01 October 2012

Suffer with a divine purpose

St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Dominic Church, NOLA

Job is much admired for his wealth and his piety. Most rightly assume that his wealth is largely a product of his piety. The angel, Satan, certainly sees the connection. When God points to Job and describes him as “blameless, upright, and fearing God,” Satan responses by saying, “It's not for nothing that Job is God-fearing. You've surrounded him and his family and all that he has with your protection.” In other words, the only reason that Job is God-fearing is b/c God is blessing the daylights out of him! Remove the blessing and even the Upright Job would curse God. We know the rest of the story and how it ends. Job is stripped of God's blessing and Satan is allowed to play havoc with his life. Despite the best efforts of the Enemy and Job's gaggle of earnest but clueless friends, he endures right to the end. And only the end does he break and question God directly, demanding an explanation for his suffering. This evening, we join Job at the beginning of his suffering, and at this point his attitude is admirable, almost heroic, “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord!” Job can bless the Lord b/c he knows that all he has comes from the Lord. Knowing that all we have comes from the Lord, could we bless Him as we lose it all? 

Here's what the Enemy knows about God's human creatures: as long as we have what we need and most of what we want, we are perfectly content to flow along, living day to day in oblivious ingratitude and expecting to receive not only the same blessings we received the day before but more and better blessings tomorrow. The Enemy knows that if this divine gravy train of blessings is derailed, we freak out and start whining and crying and pitching fits, demanding to know why we are being made to suffer so. And on whom do we lay the blame for our horrible deprivations and destitution? God. All too ready and willing to blame Him for our suffering, we are unprepared and often unwilling to give Him thanks for our blessings. And why is this? Two reasons: 1) we aren't fully convinced that His blessings are truly gifts; and 2) being grateful for a gift requires a measure of humility that bruises our pride. Why should I be grateful for blessings I've earned? I went to Mass yesterday instead of the Saints' game. I'm not saying thanks to God for giving me what I deserve! Here's where Satan smiles and sidles up next to God and says, “Of course he's righteous. You give that miserable ingrate everything he needs. Take it all away and see how long he lasts.” 

Now, whole libraries of books have been written on the meaning and purpose of suffering with the Book of Job in a starring role. So, you're not going to hear the definitive answer in a five-minute homily! But here's the nitty-gritty of it. When we experience pain, loss, disaster, we have a choice, a deliberate decision to make: acknowledging the emotional turmoil I'm feeling, how do I respond to this loss in the long-run? How I respond to loss is called “suffering.” If I respond to my loss with gratitude to God for His many gifts, then I suffer redemptively; that is, my choice to suffer in thanksgiving redeems—saves, restores—the loss by drawing me closer to God. If I respond with petulance, self-pity, spite, then I suffer pridefully right along with the Enemy who lives eternally with the consequences of disordered pride and envy. Job cries out the one sentiment that Pride will never allow an unrepentant sinner to say: “Naked I came forth from my mother's womb, and naked shall I go back again.” We go naked into loss and pain. But we do not have to remain naked in how we suffer. Clothe yourself in thanksgiving and suffer well, suffer with a divine purpose. 

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