In one of his final discourses with his apostles, Jesus said, "I have told you this so that you will have peace by being united to me. The world will make you suffer. But be brave! I have defeated the world!" (John 16:33). I wouldn�t know what their reaction was to this statement of Jesus. But it came to me as a consoling truth to discover that, for the Christian, the question is not "will I suffer?" but rather "how will I suffer?".
         Two thousand years of Christian tradition has been founded on the blood of many martyrs, who for the sake of the kingdom of God, laid down their lives. We immediately think of saints like John the Baptist, Stephen, Peter, Paul. The list continues down the centuries with saints like Felicitas, Maria-Goretti, Maxmillan Kolbe, Charles Lwanga and Companions and Paul Miki and Companions.

        As we stand at the threshold of a new millennium, it is only proper that Christians are reminded of the reality of suffering and the need to persevere through moments of trial. St Paul describes a number of ways that we could experience suffering in Romans 8:35-37. He writes: "Who, then can separate us from the love of Christ? Can trouble do it, or hardship or persecution or hunger or poverty, or danger or death? As scripture says, For your sake we are in danger of death at all times; we are treated like sheep that are going to be slaughtered." No, in all these things we have complete victory through him who loves us!"

The purpose of Suffering

          Is there a reason why Christians must suffer? Through the Old Testament, the Lord God seemed to be preparing his chosen ones to face the reality of suffering. The commonly used example of the Book of Job, illustrates and also opens up our understanding into the mystery of suffering. There is the need for careful discernment into the factors that bring suffering to us. The story of Job clearly illustrates that if we endure and persevere through suffering, the Lord will always reward us. 
          In the Book of Judith, we are reminded in Chapter 8 verse 25-27, "All this being so, let us rather give thanks to the Lord or God who, as he tested our ancestors, is now testing us. Remember how he treated Abraham, all the ordeals of Isaac, all that happened to Jacob in Syrian Mesopotamia while he kept the sheep of Laban, his mother�s brother. For as these ordeals were intended to search their hearts, so now this is not vengeance that God is exacting on us, but a warning inflicted by the Lord on those who are near his heart."

The Mystery of Suffering

          Three key events in Christian Tradition do give us more meaning and understanding to the mystery of suffering--the incarnation, the paschal mystery and Pentecost, as recorded in the Acts of the Apostles. In the incarnation, we contemplate the event of God becoming one like us. This was the path God chose to reconcile us back to him and to one another, after we sinned and lost his friendship. Christian discipleship calls for a great deal of humility in conducting service. Serving one another�s interests rather than our own can be very demanding and costly. This would often come with great suffering, as Jesus Christ had to endure. 
            The paschal mystery presents the event of the passion, suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. In Isaiah 53:3-5 we read the prophecy of the suffering servant. "�Yet ours were the sufferings he was bearing, ours the sorrows he was carrying, while we thought of him as someone being punished and struck with affliction by God�.. and we have been healed by his bruises".

         The many afflictions that we suffer, in terms of sickness, rejection, intimidation, threats, persecution, death etc., in our lives were borne and carried by Jesus Christ, two thousand years ago. Let us unite our pain and suffering with that of Jesus and experience redemption, healing, deliverance and true peace.

          At Pentecost, the promise of Jesus in Acts 1:8� was fulfilled. "But you will receive the power of the Holy Spirit which will come on you, and then you will be my witnesses�" The root word for witness in Greek implies "martyrdom". The power of the Holy Spirit will make us bold witnesses even to the point of laying down our lives for the sake of the gospel.

          In this new millennium, there is urgency for Christian witness that is credible and also fearless, particularly as societies get more secularized and materialistic. Pentecost in many ways brings sanctification and also provides the grace to endure suffering as witnesses of Jesus Christ. The cost of discipleship is necessarily a choice to suffer for the sake of the kingdom of God.

Fruits of Suffering

          St. Paul lists perseverance, a tested character and the virtue of hope as key fruits that are developed when the Christian is able to exult in hardships. "We also boast of our troubles, because we know that trouble produces endurance, endurance brings God�s approval, and his approval creates hope. This hope does not disappoint us, for God has poured out his love into our hearts by means of the Holy Spirit, whose gift to us" (Romans 5:3-5).  With the moral structures in many societies collapsing, there is the great need for Christians to show forth the Christian virtues working in their lives.

Conclusion

         Mary, the mother of Jesus stands out as a model for Christian Discipleship. She heard the word of God and believed it in spite of her fears. She was filled with the Holy Spirit and was able to endure suffering in becoming the mother of our Redeemer and Savior Jesus Christ.  Full of the Holy Spirit and docile to the Holy Spirit�s action in her, she persevered in faith to the foot of the cross, where the crucified dead body of her only son was placed in her arms. Even then she trusted only the more.

         Through the intercession of Mary, may we persevere in our sufferings as disciples of Jesus Christ, and look forward with hope to the next millennium. Let us find consolation in the words of St Paul in Romans 8:18-19. "In my estimation, all that we suffer in present time is nothing in comparison with the glory which is destined to be disclosed for us, for the whole creation is waiting with eagerness for the children of God to be revealed".

Mark Nimo represents Ghana on the International Catholic Charismatic Renewal Services Council, Vatican City. (c) 2000 ICCRS Newsletter, Vatican City

 

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