|A Reflection on suffering
As I wore through the weeks of bearing the pains of my post cancer operation and another six weeks of pain, discomfort and psychological stress of radiation therapy, my thoughts were once more drawn to think about why Jesus needed to suffer on his cross at Calvary. Pain is not new to me, the bereavement of a dearly loved one, a life time of struggle with depression and anxiety, it’s just that when you think you’ve experienced it all, something new comes along. This was a little different because this pain was more intense and clearly visible to those I was being treated by and who responded with visibly genuine empathy. I imagine this is what Mother Mary and the other women at the crucifixion must have felt for Jesus as he suffered on the cross.
As well as the love and prayers from the Catholic community I cannot speak highly enough for the care and kindness of the Doctors, nurses and staff of ‘Peter MacCallum’ cancer clinic. To add to this as I wandered the hospital filling in the waiting time, I experienced spiritual encounters with people of other faiths. A kind smile exchange and a thank you from an elderly Muslim lady with a very Ozzy accent as I held a door for her. A thank you from a young Muslim family when I went to explain the lift operation. My wife, Norrie assisted a Vietnamese elderly couple on how to order from the cafe and after explaining to them that I was there for an operation they said they would pray for me and bowed with hands together in the traditional Buddhist way. Undoubtedly empathizing from their own pain and cares. So much spirituality, unity and love drawing people together in the face of suffering. And I had had a special experience of the Spirit! Prior to my six weeks radio therapy away from home and in unfamiliar surroundings in Melbourne, I was very anxious and distressed at what I was about to face! Mouth ulcers, radiation burns, inability to eat and feeding tubes, not to mention crowded public transport, the desire to be home when you are not well. One of my functions in the church has been as a special minister of the Eucharist an activity that meant a lot to me through sense of the presence of Jesus however I had decided that since I was very shaky I should decline to do it until I was recovered and had a steady hand once more. On the last Sunday before I was to leave, the commentator asked me if I would stand in if John (not his real name) didn’t show up. I was going to decline but found myself saying a cautious yes, after all John always comes albeit often late. When the time came I looked around and no John! So off I went to the altar, at this moment I had that sense that God wills this! And the message was “Do not be afraid I am with you through all of this!”
Jesus had shown us that he loves us so much that he was willing to demonstrate the greatest sacrifice for love of all that he himself quoted. “No greater love has a person than to lay down their life for their friends.” But there was more than that! He also demonstrated his willingness to experience pain as we must. Like a great general going into battle sharing the risks with his soldiers, he would not hide while we bore pain and death, he was willing to suffer and die with us and ultimately raise us up to new life in perfected love. The Eastern Orthodox call this recapitulation theory and more clearly in Latin Catholic by J. D. Scotus it is “Love not atonement!” For two thousand years people have felt empathy and have been encouraged by this display of oneness. His words having great depth of meaning in “I am the way, the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father except by me.” The final step being death, and as in the poem of the “Footsteps” he carries us through the hardest times of our life including the last mile, our death. “Love is the one thing that transcends all time and space.” (Interstellar) If we have faith we die with Christ Jesus at Calvary and the same day we will be with him in paradise.
But for many people still a long way away from the “Road to Damascus” their hopeful conversion, they will ask “why does God let his faithful followers suffer such that the Just fair as the wicked?” To this we look to the book of ‘Job’. Satan challenges God “Of course the faithful will love you if you give them everything they need and those without will hate you all the more.” And so God concedes for free choice and the ultimate expression of a love perfected by being offered freely without threat of punishment or promise of good times each person must be given talents, challenges and adversities randomly just like being dealt a hand of cards. However he did promise that our burdens would not be too great for our strength and with prayer things can be changed if it suits the divine purpose. For Jesus followers that don’t suffer people would ask how can you give us empathy you who have no idea of what pain is? But those of us who have experienced pain and suffering are better able to empathize and say “I know how you feel because I’ve been there, experienced that!” And so... whenever I am in pain I offer it up in oneness with Christ Jesus as he endured his cross and to those throughout the world who are suffering. From the stations of the cross -The crucifixion. “I look at you and think, is my soul worth this much? How much you must love me! How may I show my love in return? I must accept whatever sickness, torment or agony that is yet to come, to every cross I touch my lips that lets me be with you a co redeemer of humanity.
“God comes to us disguised as our lives” -Fr. Richard Rohr