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A Message from the Pastor

Lenten Suffering

A long time ago, at the home of an old woman who was dying of bone cancer in an upstairs bedroom, after having had administered the Last Rites of the Church, I sat with the family downstairs in the living room. One of the woman’s older grandchildren, a young woman in her latter teens, posed to me this question: “Father, why do people have to suffer?”
This is a human question that begs for an answer. The quickest answer, which is true and full in its own right is, “Because Jesus suffered first.” However, without a good deal of explanation, even a good and faithful catechist can lose his audience.
The fuller answer must begin by posing another question: “Why did Jesus go out into the desert to fast and pray?” According to the Gospel texts, after being baptized by John the Baptist, Jesus fasted for 40 days and nights in the Judean Desert. During this time, Satan appeared to Jesus and tempted him. And what was that 40-day desert experience all about? What good did it accomplish?
Jesus went out into the desert to prepare. And for what was Jesus preparing? He was preparing body, soul, and spirit for his self-sacrificial death in service to his Father, for the good of the many. The ministry of Jesus Christ, that humble service to God his Father, would be something quite different from those who were expecting a warrior messiah. It would become his total self-giving, his humble self-offering on the Cross for the redemption of us all. In that desert, Jesus was preparing himself physically and spiritually to endure his eventual agony, his passion, his death. Physically and emotionally, Jesus was strengthened by his bodily fasting, the denial of his physical needs. Spiritually, Jesus was strengthened by constant prayer which aided him in overcoming each temptation the devil threw at him. The three-fold temptation, as we now know, was devised by Satan to make Jesus turn away from that mission to which he had been sent into the world to accomplish.
During our 40-day journey, our Lenten mortifications—those little sufferings, which we impose upon ourselves now—help to prepare us for the eventual agony of our own deaths, wherein, like Jesus, we will have to endure our own passion. By the grace of God, we will make a final and fitting offering of ourselves to God the Father; and, we will do this for the sake of other souls. Why? Because our suffering as effect when it is offered up. St. Paul alluded to this when he made the claim that he made up in his own body the suffering lacking in the sacrifice of Christ. As Paul put it, "Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of his body, which is the church" (Colossians 1:24).
As Jesus suffered and died for us, we who live in Him now do it for others. Through prayer and fasting and alms giving, already we begin to make of ourselves a fitting offering to our Father in Heaven. And as we offer, we do it for the good of others who may not understand the great gift our offering is for the good of souls. Jesus said, "Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever believes in me will do the works that I do" (John 14:12).
That granddaughter needed to know that her grandma was upstairs making her final offering to God; the offering of her very life. “And, do you know, I asked, for whom she is offering all her suffering?” “I don’t know.” the granddaughter said, flatly. To which I responded, “She is offering it all now for you. She is offering it for you and for all those she loves. Right now, she is offering to God every pain and bitter agony; she is offering it in union with Jesus’ own suffering he endured on that Cross. She is offering it to God the Father for all of you.”
Why do we suffer and why do Christians have to suffer? It is important to remember that God did not create suffering, but the Lord certainly knows that suffering is part of our human condition. He has given us a way to make our sufferings efficacious, that is, to make our sufferings work for something good.
What God has done, in His Mercy, is simply give us a way to make our suffering matter. And when it is offered selflessly, as our Lord Jesus offered, it is most efficacious. Jesus offered up his suffering first. He showed us all how to make an offering of our sorrows and suffering just as he did. Mortifying ourselves during Lent, we learn to offer up our sorrows for others, and eventually to make that last heroic offering of our very lives to God.
All of us who follow Jesus are called to serve the living God; to offer up everything we have and are to Him alone.
I told the young woman that one day her grandmother hoped to see her granddaughter and all her loved ones again in the Resurrection of the body. I said that it was her desire that her granddaughter live for God alone and then live with Him forever in heaven. The girl cried. Her tears betrayed that already her sufferings had only just begun.
As the years have passed, I have wondered, from time to time, whether the granddaughter ever came to understand what it was that Jesus did; and, in turn, what it was that her beloved grandmother accomplished. I will never know this side of heaven. One thing is clear, suffering is unavoidable. However, in Jesus we now have a way of making our Lenten sorrows work for the good of others.
Let’s all turn from temptation, fortify ourselves with prayer, fasting, and the giving of alms to the poor. Let’s turn away from sin and open our hearts to the Gospel. This is exactly what each of us must do in order to be strengthened for that ultimate sacrifice we will offer when we face our death. If we are ever to make an adequate offering of our own lives to our heavenly Father, through His only Son Jesus Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit at work in us who follow him, then we must mortify ourselves for our good and for the good of God’s holy Church.
Without mortification, we will have no endurance when real sorrows come. And that would be a shame; for if that were to happen, we may find that we will have nothing to offer up on that day.

Have a good Lent, everyone.

Fr. Basil, OSB
A Message from the Pastor


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