Wednesday, March 23, 2016

A Holy Week Reflection: 2016

By Sr. Alice Ann O'Neill

"Pray that you may not undergo the test," Jesus said this twice to his disciples the night his Passion began. Jesus himself prayed for this so fervently that his sweat fell like drops of blood. Jesus knew suffering intimately in the end of his human life on earth, and his suffering and death have been commemorated and re-enacted for over 2000 years. We believe Jesus' death began a new covenant between God and God's people and perhaps Jesus, our teacher, was also modeling how to truly live through his death. Jesus trusted his prayerful discernment with God. He bravely placed his life in service to God, and his sacrifice of suffering and laying down his life has inspired billions of people to believe in God.

Suffering and death are not topics people wish to talk about deeply together. Many suffer in silence, and others cry out to God, "why have You forsaken me!" Suffering is difficult to understand and many offer the standard pastoral response, "God's ways are not our ways...God's will is a mystery." To try to help myself better understand God's will concerning suffering, I read books such as Kushner's When Bad Things Happen To Good People and Young's The Shack, Wiesel's Night, and the Bible to help me understand. The battle of good versus evil and free will with God's will are polarities which can never be resolved but are deserving of deep prayerful reflection. Through prayer, discernment, resilience, and direct experiences with suffering, a deeper understanding has developed for me, or at least an openness to the mystery. 

Ronald Rolheiser, in his book Sacred Fire, describes a mature Christian disciple as someone "who has surrendered his or her life to God at a deep level." Jesus' Passion, his suffering and death, were the ideal model of this mature discipleship. Jesus prayed to not be tested through suffering and death, but knew that if this is what God was leading him to, he trusted God and surrendered his life for his friends. Jesus encouraged His friends to do the same. Jesus suffered so something could come to life, so God could shine through him.

Sisters Anselm, Reginette, Judith, and Marguerite: Missionary Sisters of Charity.
On March 4, 2016, a Christian community in Yemen caring for poor, elderly people lost 17 men and women. Four Missionary Sisters of Charity and 12 of their co-workers were brutally murdered, and a priest living in that house was kidnapped and is missing. These Christians were quietly carrying out their daily duties of caring for others in the name of Jesus in their corner of the world and this is why they were killed. Since their martyred deaths, every corner of the world has heard about the desperate plight of people in Yemen.  By killing these brave Christians, the murderers have empowered and illuminated God's message through Jesus and moved millions to compassion, to prayer, and hopefully to action to help Christians in Yemen and throughout the Middle East. Sometimes this kind of suffering and death is asked of God's disciples. There are millions of Christian martyrs in our world's history.

Jesus said, "pray that you may not undergo the test," but if we are asked to give of ourselves through suffering or even death, let us also pray that we may join ourselves with Jesus and His Passion. Through prayerful intention, we can join our suffering with the suffering of others; suffering unique to each Christian...
....physical and emotional abuse and pain...
...losing dear ones...
...and much more.
With Jesus, we can offer our suffering and join together in compassion with others. We may never know or see the results of our offering ourselves but we can trust that God will use us and our suffering to help our world. Perhaps it will also help us to grow into mature discipleship and develop a heart willing to surrender all to God as Jesus did…from darkness to light…from death to new life. 

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