Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Christians still suffer, but with hope in God

It is an inescapable reality to both enjoy life and to suffer it. Our very capacity to enjoy makes us capable of suffering to the same degree. As difficult as it is to personally suffer from various conditions and circumstances, It is so very difficult to stand by helplessly as someone we love suffers. I know this from personal experience - it is unavoidable for anyone who loves - how difficult it is when in the face of a loved one in pain all our desire might be to make it better or simply take all the pain away. From our roman catholic and orthodox Christian faith traditions we have come to find four ways to better endure the intense pain of loss and separation, all the more painful when it is compounded by sudden and inexplicable tragedy.

The first "way" is common to all Christians. We remember that God so loved us that the Father sent his willing Son to come among us that we might no longer be alone or struggle against such great odds by ourselves. We realize we still have Jesus as our captain, our champion, just a step ahead of us. He braved the worst of what can befall any of us and shows us the way forward. He lifts our gaze up to see our Father and his immeasurable love for us. There is no better comfort than to feel something of that love.

The second way is also common to all Christians... it is Jesus Himself. He is the living Word of God - the divine Son - and we can draw great strength and comfort from pondering this Word in the Sacred Scriptures. At times as we ponder and pray over lines from the Psalms, Proverbs, Gospels, Letters, and so on... it is as though He speaks to us, to me, personally.

With this living food our spirit mobilizes our flesh to go on and take a few more steps.... A growing intimacy that the Word brings about within us lifts us up into the living God in ways that words cannot tell, as Saint Paul put it, and though our pain remains, it is slowly absorbed into God. In ways that are unique for each person, our pain can become "glorious" or "radiant" as Jesus' own wounds have become. That is, we find we are able to experience comfort, hope, confidence of being loved, even hope for the future - while still caught in the pain of our losses - and this simultaneous suffering and unearthly joy becomes life giving to others around us as they too behold what is happening to us and they get caught up in it....

The third way is partly common to all Christians and is also Jesus from a different perspective, as still present and active among us and within us. Baptism is common to all Christians, a new life, an infusion of divine life in us by the presence and work of the Holy Trinity, that begins to reshape us into children of God. There is a true yet ever mysterious pouring out of the divine life of the Trinity into us and an ongoing presence and action of the divine persons that enables us to progressively experience, think, speak, act, and behave more and more as Jesus did. This too becomes life giving for others to see. We are given much comfort and hope as we see the living God so mysteriously yet so tangibly be present and act within us, lifting us up, slowly transforming us, and also acting for others through us.

What our catholic and orthodox tradition offers us as seven "sacraments" are stable and life giving mysterious encounters with the living God in the person of Jesus. As we stumble in our weak human flesh and fall in our personal sinfulness, we encounter Jesus in a personal way - much as people in the Gospels did - in what we call Reconciliation. As we confess our sins before a priest, it is to Jesus that we confess, and through the priest it is Jesus Himself who says to us "Your sins are forgiven you. Go, and sin no more." Because much of our grief is pain exacerbated by our sins and often by regrets, experiencing personally Jesus forgiving touch is incredibly healing and comforting.

In our experience of the Holy Eucharist, the Bread of Life and Chalice of Salvation are so real, so very much the living Body and Blood of Christ, that we receive nothing less than a "transfusion" of divine life when we receive Jesus in Holy Communion. He takes us by the hand and enables us to more willingly and eagerly give our life for others as He does for us. Confirmation strengthens us in our walk of faith much as the Father's voice did for Jesus, calling Him his beloved Son. When we are sick or injured, the Anointing of the Sick brings us the healing touch of Jesus himself... this is how we experience it. The sixth and seventh sacraments or mysterious encounters with the living God are vocational: Holy Orders in which Jesus makes for himself deacons, priests, and bishops to pastor his people, and Marriage to introduce married couples into a life of Matrimony to experience the mystery of God's spousal love for his Church, for all of us baptized, as for his Bride. All of these are the third way.

The fourth way is about the presence and action of the Holy Spirit, whom in the creed we call "Lord and Giver of life", and of whom Saint Paul had much to say, the promise of Jesus. We believe it is the Holy Spirit who enables us to perceive the presence and action of the Holy Trinity within us and to cooperate with God for our own good and transformation as well as for the good of others. As we become more familiar with the three divine persons, as they progressively reveal themselves to us personally, it is not that our sufferings in this life are less, if anything our capacity to suffer them is enhanced - our sensibility or sensitivity increasing causes the pain in a way to become more "exquisite" - however, the increasing place of the Holy Trinity within us and our progressively being drawn more deeply into the life and love of the Trinity begins to make our personal suffering pale or diminish in proportion.

Our entire perspective comes to life and changes. Like God, we also become better able to tolerate the pain of others, to see it is their journey that they travel as they must, but we can with peace allow them to go on suffering and walking on, knowing they are not alone, that their God is with them, and that somehow, our willingness to bear some of their pain in some way diminishes the intensity of it for them. They know and sense that God also comforts them through us.