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Suffering is Natural

Homily for Wednesday of the 17th Week in Ordinary Time

Today’s reading from the prophet comes to us in the form of a complaint or lament that Jeremiah utters. He is being persecuted by his enemies. So he cries out to God and muses whether it might have been better had he never been born.

In response, God promises to vindicate him and defeat his enemies.  At the same time, it is also evident that the persecution which Jeremiah is undergoing is simply part of being God’s messenger. You might say that it “goes with the territory.”

The responsorial psalm for this reading is one of the laments from the Book of Psalms. Though the lectionary only presents us with some of the verses, we do get an example of how lamentations are prayers which move us from darkness into light, from sadness into joy, from despair into hope.

Suffering is a natural part of our human existence. This is a consistent message throughout the Scriptures. While many wonder why God allows us to suffer, they are asking the wrong question. If God has asked his only begotten Son to suffer, why would we expect anything else? Indeed, many of the saints have written that suffering is the key to our own salvation. One of the more recently canonized saints, St. Anna Schaeffer, was a Bavarian laundress. One day while she was at work, she fell into a tub of boiling water while trying to reattach a broken stovepipe. Though she was rushed to a hospital, thirty different surgical procedures were unsuccessful in restoring the use of her legs. She spent the rest of her life as a bed-ridden invalid. However, she spent these pain-filled hours writing letters to others encouraging them in their faith. She knitted clothes for the poor and offered her suffering for others. She was diagnosed with colon cancer and died twenty-four years later. Moments before she died, she was heard to say, “Jesus, I live for you.” In the letters that were preserved, she had written, “Suffering is the key to heaven.”

Though our suffering may not be the same as that of Jeremiah or of St. Anna, whatever suffering we offer to God is our key to heaven. It may even be the pearl of great price that we seek in our lives.

Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator

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