I close my eyes as I hear the sound of the consecrated host breaking. The Priest holds up the broken Eucharist and calls us to behold Him. Behold the one who takes away the sins of the world. Behold the perfect sacrifice. Behold the suffering servant. Behold the mystery. Behold our Lord.
As I behold Him, I am swept to the foot of the cross. Here I am watching pure love die. Here I am watching my Lord struggle to breathe. Here I am watching my Lord’s face wince as he pushes and pulls on the nails. His wounds from the scourging are fresh, open and bleeding. Blood from the thorns runs into his eyes. Behold Him. His pain is great, raw and deeper than I can begin to imagine. It is more than just the physical pain that plagues him in these moments. His heart is also breaking. As he hangs there dying, his most loyal are absent. All that he has taught seems to be for nothing. All that he has done- healings, walking on water, calming the storm, feeding the thousands- all of it has fallen on deaf ears and hard hearts. They do not understand who he is. Behold him.
Oh, Lord, why am I here? Why are you showing your suffering to me? My heart breaks to see your pain. It is hard to understand this place. It is hard to understand what is going on here. Oh, Lord, your suffering is too much to behold. You are my love, you are the meaning to my life, you are the air I breathe. To behold you here, dying on the cross is excruciating. To behold you here, suffering through the punishment I deserve is agonizing.
Blinking back tears, I stand and take my place in line for communion. For the past month, I have had the same experience at Mass. I am to the point where I am not sure I even want to come anymore. I do not want to see Jesus suffer like this. Why is he showing this to me? I receive our Lord in the Eucharist with all of this on my mind. And as I resume my place at the kneeler, His voice rings through my heart, “My child, this is love. My pain is great. My suffering is more than a mortal man can bear. My heart is breaking. But, my love for you is greater than this pain. If you don’t know the depths of my pain, then how can you know the depths of my love?” Oh, my Lord, forgive me. Give me the strength to behold your sacrifice and make me worthy to receive your love.
I recently had a teen ask me, “If God loves us, than why is there so much pain and suffering in the world?” This is valid question that I am not going to pretend to know the answer to. I think it is safe to assume that every human that ever lived has suffered. Some have suffered more than others. I don’t think there is a quick, blanket answer that would explain why people suffer. But, I think it should speak volumes to us that the Lord came to this Earth to suffer. He not only experienced suffering on the cross, but also in the desert when he was tempted and in the garden when he prayed with the Father before he was arrested. He wept when he learned of Lazarus’ death. He dealt with rejection and ridicule throughout his ministry. And let us not forget his 30 years before his public ministry began. Growing into manhood is not easy. Yes, Jesus suffered. Through his suffering, we see how suffering has purpose. When we find the purpose to our suffering, then I think we also find hope and the true meaning of love.
To tell you the truth, until recently, I never really understood the concept of suffering. I accepted the fact that I will suffer. And I reasoned that the suffering the Lord wills for my life will help me die to my fallen nature so that I may rise with Christ. But, beyond this broad concept, I really didn’t understand it. I didn’t get what it meant to “offer up” my suffering. Then recently, I had a migraine a few hours before I was supposed to be on stage in front of 175 kids and adults at youth night. I was trying to decide what I was going to do. Should I accept the fact I may not be able to get on stage and come up with plan B? Or, I should pray for a miracle and ask God to take the migraine away so that I may do his work with ease. It was in that last idea that I realized my opportunity. The image of Christ dying on the cross flashed in my imagination. In that moment, I prayed to God thanking him for the opportunity to be obedient despite my suffering. I would be there on the stage in the midst of the migraine and with a smile on my face. The Lord showed me his love and now, I will show him mine.
Working in ministry is not an easy career path. I’ve only got one foot on the path and I can see the sacrifices and challenges my family will face. Since my husband is a teacher, we are already financially challenged. Choosing to be on this path full time will not bring much financial hope to our horizon. But I know this is what the Lord is asking me to do. I used to think that if the Lord wanted me to choose this path, he would make it easy. He would take away the financial challenges and, therefore, the path would be easy to choose. But then I realized that the suffering I endure on this path has purpose. This is my opportunity to choose God despite the suffering. This is my opportunity to love God in the midst of financial pain and turmoil. Sure, I could choose the easy path. But, with this path into ministry, I choose to suffer and to love God in the midst of it- just as he loved me in the midst of his suffering on the cross.
Through the cross, Christ shows us that suffering and sacrifice go hand in hand. And that is why Christ asks us to be his hands and feet in this world of suffering. He asks us to lessen the load of our neighbor out of love. He asks us to love our neighbor without expectations. When we love like he loves, then we can expect to suffer. And when our neighbors see us suffer for their sake, then they know just how much we love them and, perhaps they come to know just how much Christ loves them. I have always understood this concept. This concept is central to a life of service in ministry. But, in the light of my recent prayer experiences, I have come to understand this concept in a new way. When I suffer for the sake of another, in a small way, I suffer like Christ suffered. He is sharing with me the depth of his pain. And with that perspective, I can gain a new understanding of the depth of his amazing, intoxicating love.
"That shall be my life, to scatter flowers--to miss no single opportunity of making some small sacrifice, here by a smiling look, there by a kindly word, always doing the tiniest things right, and doing it for love." --Therese of Lisieux