Thus says the Lord: “I will send fugitives to the nations […] and they shall proclaim my glory among the nations. They shall bring all your brothers and sisters from all the nations as an offering to the Lord.” The Lord is telling us through the prophet Isaiah about the New Creation at the end of time, where God will gather all of his children to himself. This hopeful passage tells us that even in the days before Jesus was born, he intended to save all of us. There is something a little odd about it though. He says that he will send fugitives. Why fugitives? What’s that about?
It is as if God’s messengers will not be welcome in the world. It is as if they will have to sneak past the masters of the world to proclaim his Good News to all humanity. If you think about it, the words of the prophet are exactly right. The evil one, Satan, is constantly trying to distract us from God. He is constantly trying to steal our soul from God. He shows us the wide and easy gate through which we might travel, knowing that we must instead strive for the narrow gate. This is not because the devil cares about us and wants us to have an easy life: the devil hates us. If we take his offer and follow the wide, easy gate now, we will pay for it for eternity.
Instead, we must do the hard thing. We must remember the teaching from Hebrews: “whom the Lord loves, he disciplines.” This is not because God wants to see us suffer. When I was growing up, I remember my parents saying that punishing us hurt them more than us. At the time I thought it was nonsense, but as I’ve grown older, I understand what they were saying. They were being forced to inflict some sort of suffering on this child whom they loved—me, in many cases—in order to help their child learn how to behave and be a normally functioning human being. If that was true for my parents, imagine how true it is for God! God loves us more than any human being is capable of loving. He doesn’t want to see us suffer. It actually hurts God to see us suffer. Let that sink in for a moment. When we suffer, God suffers with us. He wants nothing more than for us to be healed. In fact, He could cure all of our pains and sweep away all of our sufferings in an instant. But he doesn’t. Why?
Now that really is the question, isn’t it? Why does God allow suffering? Why does God allow terrible things to happen to me, to people I care about, or just to people ever? This is the question that has, tragically, led so many to leave our faith, because they don’t get an answer that satisfies them. For many, the only answer is that God must hate us and enjoy watching us suffer. As I just finished explaining, nothing could be further from the truth. God doesn’t want us to suffer, but if he didn’t let us endure these sufferings, we wouldn’t be able to learn. The Letter to the Hebrews teaches us that “all discipline seems a cause not for joy but for pain, yet later it brings the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who are trained by it.” Brothers and sisters, without enduring some suffering, we cannot grow strong in righteousness. Without that growth, we will not have the strength Jesus tells us that we will need to enter the narrow gate. We stay strong and courageous through our sufferings so that God can “perfect and sustain us” (Prayer after Communion) through these trials. Through these trials, we learn to fix our hearts “on that place where true gladness is found,” (Collect) Heaven.
These trials are where we learn to show courageous strength which allows us to endure trails and persecutions for the Lord. This is what the saints did: St. Monica prayed for over 2 decades before her son Augustine—who would become a doctor of the Church—finally converted; St. Maximilian Kolbe and Fr. Emil Kapaun stared at evil in the face and brought hope to those around them, which saved many from death; St. John Paul II suffered his whole life, first enduring the Nazi occupation of Poland, later from an assassination attempt—after which he had the courage to forgive the man who shot him, and finally through Parkinson’s disease; Saint Mother Teresa, who struggled through spiritual darkness for 40+ years. This is heroic courage. In our prayers let us offer our sufferings to the Lord who suffers right along with us, and let us ask him to give us courage to follow him on the narrow path to eternal life.
Note: Saint Pope John Paul II wrote one of the most profound and moving letters on suffering I have ever read, On the Christian Meaning of Human Suffering. If you have questions or just need something to uplift your soul, I’d encourage you to read it.
21st Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year C
August 25, 2019
Isaiah 66:18-21; Psalm 117; Hebrews 12:5-7, 11-13; Luke 13:22-30