When Will Our Sufferings End?

7 November 2010 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time
2 Maccabees 7: 1-14; Psalm 17; 2 Thess 2:16 - 3:5; Luke 20:27-38

When November comes, the theme of the readings focuses on eternity. In the liturgical year, the tail-end is about eschatology: the resurrection and the end of days when Christ the King finally rules in triumph. And the Church reminds us that the final say in our lives is not our crosses but our resurrection.

Have you ever wondered when all of our sufferings would end and find meaning? Many of us have suffered for a very long time, and it seems the horizon is not yet at hand. It is like the middle journey of the Israelites: they have left Egypt and the ‘comfort’ of their lives, they are in the middle of the desert, and the Promise Land is still far far away. They even don’t know who will be able to reach it: them, their children or their children’s children.

Remember Albert Camus and his Myth of Sisyphus? Sisyphus, as his punishment from the gods, was made to roll a stone on a steep mountain. But when he reaches the peak, the stone rolls back again to the mountain’s foot and he rolls it up again. Over and over. Again and again. According to Camus, our existence is like that. There seems to be no end; neither does it have meaning. But it is the situation we find ourselves in.

In this angle, Albert Camus is right. Our life is a constant repetition. We find ourselves doing the same routine every single day. We eat and love the same food menu every meal. We struggle with the same issues. We fight with the same enemy in our lives; some of them just changes form, but it is the same banana. Our prayers are repetitive: our petitions to the Lord are the same; our rituals are done every week.

But our faith tells us that in the midst of these repetitions, there is a direction. Often our lives are viewed as a linear struggle, like points in a line: we are here, we want to go there. Not all of life is linear.

Reflect. There are those who have reached the top of their ambitions. They are financially stable. Their names are respected in their own industry. They are in the echelons of power. But they are unhappy. It is not rare to hear them say, “It is lonely on top.”

Don’t get me wrong: those are also important. The linear direction has to be pursued too. We need to survive. However, experience tells us that meaning is not found in that horizon.

The matters of consequence, however, are spiral journeys towards depth. In our constant sufferings for our loved ones, our love intensifies. In our daily practice of our skills and abilities, our passions are fired. In our repeated studies, we discover and hone our knowledge and we grow in wisdom. We repeat to discover what matters. The dive towards depth is a journey towards finding our pearls of great price. The parable has it that the merchant who finds it, will sell everything just to possess it. It is what gives meaning, and all other things are superfluous.

Therefore, every Sunday, we pray and worship as a community to grow in faith. When we fall, commit mistakes, and sin, we are given another chance so that we know what it means to hope. When we care for the people around us, and at the same time, know that the love is also reciprocated, we find ourselves “awake, alive and enthusiastic.” We then discover love.

St. Paul discovered in all of his repeated struggles what matters and what is constant. And what matters and what’s constant are eternal. Our loftiest ideals are found not “up there” but “down there” in the depths of our hearts.

But the pure and stable experience of faith, hope and love, are not experienced in our mortal life. It will be experienced when we are in the company of the eternal God. And thus, death becomes the gateway to eternity. Therefore the commemoration of All Saints Day and All Souls Day almost at the beginning of the theme of eternity in the liturgical year, re-directs our eyes towards forever.

The senseless suffering of the Maccabees’ seven sons and their mother are endured because of the hope that God, in the end, will reward the good and punish the evil. In our lives, the good that we do, even when persecuted, become bearable because of the final judgment.

The belief in our resurrection gives us hope and points to the reality that whenever we find ourselves feeling like Sisyphus, we can always look towards our resurrections. The repeated rolling of our life’s stones becomes meaningful, because it is in view of an end. In the company of God in the afterlife, there will be no stone to roll to the mountain. There is the mountain to enjoy.

2 comments:

J.D. said...

In the Christian religion, belief in Jesus is more important than being an ethical or good person. Simple common sense should tell us there is something wrong with this line of thinking. Let's look at this concept in detail:

Good deeds aren't enough to get you to Heaven; you must be saved and accept Jesus as Lord and Savior.

Bad deeds will not preclude you from Heaven; as long as you repent your sins and accept Jesus, all can be forgiven.

By this logic, the following WILL NOT be admitted into Heaven:

A) Any upstanding and moral Hindu, Jew, Muslim, or member of any other religion who does not proclaim Jesus as God.

B) Any non-Christians who are philanthropists and those who work to improve humanity.

C) Indigenous tribes and people of any country who have never heard of Jesus.

D) Atheists, agnostics, and humanists.

The following WILL be admitted into Heaven:

A) Christians who try to live according to the teachings of Jesus.

B) Anyone (including murderers, thieves, and liars) who accepts Jesus as Lord and Savior, and asks for forgiveness, and tries to live a righteous life from that moment forward.

Conclusion:

A Hindu has at least "some" chance to get into Heaven because at least he/she has a belief in God, even if it is the wrong God. But an atheist has no 'shot in Hell,' so to speak, to get into Heaven because he/she is rejecting God altogether. Even a child molester has a better shot at getting into Heaven than an atheist because a child molester can repent and still know and accept Jesus.

Heaven will admit hardened criminals. I'd rather not attend.

When I think of all of the people who are going to be in heaven, the idea sounds less attractive...actually, terrible. Many in our prison population have accepted Jesus and are Christians. Former thieves, murderers, violent offenders, child molesters, and psychopaths have become "saved" and will be hanging out in Heaven with Jesus. I don't want to be around a bunch of murderers and child molesters for eternity! That may be good enough for Jesus, but it's not good enough for me. I don't want to go to Heaven; there has to be another option. What does the Hell situation look like? If I go to Hell, I will still have to be around criminals, but at least there will be cool rockin' music being played!

Jessel Gerard M. Gonzales SJ said...

I see your point. But the thing, every single person, including the criminals are given a chance to reform and change. That is the whole point of Scripture.

See you wherever you will be.