\”For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in Him but also suffer for His sake.\” — Philippians 1:29
Who wants to suffer? No one does, really. God created all of us to enjoy this world as much as possible while remaining within the boundaries He has set for us. For example: when some of us were kids, long ago, our parents set boundaries on how far we could ride our bikes. (Yes, without parental supervision, helmets, pads, etc. Hard to believe but true.) They also set a curfew: be home by twilight, or even when you see the first star. We had no cell phones or monitoring devices of any kind. Essentially, our parents trusted us to keep those boundaries–and most of us did, because we trusted that our parents knew what was best. (OK, we weren\’t angels, but what kid is?)
The fact is: most of the time, we didn\’t want to suffer unnecessarily. We preferred reluctantly pulling our bikes into the garage at dusk to the possibility of getting hit by a car or taking a fall due to some object in the road obscured by the growing darkness. No one knew a kid who had actually done this, but everyone knew of some legendary child who Stayed Out Too Late and got a flat tire on his bike and got hit by a car trying to push his bike home in the dark and spent the rest of the summer in traction.
Now: here we are in this surreal Lent of 2020. We have become that legendary child whose story was almost, but not quite, impossible to believe. It\’s bad enough to have a pandemic of Biblical proportions (2 Samuel 24:15-25), but we are also forced to alter our whole way of life because of it. Wearing masks and other protective clothing have become standard practice. Online communication for schools and businesses is at a new high. People are trying to practice unfamiliar ways of living: social distancing, sheltering in place, quarantine. Doctors are saying we should never shake hands again, in order to curb both this virus and other illnesses. Maybe we Westerners can learn to bow instead? Elbow bumping and foot bumping both seem so awkward. We have been unexpectedly thrown into an alien lifestyle, and we are trying to pull things together into some new kind of normality, without much success.
So let\’s take a look at our quotation from Philippians above: It has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in Him but also suffer for His sake. Paul is telling us here that we have received a gift. How could suffering be a gift? Well, we must remember the first part of the thought before we consider this: for the sake of Christ we believe in Him. This is simple enough. During this very week we recall Christ\’s immeasurable love for us, which culminated in His death, taking away our sins. If we have no sins, we must be right with God! So no worries, right?
Well…yes and no. Christ did die, and took away our sins on Calvary. But He also told us to take up our crosses daily, in order to follow Him. (Matthew 16:24) Part of the gift is the struggle. This is so hard for our modern minds to grasp. More and more, we avoid difficulties, pain, sorrow, suffering, mitigating it as much as possible. We want the glorious crown of Christ without suffering for it. St. Paul reminds us here that such a reward does not come lightly–we cannot slide by on \”cheap grace\”, as the Protestant minister Dietrich Bonhoeffer explained. Because we have gladly chosen to ally ourselves with Christ, we should also gladly accept suffering. This is not suffering for the sake of suffering. This is following Christ wherever He goes.
It\’s important to remember, finally, that the cross is not the end–not for Jesus, and not for us, either. As C.S. Lewis writes in The Screwtape Letters (Letter 22):
He\’s a hedonist at heart. All those fasts and vigils and stakes and crosses are only a facade. Or only like foam on the seashore. Out at sea, out in His sea, there is pleasure, and more pleasure. He makes no secret of it; at His right hand are \”pleasures for evermore.\”
As we make our way through this Triduum, please remember that we are praying for you. We encourage you to watch a live-streaming Mass or other prayers so that you may unite with the Church spiritually if not physically. We pray for all the good people who put their lives on the line each day in the attempt to keep us healthy and well-fed. May God bless you and reward you abundantly for all the good you do!