Such sayings like ‘No rose without a thorn’ or ‘No gain without pain’ are a reminder that in any life situation, we cannot achieve real success without great effort and some kind of sacrifice.
Any successful individual is just a testimony to the fact that under normal circumstances success can be won only at the cost of hard work and ceaseless labour; which may include pain and suffering. In fact to live is to suffer.
Since man’s creation, he has raised numerous and unanswered questions in his mind. Why should a just or innocent man suffer? Would life without any suffering be a better life? Without any life challenge!
Neither theologians nor philosophers claim to have a satisfactory answer. In his book Jean Paul II and the meaning of suffering, Robert Schroeder tells us that we have been all victims of suffering in one way or another.
And as survivors we all continue to dress the wounds of suffering’s repeated blows. This does not only prove our membership in the human race but in addition it makes us stronger with a better self knowledge.
As individuals and a nation, we have experienced what is meant by suffering in a way hard to forget. Yes; life is the art of drawing without an eraser, especially when it comes to genocide, which is not an event that one can quickly sweep under the carpet in order to prepare for a tea party!
But on the other hand, life remains like a good book; the further you get into it, the more its facts begin to make sense, suffering included.
It is in this line that the liturgy of the second Sunday of Lent invites us to meditate the more on the meaning of human suffering in general and on our personal suffering in a particular way. We find this theme in the following readings: Genesis 15:5-12, 17-18; Psalm 27; Philippians 3:17-4:1.
The Church in a special way invites us to have a look at St Paul’s understanding of suffering and to follow his example. In his physical and psychological suffering, St Paul developed a great capacity of inward focus which according to his own words molded him into a true apostle of Christ.
That was his personal perspective which helped him to develop a tremendous strength of coping up. The same perspective enabled him to maintain an outward view on how his sufferings might affect others. This force in turn gave him a new character in serving those weaker than him as a wounded healer.
By observing his own suffering and opening up for others, St Paul teaches us Christians to see in Christ’s suffering evidence that God cares about our suffering because he has taken it on himself; thus dignifying suffering on behalf of us all.
It is interesting to note that in recent years, different health professionals especially therapists have increasingly recognized the clinical relevance of St Paul’s approach to personal suffering.
When talking of pain and gain within the context of the Lenten period and Easter, Fulton Sheen, a renowned theologian puts it this way: “There can be no Easter Sunday without Good Friday.”
To be glorified on Easter Sunday, Christ had to suffer on Good Friday. But before that Jesus had to help his followers to put their suffering in its proper perspective. We read this in Luke 9:28-36, where Jesus becomes transfigured.
The veil was lifted and his disciples received a glimpse of his divinity shining forth through his humanity. Moses and Elijah appeared and conversed with Jesus.
As we meditate on our suffering during this period of Lent, it helps us to get a clue why Jesus found Transfiguration a necessity. It is because the suffering of Jesus would have been unbearably scandalous for his disciples without the foretaste of the Resurrection.
In fact this brilliant vision served as a reminder to the disciples that Christ’s terrible days of suffering, his horrendous appearance on the cross was a way to his glorification as the Resurrected Christ.
That is the suffering which leads to success. And using this liturgy, the Church invites us always to put our suffering in our personal perspective for a better understanding and to develop our coping strength.
And the same liturgy cautions us: Life is like a rose, beware of thorns.