sees does God see.” And so, God chose and anointed a ruddy and young shepherd in the person of David. He made him the King of Israel for God sees not the appearance but the heart.
As we continue our Lenten observances, may we be strong in faith amidst the mysteries of pain and suffering. May the power of the Cross heal our troubled spirits! Amen.
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From a Filipino immigrant family, Reverend Rodel G. Balagtas was ordained to the priesthood from St. John’s Seminary in 1991. He served as Associate Pastor at St. Augustine, Culver City (1991-1993); St. Martha, Valinda (1993-1999); and St. Joseph the Worker, Canoga Park (1999-2001). In 2001, he served as Administrator Pro Tem of St. John Neumann in Santa Maria, CA, until his appointment as pastor of ImmAaculate Heart of Mary, Los Angeles, in 2002, which lasted 12 years. His term as Associate Director of Pastoral Field Education at St. John’s Seminary began in July 2014.