This time of year can be especially difficult for those who are mourning the death of a loved one, or dealing with problems in their marriage or family, facing personal health concerns or financial struggles, watching a family member suffer, or some other emotional turmoil or spiritual darkness. Everybody has some suffering to endure, whether we suffer in silence or not. Pain is pain. It cannot be measured or weighed. It can only be endured by those who are suffering.
Jesus never minimized suffering. I don’t think we are called to do this either. In our effort to console others who suffer we may find ourselves saying things like, “it could be worse.” Maybe it could be worse, and while comparing our suffering to others may help us be thankful for our own situation, it seems like a selfish approach. Are we thankful that we are not enduring as much suffering as someone else? This reminds me of lyrics from an old Christmas tune, “…Tonight thank God it’s them, instead of you…”
I believe it’s best to acknowledge our pain and the pain of others. We can offer prayers for each other, and we can help each other find the true meaning of Christmas. Christmas brings the promise of peace, joy and hope.
How can we find peace, joy and hope in the midst of suffering? If we spend some time pondering the very first Christmas we see it included suffering, uncertainty and turmoil. Somehow, in the midst of all the trouble Mary and Joseph faced they must have also been filled with peace, joy and hope.
This young couple are forced to travel, Joseph on foot and Mary, though late in her pregnancy must travel with only a donkey to give her relief from walking alongside Joseph. Once they arrive in Bethlehem, they face crowds of travellers. As we know crowds of people who are tired from travelling are not the friendliest or most cheerful. Mary begins to experience symptoms of labour, while Joseph is challenged to provide a suitable place for her to give birth.
Finally, he finds a place. Though it is not suitable it will have to do. Scripture doesn’t indicate it, but I assume, like any other man, Joseph would have been frustrated and humiliated to expect his bride to go through labour and delivery in a cave with only a straw bed, and a manger to lay their baby in. After all, he was a righteous man he would have desired to give Mary a proper, sanitary or at least private room for her to give birth in.
Once Mary and Joseph accept the cave and Jesus is born, they must also accept visitors in this humble abode. One of these visitors brings a warning. Their new-born baby’s life is already threatened. To keep him safe, Joseph and Mary must flee, travelling with a new-born baby. Where is their peace, joy and hope?
“My peace I give you.”
Jesus brings peace. We usually seek peace externally. This external peace is temporary. We experience it in a moment of silence, watching a sunset, listening to relaxing music or sitting by the fire. These temporary moments of external peace can help draw our hearts to God and point to eternal peace. Internal peace doesn’t come from our surroundings or our circumstance, not lasting peace anyway. Situations change, God does not. If God wanted to be a distant God he would not have chosen to become one of us. He chose to become one of us because he wants to be known personally and intimately. We find peace internally because Christ desires to dwell within us, even if all we have to offer him is a straw bed in a cave. We can read scripture, sit in silent prayer and contemplate God becoming a human baby.
Christ is eternal, therefore his peace is eternal. He dwells within us, peace comes from within us.
The same can be said for joy. However, this is where many of us mistake joy for happiness. Happiness is worldly and temporary. Joy is eternal. We live in a fallen world, a world where sin abounds and the consequence of sin is suffering. Since we will always have sin in this world, we will always have suffering. Jesus gave suffering meaning. He showed us how to use our suffering to make up for our sins and the sins of the world. Through his resurrection he opened the gates of heaven for us. Heaven is where we will have eternal joy. Our suffering is the path God has laid out for us to get to our eternal home.
Christ invites us to “pick up our cross and follow him,” He never said we wouldn’t have a cross. The saints offer great examples for us on how to experience joy in the midst of suffering. Taking time everyday to thank God for all the blessings we have received will also help us to keep this internal joy. There is always something to be thankful for. We have all received blessings, that we are alive, that we are able to read this post, means at the very least we have a computer or other device.
The moments of happiness we experience in this life, encourage us, give us consolation and strength to continue in our suffering. These moments of joy, also give us hope.
Christ is our hope. He hopes in us, that we will cooperate with his grace and respond to his invitation to live in union with him. We hope in him, as our deliverer.
Psalm 91 promises us, “Whoever clings to me (God), I will deliver, who ever knows my name I will set on high, All who call on my name I will answer, I will be with them in distress, I will deliver them and give them honor. With length of days I will satisfy and show them my saving power.”
How did Mary and Joseph experience peace, joy and hope in the midst of their troubles? They had Jesus physically with them, he who is the Prince of Peace, our Joy and our Hope.
We too have Jesus with us. He promised to be with us always. In every Mass he is physically present in the Eucharist. In every prayer, every thought and every tear, he is present with us. He is waiting for us to open the door of our heart to him, so he can dwell within us and infuse us with his peace, joy and hope.
Will you let him in?