From Suffering to Joy

In this fallen world, we all have our struggles. We often do not know what is going on in someone’s life. Many years ago, I taught a fourth grade CCD class for my parish school of religion. It was the first evening of classes and I was starting the process of getting everyone introduced to one another when one boy blurted out, “I am going to be your worst nightmare.” He was speaking to me. Where in the world did that come from? And how should I respond?

I tried a little gentle correction and tried to move on. I even succeeded in getting the next child to tell the class a little about herself. But this boy acted out again… and again… and again.

The situation escalated until I had no choice but to take him to the director’s office. The director privately asked if I wanted her to call the boy’s father and I said, “No, if it’s okay with you, just let him sit here for a while unless he becomes totally unmanageable.”  I returned to the class and continued as planned without any other interruptions.

When the class ended and the aides had taken everyone to the carpool line, I headed back to the director’s office. I had no idea what I would need to do, so I offered a quick prayer to Mary and St. Joseph. I try to never forget that I am not alone. Help is only a prayer away.

Suddenly, I had this overwhelming desire to be compassionate and forgiving; believe me, that was not the feeling that had been on my mind.

When I sat down next to the boy, I looked him in the eyes and asked, “Is there something the matter? Would you like to talk?” I will never forget the reaction, the boy began crying softly. All he could say over and over was that he was sorry and if I gave him another chance, he would be better. “Please don’t tell my father.” His crying escalated, much like his earlier bad behavior.

I told him that I forgave him, but I would need to speak with his parents. Still crying, he said, “I know.  That’s alright, but it will have to be my dad; my mom just died this summer.” More quickly and urgently I prayed, and then the two of us cried together for a while and then went to see his father who, thanks be to God, loved his boy more than life itself.

So many of us experience pain and suffering; the world at times seems to overflow with it. I knew what this boy was going through; I lost my father when I was a teenager, just when I needed him the most. The only thing worse than a child’s suffering is the pain of a mother and father when their child suffers. And no joy is greater than a child’s joy when loved by his mother and father.

And if this is true in the relationships of human parents and their children here in this vale of tears, imagine how much more powerfully true this is in the relationship between God and us—his children.

The writer of the book of Wisdom says to God:

“For thou lovest all things that exist, and hast loathing for none of the things which thou hast made, for thou wouldst not have made anything if thou hadst hated it. How would anything have endured if thou hadst not willed it? Or how would anything not called forth by thee have been preserved? Thou sparest all things, for they are thine, O Lord who lovest the living” (Wisdom 11:24-26).

We have forgotten the ultimate cause of all suffering in the world today. Suffering and death entered the world through original sin and our personal sin continues to add to the pain. All too often, this pain is visited on the innocent, but in reality, other than a person who has not attained reason, there is no one alive today who is personally innocent. Jesus, himself, teaches us that there is no one good but God alone. And so God came to us, not as a judge, but as a Father who loves us. Jesus says to us, “He who has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9). He reassures us that our sorrow will turn into joy; and that He will give to us the peace that only he can give.

To Seek and to Save

So in this relationship between God and his children, there is no sorrow greater than God’s sorrow experienced by Christ when we reject his love and there is no greater joy than the joy in heaven when one who is lost is found. That is why God became the God-man Jesus. In Luke’s Gospel (Luke 19:10), we are told, “For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save what was lost.”

Are you lost? Jesus is seeking you. Do you suffer? Jesus has come to save you.

The God of the universe has become man to seek and to save you! What do you have to fear? Run to him… if you have to, climb a tree to catch a glimpse of him as he passes by.

Luke tells the story of how Jesus sought and saved Zacchaeus, a tax-collector. Here was a man who was despised as a “sinner” by those pharisaical people who did not acknowledge their own sinfulness. Now Zacchaeus was indeed a sinner and might have cheated many people while collecting taxes and we are told he accumulated much wealth. But in seeking Jesus, who was seeking Zacchaeus, he experienced contrition and resolved to make right the wrongs he had done. He climbed a tree just to get a look at Jesus who was passing by.

What great irony!  Zacchaeus thought he was seeking Jesus when all the while, Jesus was seeking Zacchaeus. Imagine his sorrow turning into joy when Jesus looked up into his eyes and said, “Zacchaeus, make haste and come down; for I must stay at your house today” (Luke 19:6). Imagine his joy being made complete upon hearing Jesus say, “Today, salvation has come to this house…” (Luke 19:9).

This is the joy, if only dimly recognized in our human affairs, which is experienced when a hurting child is loved by a loving parent. How much greater that joy is when our human sufferings are comforted and our sins forgiven by God, Our Father in Heaven, when we, his children, decide to receive his love!

To all who hurt and suffer, God seeks you. He has come to save you, comfort you and make you whole. Go to him as a hurting child goes to a parent; receive his love and forgiveness. Let us praise him who alone is good; “the Lord (who) lifts up all who are falling and raises up all who are bowed down” (Psalm 145:14).

The Answer to Suffering

The answer to suffering, pain and loss is Jesus Christ—God become man—and His Holy Cross. He gives meaning to suffering and brings you to joy.

When you find yourself suffering, open your arms to Jesus who will console you and lift you up. Join your suffering to His transforming it to redemptive prayer. Invite and allow God to “make you worthy of His calling” (see 2 Thessalonians 1:11).

Like the Lord did for Zacchaeus, Jesus seeks you. Say yes to his invitation. Experience the joy!

Into the deep…

The scripture readings during Mass for the Thirty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C) are Wisdom 11:22–12:2; Psalms 145:1-2, 8-9, 10-11, 13; Second Thessalonians 1:11–2:2; Luke 19:1-10.

Image credit: “Zacchaeus in the Sycamore” (detail) | James Tissot, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Deacon Bickerstaff is available to speak at your parish or event. Be sure to check out his Speaker Page to learn more. Into the Deep is a regular feature of the The Integrated Catholic Life™.

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