“I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake.” Col 1:24
Today is Labor Day and I invite you to pause in gratitude for all those who keep the world moving and alive by the work of their hands, minds and spirits. I am especially conscious of my Dad today who supported our family proudly by the "sweat of his brow."
What a complex, even confusing, text we have for reflection today. Is St Paul glorifying suffering? A less than careful reading of this text might suggest this, but suffering for suffering’s sake is not a good. It is a temptation we must avoid. Suffering for the sake of others can be heroic and a powerful sign of contradiction to those who avoid suffering at any cost.
Early in my ministry as a priest, I met an older man who was helping his wife die. It was not an easy task. His wife had a form of cancer with external sores that had a terrible odor. Nevertheless, everyday he visited her in the hospital, gave her a big kiss and asked how her night was. Though his wife could not answer easily, she always smiled softly and thanked him for coming. After watching this simple but profound drama, I asked the man to step into the hallway with me. I wanted to ask him how he was doing and tell him how much I admired his sacrifice. Looking at me a little strangely, he said, “It’s no sacrifice, Father. We have been married for 47 years, and although I was not always the best husband, my wife always supported me, always encouraged me. Coming here each day is a privilege I would not want to miss.”
My older friend was suffering and rejoicing, just like Paul. He would have done anything to help his wife and ease her suffering, but he knew there was little he could do. Staying with her, helping bathe and feed her each day, though difficult, was something he properly called a privilege. This is the kind of suffering most of us can never avoid. It comes to us as an ordinary part of life, and faith tells us to respond in love.
Paul’s love for those he was called to serve and lead is so great that the suffering that accompanied it was natural and acceptable. Please God we will have the insight and faith to respond to whatever life brings us with gratitude and joy.
How do you understand suffering? Has someone walked with you in yours; have you had the privilege to journey with others in their suffering?