June 30, 2012 - Saturday of the Twelfth Week in Ordinary Time

Lamentations 2:2, 10-14, 18-19
Psalm 74:1-7, 20-21
Matthew 8:5-17

Our readings today put before us the problem of suffering. It is usually phrased like this: “If God is good, how can he allow so much suffering?” We can understand the suffering of the wicked, but what about the little children in the first reading who starve to death in their mother’s arms asking why there is no food?

We sometimes try to solve this difficult problem by blaming God. Perhaps God has forgotten us. So we repeat in the psalm over and over: “Lord, forget not the souls of your poor ones.” But God does not forget. We are always on his mind, each one of us. Perhaps God is unable to cure the suffering, we might think, but we know this is wrong. God is all powerful. At his word, anyone can be healed of anything. We see this power in the Gospel today. Jesus healed two people, but what about everyone else? What about the ones we love?

There are some answers to the problem of suffering. We can say that suffering is necessary in a world with sin. Some suffering is caused by sin, but also suffering is sometimes the only thing that pulls us out of sin. Sometimes we only stop living indulgent, prideful, independent lives because suffering stops us. Suffering is not a punishment; it is the only cure that prevents us from descending entirely into sin. Suffering in others awakens our compassion. Furthermore, the suffering of this world and this time will go away. Above all, we should not expect to understand everything.

There are all these answers and more. There are books and articles that address the problem of suffering very convincingly, but they are almost always useless in the face of actual suffering. Would you tell a mother who lost her child that God is using that experience to make her a better person? And, by the way, the child is in a better place now? And God works in mysterious ways? No, but it is not because the answers are insufficient. These answers and others are as sufficient as human answers can be. No, these answers, good as they are, will usually not do much for someone who is suffering. We need to bring the answers with us into our suffering. We need to make them part of who we are now. Then, when suffering comes, we will translate the answers for ourselves from trite phrases into ineffable consolation.