Joe had made a decision. He wasn’t going to go to Church anymore. Why should he? Things in his life couldn’t be worse, so what was the point? Everything was going in the wrong direction for him, from his broken family to his crazy job situation! And it didn’t seem that God was all that interested in helping. He was on his own to figure things out. He thought, “If God really cared about me, why am I suffering?”
Saint Paul says something very curious to us this morning. Did you catch it? “Now I rejoice in my suffering 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, of which I am a minister….”
This is a pretty remarkable statement, when you think about it. How could anything be lacking in the sufferings of Christ? And Saint Teresa of Avila writes about helping Christ carry his cross. She does this in a letter giving advice to a person who was experiencing desolate dryness in prayer (which means that it seemed that there was no response from Christ). She writes giving an example:
This gardener helps Christ carry the cross and reflects that the Lord lived with it all during his life. He doesn’t desire the Lord’s kingdom here below or ever abandon prayer. And so he is determined, even though this dryness may last for his whole life, not to let Christ fall with the cross. (Explain this a little bit)
All of this has to do with something that I don’t think most of us are uncomfortable with, and that is the call to share in Jesus’ sufferings. Many of us think that because Jesus suffered on the cross, we shouldn’t have to suffer. Saint Paul writes about this in more than one place in his letters. He wants us to understand that there’s more to our faith than just seeing Jesus as our guide on a painless path to God. Actually, we are asked to be a part of the continuation of the mystery of Calvary in us.
What does this all come down to? Don’t abandon Christ in your suffering. And the kinds of suffering we experience differs from person to person.
So, when you confront the cross in your own life, don’t think that you are being abandoned by Christ. In fact, it actually means the opposite. And it is through suffering that love is perfected.
So, keep praying when you don’t want to. Think of how Christ so perfectly loved his Father by accepting the cross, and ask for the grace—maybe even just a fraction of that grace—to persevere and be purified through being steadfast in your desire to do what God asks of you even though it seems that what is happening makes no sense to you.