By Deacon Derick Cranston
Pain is the rent we owe for having a human body. If we have a human body, we are going to feel pain. Whether it is stubbing our toe, breaking a leg, having our heart broken by someone we love, or the tragic death of a spouse or loved one, we are going to feel pain. There is no getting around it.
But be not afraid. Do not be anxious and fear that you will inevitably suffer pain. This is what St. Paul is writing about in his letter to the Philippians when he urges the Christians in Philippi to not be anxious, but to offer everything through God. If they do this they will experience the peace of God that surpasses all understanding.
Do you know where St. Paul was when he wrote this letter? He was in prison waiting to get his head cut off. If you were in a dark and damp prison chained to a wall waiting to get your head cut off, what do you think you would sit around thinking about all day? Would you be writing motivating letters inspiring people not to be afraid or anxious?
But Paul was not crushed by this because he had fully embraced the joy of the resurrection! “For I consider the sufferings of the present, as nothing compared to the glory that awaits us,” St. Paul writes in Romans 8:18. He knew that our suffering on earth was temporary compared to the eternal joy of the resurrection. Our time here on earth with a human body which feels pain — physical, mental and emotional pain — is only a prelude to the glory that awaits us.
Your pain and suffering can also be a gift to others. There was a man who had lost his wife to a tragic death, and he was overwhelmed with anguish and grief. He asked his parish priest: “Why is God doing this to me?” The priest asked him if his wife would have experienced the same suffering if he would have died first. “Yes,” the man said, “in fact probably more so because she was very sensitive.” “Then your suffering is a gift to your wife,” the priest told him. “You lived, so she would not have to go through the pain you are going through now.”
This is the gift that Christ gives us. Jesus suffered one of the most horrible deaths one can ever experience. He did this so he could share in our suffering and also so we could experience the joy of the resurrection. He did this freely and willingly out of love and compassion.
Your suffering is never pointless. If you offer it up to the Lord, the fruits of your labor will be manifold. The agony of your suffering will be as nothing, compared to the glory that awaits you. If you invite Christ into your heart, you will experience the peace of God that surpasses all understanding.
(Author’s note: This is based on a sermon I gave on Philippians 4:6-9.)
(Deacon Cranston is pastoral associate for St. Mary Parish in Riverside, Holy Trinity Parish in Richmond and St. Joseph Parish in Wellman. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)