Suffering Transformed

Suffering Transformed

Suffering Transformed
Read time: 5 minutes

Recently, in conversation, a friend expressed great happiness that Lent was over. “All that needless suffering and deprivation gets so tiring,” he said. “But did you find it brought you to a deeper understanding of the grace of the Paschal mystery?” I asked. The reply was: “No! It was just dreary, grey, and lifeless, after all the joy of Christmas. I do not like Lent.”

This exchange got me thinking and asking myself: Is the season of Lent, in which we Catholics embrace a life of prayer, fasting and alms giving, merely about suffering? Or is there a deeper purpose behind this season?

The gospel writers tell us that Jesus was first baptized, and then led by the Spirit into the desert. There the devil tempted him for 40 days. They mention that he fasted the whole time, and then he returned to Galilee.

“Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming                      the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the                  kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”         Mark 1:14-15

Two things strike me about this passage. First, 40 days of temptation, starvation, and deprivation in the desert sound to me like real suffering. This experience stands in sharp contrast to my feeble attempts to give up wine, refraining from eating meat on Wednesdays and Fridays, and attending an extra mass each week.

Secondly, the experience in the desert changed Jesus. St. Luke tells us that after returning from the desert, Jusus was “filled with the power of the Spirit” (Luke 4:14). Instead of becoming irritated by the suffering, Jesus let the suffering transform him. He was bold in his preaching and teaching. He admonished people to “repent”, meaning change their way of thinking, change their lives, and change their ideas of God, themselves and others. So, too, with us. The invitation in Lent is to go beyond merely “giving up chocolate,” to a fundamental change of heart and mind. Lent calls us again to conversion.

Notice that Jesus does not give a pep talk; he is not trying to jolly us along on his mission. Jesus is more about shaking the foundations of our lives. Jesus was showing us, in his words and actions, that our lives are not about “us” or about being “happy.” Jesus required more from his followers.

Our life ‘in Christ’ will ultimately call us to love in more deep and profound ways. Such love will involve sacrifice and suffering because Jesus is calling us to ‘selflessness,” not thinking less of ourselves, but thinking about ourselves less. This is profoundly different than our Western culture teaches. If you read Paul’s description of love in his first letter to the Corinthians (Ch. 13) you get the big picture of what kind of love to which Christians are called. Lent invites us to practice loving in this way. We won’t succeed on our own, and we won’t always get it right. But we need to try.

On the face of it, it is easy to see why so many people abandon the church in the modern day. Many people feel this call to repentance just asks too much. Jesus asks the disciple to surrender to the sacrifice and suffering real love demands. However, Jesus does not ask us to do it alone. He depended on the Holy Spirit and shows us we need to do the same. This kind of love demands that we open ourselves to the Divine love without whom we can do nothing. And he gives us the body of Christ, in the sacraments, the Eucharist, the examples of the Saints, and each other. It turns out that we do not need a pep talk; we already have all we need. God bless all of us in this Easter season.

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