Fr. Joseph Galdon, SJ in his book, The Mustard Seed, told a story about a parish priest who visited a catechism class of his parish one day. He went into the class of those preparing to receive their First Communion. The catechist wanted to impress the parish priest that the class was ready. She asked them questions one by one until she came to a very quiet little boy in the last row. The catechist asked him: “Where is God?” it was obvious that the little boy did not know the answer because he fidgeted for a moment and then blurted: “God is wherever there is a cross!” this is not the type of answer the catechist wanted to hear, but I don’t think many theologians would object to the boy’s answer.
What do you think when you see a lot of suffering around you, especially these days? Why do so many people suffer physically, emotionally, and spiritually? Over 800,000 people have died of COVID, so many people die of cancer every day, in car or plane accidents, or of natural causes! Many children are terminally ill, so many people every day hear a diagnosis that no one would like to hear. Why?
Suffering is a reality in life. The problem is how to sweeten suffering and get the most from of it. St. Pope John Paul II, in an apostolic letter, Salvifici Dolores, talked on suffering:
- Suffering is evil. Evil is the absence of good rooted in sin, which can bring about death. This absence of good can cause greater suffering if the one who suffers thinks he/she does not deserve such suffering.
- There are different kinds of suffering: physical, spiritual, and psychological. There are also private sufferings like loneliness. And there are common sufferings like those caused by an epidemic, calamity, and famine.
- Suffering comes from the world. It does not come from God. Yet the one who suffers usually turns to God to ask on the causes and objectives of suffering.
- Suffering can be punishment arising from the justice of God. It can also be a test like how it was with Job. And God also permits suffering in order that it can serve as a seed for holiness or greatness.
- Our sufferings can also be joined with the sufferings of Christ for our salvation or for that of others. Not because Christ’s suffering is not enough, but because Christ has left this open to love so that the bitter sufferings of man mingled with this love may turn into a sweet spring which shall overflow into eternity.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus says: “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.” So how can we, like the quiet boy, connect God and His love for us with the cross?! Jesus did the thinking for us! He changed suffering into love on the cross because suffering and love are two sides of the same coin. That is why we can say that the cross is the symbol of pain and suffering, but it is also the symbol of love. That is why we always wear it on our neck—because it reminds us of how great the love of the Father is to each one of us by giving to us His only Son Jesus Christ.
How do we deal with suffering and the cross?! We can accept that everybody is suffering or accept it as part of human life and turn it into an act of love, that is, a cross of love and not just a cross of suffering. If we always complain about our crosses and suffering, we add more and more heaviness to our cross. Even Jesus Christ, even today, is still carrying His cross, and it becomes heavier and heavier because we add weight like: natural and man-made calamities, sickness, loss of a loved one, injustices and corruptions, rape and murder of innocent victims, kidnapping, and damaging of one’s name.
Let us also take the cross of suffering as a symbol of love, because as St. Fulgentius says: “The cross is the stairway to heaven.”