Jesus’ suffering is one of the harder aspects of His ministry to understand. It is easy to think of Jesus as the great teacher or the miracle worker. It is much more difficult to picture Him, God made man, as someone battered and bruised like any one of us. So why does He choose this time of great suffering and hardship to be the most human instead of showing His divine nature? After all, would not more people come to believe in Him and His way if He miraculously stopped His torturers from harming Him? Wouldn’t a legion of angels descending from Heaven to defend Jesus turn the most skeptical into believers?
Jesus’ suffering and death mimic His ministry. While I often wish that Jesus’ message was, “follow me and you will be on easy street for the rest of your life,” I know that He doesn’t let us off that easy. He did not teach that no harm will ever come to those who believe in Him. In fact, He taught repeatedly that following His way would be fraught with inconveniences, hardship, and suffering. It is an unfortunate that our earthly kingdom and God’s kingdom are largely incompatible and you can only live for one of them. But Jesus repeated that those who kept the faith, despite any suffering, would find their reward in Heaven. Like His parables, His message through the scourging was that those who endure great hardship by living for His kingdom will be the first to inherit it.
When I think about those who suffer I break them down into three main groups. There are those who are actively persecuted, suffer, and even face martyrdom for their unrelenting faith in Jesus’ word. In many places such as Africa, the Middle East, India, and China, being Catholic is incredibly dangerous. But these people are our greatest example of living Jesus’ way since they face physical suffering and even death because they keep the promise of one day coming into the kingdom of Heaven. While many of us will never face such extreme hardship we should pray that we can learn from their example of faith and commitment.
The second group is lot larger, but I fear that its membership numbers are dwindling. These are the people who suffer small hardships in their daily lives in order to live their Catholic faith. These hardships include small sacrifices such as not eating meet on Fridays, taking time out for Mass, and fasting. However, in more extreme cases they risk losing friends, quitting jobs, or moving away because they find themselves in situations that are in direct opposition to their faith. While I would like to say that giving to charity and praying should always be moments of great comfort and happiness, in reality those can be times of small difficulty and hardship. Sometimes turning off the television to pray or putting some more money in the collection basket at church are incredible challenges. After all, those who do not live by any faith do not have these obligations and can watch as much television as they want or spend their money on themselves. But we should pray that we live the truth of Jesus Christ always despite the perceived hardships it puts on us. We must remain strong to His message despite the increasing volume of society’s message that faith in God is not important and is just silly superstition.
I fear this last group grows by leaps and bounds daily. These are the people who suffer because they have lost their faith. They suffer because they make bad decisions that, while marketed as making life better, actually make their lives worse. Sure, many of them have nice homes, plenty of money, and fancy clothes. While they laugh at the rules and regulations of organized religion and seem to be perfectly content with life, they are often the most unhappy. Basically, the message of a better world to come is drowned out by the message of “do whatever you want whenever you want.” You only have to look at their faces or hear the anger or despair in their voices to know that their lifestyle has only brought them nothing but anguish and misery. And because sometimes our pride is greater than our faith, we do not admit that our decisions are wrong, ask Jesus for forgiveness, and try to find the correct path of His truth. For obvious reasons, these people need the most prayers. Let us pray that they find the courage towards taking that first step in reconnecting to their faith and filling that void with Jesus’ love instead of easy choices and material possessions.
Let us remember that life involves suffering in some way or another. Jesus did not come into this world to eliminate suffering as seen in His own suffering through His scourging. We should pray that we gather the strength to follow Jesus’ example whether that means enduring life’s small hardships of living the faith or reconnecting with the Church after following a more worldly path. Remember, we do not suffer alone but are called to a life where we share these burdens together along with Jesus Christ, the Catholic Church, and the saints and angels. Have no fear; you have a great support group!