Holy Week: What do we do with suffering?

It’s the age old question: why is there suffering? It’s hard to ignore what is going on in the world around us. As we continue deeper into Holy Week, we see more images of people suffering in Syria and in all of the refugee camps in Jordan, Turkey, and throughout the Middle East. We read about the famine in Yemen, South Sudan, Nigeria, and Yemen. Even here at home there are countless stories of lives lost too early, pain, and grief. What do we do with all of this suffering?

If this week teaches us anything, it’s that Jesus walked the way of suffering. In fact, when we refer to Jesus’ passion, it actually means suffering.  The word comes from the Latin word meaning suffering or enduring. We follow the one who would be betrayed by one of his students, denied by one of his closest followers, and ignored by the others. Jesus experienced the fullness of suffering as he walked the way to Calvary.

I had the chance to hear Fr. Richard Rohr, OFM, speak in Florida in late January. Someone asked him about the future of the church and the biggest challenge it faces today. He could have said something about declining attendance or something about social issues.  Instead, Fr. Rohr shared that he believed how the church responds to the suffering of the world is the biggest challenge we face. So church, how do we respond to suffering?

Jesus, the one who suffered during this Holy Week or Passion Week, taught that “Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness. Blessed are the merciful. Blessed are the peacemakers.” How do we respond to suffering? We work to end the suffering of the world. It’s caring for those in need, offering love to those who are lost, and simply watching out for our neighbors around the world.

While we can’t answer the question fully of why suffering exists, we know that we can respond in our reaction to it. There will be times where our only response will be to mourn. “Blessed are they who mourn,” Jesus said. Author and priest Henri Nouwen once wrote, “Who can take away suffering without entering it?” When we respond with our actions, we enter into suffering along with others. When we pray for those suffering, we enter in a deeper way into the challenges they face. 221645-Henri-J-M-Nouwen-Quote-Who-can-take-away-suffering-without.jpg

Sometimes our best response is to cry and feel the brokenness of that others face. We can’t take away all of the suffering of the world, but we can weep with the families suffering in Syria or Egypt or Yemen. We can’t stop all of the violence, but we can mourn along with those families who grieve. We can’t stop Good Friday, but we can hold onto hope as we weep with Mary and the disciples and feel deeply the pain and sadness of Jesus’ crucifixion and death. Tears are a powerful response to the challenges of our world. It causes us to feel deeply and to respond in a hopeful and loving way.

How can we hold onto hope? As followers of Jesus we know that all who seek the kingdom will be comforted, will be satisfied, will obtain mercy, and will be called children of God. The light of Sunday is coming into the darkness of Passion Week.

I don’t know why suffering exists, but this week teaches me that I am to respond to suffering with my loving actions. I’m also to weep and mourn along with those who are still standing at the foot of the cross.


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