The liturgical year…takes us from one growth point of soul to the next until we come to understand the meaning of the moment, until we come to realize that the life of Jesus is the template for our own. If we are really meant to follow Jesus, then we must follow Jesus into every dimension of life, including the suffering that is the price of it. We must look closely at how He handles each moment of life, what He expects in every situation, whom He helps, whom He chides, what He holds out as the ideal. Indeed, the life of Jesus is not a monument to the past; it is an invitation to the fullness of our own futures.
The problem is that we resist suffering with might and main. There is a natural inertia built into the human condition that seeks the comfortable, the familiar, the secure. We want to shape life to our specifications and fix it there. We want stability. When life becomes difficult, the temptation is to want to reach the summits we can see, to settle down there, to turn our worlds into stone. We fossilize our hearts. We say this is enough. We limit our vision to what we can grasp without strain. We spend life trying to settle down, satisfied with where we’ve come, in control of where we are. Ironically, it is stability – homeostasis, the failure to adjust, to grow, to change – that threatens to destroy the very system it sets out to save.
Living life suspended over time simply does not work. The static kills. Only the capacity to go on living, to face all of life as it is, grows us. With or without our permission, with or without our understanding, eventually suffering comes. Then the question is only how to endure it, how to accept it, how to cope with it, how to turn it from dross to gleam.
Lent, the liturgical year shows us, is about the holiness that suffering can bring. It is about bringing good where evil has been, about bringing love where hate has been. It is about the transformation of the base to the beautiful.
But don’t be fooled: Lent is not about masochism. It is about being willing to suffer for something worth suffering for, as Jesus did, without allowing ourselves to be destroyed by it.
Suffering is a stepping-stone to maturity. It moves us beyond fantasy to facts. We know everything in life will not go our way. We will not simply get what we want or avoid what we do not. And we will know when the price is worth paying or not.
The point is that no one escapes suffering. It is part of the rhythm of life, part of the process of living. The question, then, is, for what are we willing to suffer?
Sister Joan Chittister in The Liturgical Year: The Spiraling Adventure of the Spiritual Life from the chapter entitled, “Suffering” p. 124-126.
Other posts in this Lent series: