For Christians, to love is to open yourself up to suffering
A Reflection for the Twenty-ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time
If someone you loved were in the emergency room, where would you be? Even if the answer is obvious—I would be there as well—ask yourself why. Emergency rooms are not pleasant places, and the likelihood of your presence medically assisting the one you love is very slight. Why are you so sure that you would be as close as possible to the side of your suffering loved one?
Because that is the way of love. In itself, suffering is never a good thing. But if someone we love is suffering, then we want our share of it. In The Book of Her Life, St. Teresa of Avila wrote: “I desire to suffer, Lord, since you suffered” (11.12). Teresa wanted to be a woman of sorrows because she loved a man of sorrows. Suffering did not suddenly become a good in itself. It is not something to be sought, not an option to select when we have a choice. Yet love seeks communion, identification. “I desire to suffer, Lord, since you suffered.”
In itself, suffering is never a good thing, but if someone we love is suffering, then we want our share of it.
In this fallen world, all those who love open themselves to suffering. For a Christian, love and suffering are inseparably joined because, like Teresa, we seek to love a man of sorrows. Jesus became that man because of his love for us.
Through his suffering, my servant shall justify many,
and their guilt he shall bear (Is 53:11).
Sin and suffering are great mysteries. We can rightly say that suffering comes from sin, but in doing so we have not explained sin, which is irrationality itself. How is it that we humans ever chose something other than, less than, the God who so freely loves us? Unfathomable suffering entered the world through that incomprehensible decision.
God loves those who suffer. So God will be with them, languish with them until the end, until the last drop of blood is shed upon the cross.
God could undo the unhappy result of our liberty by eliminating our freedom, but that would be the same as removing us. For what are we but that small speck in creation that decides whether or not to love?
How does God assail suffering while sustaining freedom? In love for us, God chooses to embrace our suffering. God loves those who suffer. So God will be with them, languish with them until the end, until the last drop of blood is shed upon the cross.
The Lord was pleased
to crush him in infirmity.
If he gives his life as an offering for sin,
he shall see his descendants in a long life,|
and the will of the Lord shall be accomplished through him (Is 53:10).
The cure to the poison of sin pours forth from the wounded side of Christ. Blood and water tell us that our baptism into Christ is balm. Sharing his cup of suffering is the antidote that heals the sorrow of sin.
The cure to the poison of sin pours forth from the wounded side of Christ.
The Gospels are manuals of discipleship. They do not merely record. They train. The question our Lord put to his disciples he asks us as well.
Can you drink the cup that I drink
or be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized? (Mk 10:38).
James and John so glibly say yes. Perhaps we do as well. We march down aisles to be baptized, confirmed, married and ordained. It is probably best that we do not see the suffering that lies ahead. Instead, the Lord takes the limpid love we offer and gently leads us through the dark valley, where adversity will arm it and make it strong.
In this fallen world, you open yourself to suffering when you love. To love the man of sorrows is to embrace suffering as an act of communion, of identification. “I desire to suffer, Lord, since you suffered.” You suffered because you love me. My sins brought us here, dear Lord, but you have chosen to be here at my side, suffering with me. That changes everything.