Twenty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time
August 30, 2020 Cycle A
by Rev. Jose Maria Cortes, F.S.C.E., Chaplain
Saint John Paul II National Shrine
Sunday Reading Meditations
Failure to understand the meaning of human suffering is one of the greatest problems of our secular and technological world.
By the world, I am not only referring to the others, the wicked and the unbelievers, because the dominant mentality affects us all. That is why Saint Paul declares: “Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind” (Rom 12:2).
In today’s Gospel, Peter tries to convince Jesus to avoid the cross. Jesus calls Peter “Satan” for “thinking not as God does, but as human beings do” (Mt 16:23).
At first, Peter did not understand the need for the cross but would later. After Jesus’ death, resurrection and gift of the Holy Spirit, Peter came to understand that the cross is the passage from death to life. In Saint Peter’s First Letter, he says: “Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example that you should follow in his footsteps” (1 Pt 2:21).
The world tries to avoid or eliminate suffering by all means. However, suffering cannot be eliminated. We can alleviate pain but suffering is a profound aspect of our human condition.
In today’s first reading, the prophet Jeremiah speaks about the difficulties he encountered in his mission and declares: “Whenever I speak, I must cry out, violence and outrage is my message; the word of the LORD has brought me derision and reproach all the day” (Jer 20:8). Opposition to his ministry almost makes him give up but an inner force compels him to persevere: “I say to myself, I will not mention him, I will speak in his name no more. But then it becomes like fire burning in my heart, imprisoned in my bones; I grow weary holding it in, I cannot endure it” (Jer 20:9). When we proclaim God’s message, “the Gospel of suffering” as Saint John Paul II called it, we necessarily encounter opposition from those to whom suffering is meaningless. When Jesus was hanging on the cross, people were saying: “Save yourself, if you are the Son of God, [and] come down from the cross!” (Mt 27:40).
Christ did not eliminate suffering but imbued it with meaning, transforming it into an act of self-giving. In Christ, love conquers suffering: “For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Mt 16:25). In today’s second reading, Saint Paul says: “I urge you, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice” (Rom 12:1). When we offer ourselves and all things to God, we find true happiness and a fulfillment unknown to world.
A life without suffering does not exist. The ostensible happiness proclaimed by the world is impossible to achieve, except in commercials or the movies. Many people are frustrated because they can never be as happy as they think they should. When we do not accept our cross or try to eliminate it, not only do we fail to avoid suffering but we also increase the suffering of those around us. Only when we accept our personal cross do we find peace: “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me” (Mt 16:24).
The world says that suffering is incompatible with happiness. However, Christ tells us that suffering is a path toward our fulfilment. In the Apostolic Letter Salvifici Doloris, Saint John Paul II wrote the following: “Saint Paul speaks of such joy in the Letter to the Colossians: ‘I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake’ (Col. 1:24). A source of joy is found in the overcoming of the sense of the uselessness of suffering, a feeling that is sometimes very strongly rooted in human suffering. With Christ, the cross is a means to find life and becomes the path for our fulfilment.