Never Easy. Never Alone.

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Today’s reflection is on the Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Sunday February 17, 2019, and the readings can be found by clicking here. This reflection was given as a homily at the Deuel Vocational Institute, California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, in Tracy.
In one my favorite parts of the movie, The Princess Bride, Princess Buttercup is taken captive by the Dread Pirate Roberts, and she’s lamenting how hard it was for her when her true love, Wesley, had himself been taken captive and killed. She complains how much it pained her to know her true love had died–to which he unsympathetically replies, “Life is pain, Highness. Anyone who says differently is selling something.”
Indeed, life is pain. And I found it to be quite true that, “Anyone who says differently is selling something.” It seems like every time I try to deny the truth that life is difficult and often unfair; every time I try and “cheat” that truth of life; every time I try to take a short cut that promises to make life a little less painful, and a little more fun, it seems that I end up worse off afterward than I was at the start! All these earthly “pain killers” have a lot of side effects!
People from all around the world, over the whole existence of time, have asked the question about why life is so full of pain. Have you ever asked that question? Have you ever asked, “Why am I suffering?” or  “Why do good people suffer?” or even, “Why do I seem to be suffering more than the next guy?” Even if we don’t know exactly why suffering happens, it clearly does happen, and today’s Scripture helps to provide some insight to these questions.
First, let’s start with what we know. We know that God is love, and God takes no joy in our suffering! In fact, God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten son, so that all who believe in him might not die, but instead have eternal life. (JN 3:16) God is love, and Jesus came to definitively conquer sin and death, but sadly, though, sin, and sadness, and pain still exist! So, what gives?
The Catholic answer to sin and suffering is two-fold. The first problem is us. We are weak and have a tendency to choose sin, death, and the devil over virtue, life, and God. Can any of you join me in admitting that WE have been the cause of A LOT of our own suffering? Also, when I’m weak, and when I sin, I often create sadness and suffering for those close to me. Right? My kids suffer when I sin. My mom suffers when I sin. I suffered because of my dad’s sin, and depending upon how much power I have, I can create a lot of suffering for a lot of people! A lot of people want to blame God for suffering, but let’s be honest, we need to blame ourselves, our friends, or others–and not God. In fact, far from blaming him, we need to turn to him and cling to him! The psalm today said, “Blessed the man who follows not the counsel of the wicked,
nor walks in the way of sinners, nor sits in the company of the insolent, but delights in the law of the LORD and meditates on his law day and night.” Ps 1:1-2, 3, 4 and 6
If we want to suffer less, we need to take a look at who we’re hanging around! We need to stop delighting in the way of sinners, and start delighting in the law of the LORD! That is what should be on our mind day and night–not drugs, not alcohol, not money, not violence, not anger, and not destruction. We’re hanging around the wrong people, thinking and doing the wrong things, and are ourselves the cause of A LOT of suffering! Why is the world full of suffering? Because they sin…because you sin…and because I sin. I’m the reason.
The second, “problem” is the mystery of God’s creating a world in a state of journeying to ever greater perfection–and the journey isn’t over yet! Like us, just as I am growing in holiness and journeying toward greater perfection, so too the physical world. The world continues to groan and to grow, to be rejuvenated, and reborn. What we call natural “disasters” are really just the world doing what the world does–volcanoes, landslides, earthquakes, storms, and lightening. These events are not God’s punishment, but the world in motion. Just the reality of life on earth. Life is pain, highness.
We often want to be angry with God when we experience suffering and loss, but far better than being angry with God is to run to him, to cling to him, and to cry with him. Jeremiah tells us today, “Blessed is the one who trusts in the LORD, whose hope is the LORD. He is like a tree planted beside the waters that stretches out its roots to the stream:
it fears not the heat when it comes; its leaves stay green; in the year of drought it shows no distress, but still bears fruit.” Jer 17:5-8 Jeremiah does not say that the conditions are not harsh. He does not say that there is not suffering and sadness–but that the tree rooted in God continues to bear good fruit in the midst of the heat, and drought, the trials and tribulations!
And today, in the Gospel, Jesus gives us the final answer–you are blessed. In the good times and the bad you are blessed. Jesus tells us that just because you are poor does not mean you’re not blessed–your inheritance is the Kingdom of God! You are of a royal bloodline! And just because you are hungry does not mean you’re not blessed–you will indeed be filled and your cup will overflow! And you might indeed be weeping now, but sadness is not your end–your end is in rejoicing and gladness! And if you are excluded and insulted on account of your love of sweet Jesus–well, you can count yourself in good company among the prophets and Saints of the Church!
My brothers, Jesus never promises us a rose garden. No where in Scripture are we ever promised that we will not suffer. In fact–it’s the reverse. Jesus promises us that we will experience trial, hardships, pain and suffering. He tells his disciples, “In this life you will have suffering! But take heart, for I have conquered the world.” (JN 16:33) Jesus does not promise us a rose garden, his promise is that in our darkest days, in our most difficult times, when life is at it’s worst for us–he will be there with us through it all. He will never abandon us, he will never leaves us, and if we cling tightly to him we will ultimately rejoice and be glad in heaven. Life is pain, don’t believe the lies that it is or should be otherwise. It is often painful–but take heart, our God has conquered world–and we conquer with him if only we cling to him. Hold on tightly my brothers. Amen.
For Reflection
What is my attitude about suffering? Do I see it as an opportunity to cling to God and run to him in prayer, or do I become bitter and alienate myself from God?
Do I more often sit in the company of sinners, or do I surround myself with those trying to grow in holiness, who call God their father, and seek him in prayer?
How have I been a cause of suffering for myself and others by poor decisions
By Deacon Stephen Valgos

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