Mission Society of the Philippines

Homilies

5th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME: THE MYSTERY OF HUMAN SUFFERING

Mk 1: 29-39

 

WHILE WE WERE still seminarians, we had done a hospital apostolate for a year. The hospital chaplain, a nun, had assigned me to visit patients having terminal illness. Patients of this sort may not be easy to deal with because they have a lot of questions that we could not readily answer. In the course my work, I encountered a woman who was sick of lung cancer. She never smoked all her life. But her husband did. She was a “passive smoker”, so to speak, while her husband was a chain-smoker. Her pain was too much to bear. Her oft-repeated question was, “Why me, and not him?”

In our world today, we are confronted with misery and pain. In the television news channels, we could see some harrowing images or footages of children dying in famine, or people displaced because of internal strife and war. While we empathize for them, we could also ask this difficult question, “Where is God in these situations?”

The problem of suffering has been an all-time problem. Philosophers and theologians have never found a cogent reason why people have to suffer or to undergo such a suffering. However, the readings of this day can give us some kind of enlightenment to the question of suffering.

Firstly, let us learn something from Job. In the first reading, we have heard Job crying out, “So I have been assigned months of misery, and troubled nights have been allotted to me.” Speaking of misery in the Old Testament, Job can be considered as an exemplar through whom we can reflect on the themes of suffering and misery. Job, a religious man, was put to the test by God. He was stripped of all his possessions, as well as his family. It is a life full of misery. Job did not find an answer to the question of suffering; to the suffering that he experienced.  In fact, there has been no ready and easy answer.  However, Job has shown to us that there is also meaning in suffering. Suffering is part of God’s mysterious plan for us. God does not want us to suffer, but he allows it, perhaps, for our own good.

Secondly, let us turn to the gospel. In the gospel passage, we heard of Jesus’ curing of Simon’s mother-in-law. He also cured the people who were sick. Jesus did not give an explanation to the suffering of people. But Jesus demonstrated how important it is to be with the people who suffer. Being with the sick, curing the sick, and turning human suffering into joy… these are the things that Jesus has demonstrated.

A couple of years ago, Pope Francis had visited the Philippines. His primary reason was to see the people in Tacloban because they had been devastated by the super-typhoon Haiyan. It was also stormy when he visited the city, but the Holy Eucharist was celebrated as planned. The people were wearing the raincoats during the Mass. The Pope encountered the people there and he listened to their sad stories, like, how many family members had been lost in that super-typhoon. Again, these people had questions why these had to happen to them. In responding to these questions, Pope Francis sadly said, “I don’t have an answer to your questions”. And leaning toward the Crucifix, he told the people, “By looking at the Cross, and reflecting on the suffering of Christ, perhaps, we could find an answer to these questions”. Like Jesus, Pope Francis journeyed with people who suffer. He was with them and he communed with their suffering; not so much of explaining why people suffer.

Suffering is not alien to us. It comes to us so often. However, sufferings, from a Christian viewpoint, are opportunities for us to share in the pains and sufferings of Christ. In that sense, we can find meaning to our personal pains. Others may find this ridiculous because this runs counter to the worldly values of comfort, convenience and easy-life. In some countries, there is an easy answer to suffering. Some governments would not want people to suffer, thus, there is only one solution: that is, terminate the suffering. But for us, Christians, we shall take the other path. Like Job, even if it is difficult, let us try to find the meaning of the suffering that we have. AMEN.


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