Thursday, April 20, 2023

Rejoicing in Hope: Easter and Our Suffering Today

The Easter Season continues to proclaim the joy of the resurrection. Christ is Risen… even if we feel that our lives in this world are wrecked beyond repair. Jesus has defeated death, and our trust in Him is authentic and reasonable because we have come to know Him and adhere to Him in a loving faith, sustained and strengthened in us by the working of the Holy Spirit, even as we groan in misery under the burden of so many afflictions and troubles in this present life, in these strange chaotic times.

So many of us feel overwhelmed in this Easter Season of 2023. How can we find the profound joy of His Risen Presence when our own suffering goes on and on and on, resisting human efforts to ameliorate it or protect ourselves against it? On top of everything else, there is perhaps a certain subjective “emotional let-down,” a psycho-physiological disappointment that after celebrating the Paschal mysteries of our redemption with such intensity, we seem to remain with the same stubborn flaws, the same impatience, the same narrow self-centeredness, and prone to the same petty and stupid sins as before. It is humbling to realize how much we are still struggling. But we are not struggling alone; we are being purified and transformed by the love of God, which brings its own kind of suffering, but also shapes and gives meaning to all our sufferings as a participation in the Cross of Christ. No matter how awful we feel, no matter what afflicts us in these days, we must not give in to discouragement. Easter helps us to remember that the meaning of our lives is not grounded on our own limited powers but on the gift of Another who creates us from nothingness and saves us from death so that we may share forever His eternal life. The Risen Jesus gives us the Holy Spirit who leads us away from discouragement and into the true life of God, the truth of ourselves: “For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you received a spirit of adoption, through which we cry, ‘Abba, Father!’ The Spirit itself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if only we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him” (Romans 8:15-17).

In Christ we have the hope of joy—which is “already” an initial stirring of joy, because we could never have imagined this promise of eternal life and unconquerable joy to be possible if we had not encountered Him, if He had not claimed us for Himself in baptism and renewed us continually through the life of His Church. Our longing for “more” in life may often be painful and obscure, but it is not a longing that ends in emptiness or absurdity. We long for the fulfillment of what He has begun in us. We have been “saved in hope,” and we must “wait with endurance” to “see” the final fulfillment of our hope (Romans 8:24-25).

This all might seem a bit remote on those days when we feel like we have been hammered on the head with a shovel over and over again. It’s really hard, and there’s nothing wrong with admitting it. Perhaps the only thing we can do at such times is “cry out” in pain (and maybe even our cries are muted). But behind, beyond, and within our moments of powerlessness, God our Father is loving us. He hears the cry of His child, “Abba!” He sends His Spirit to deepen the desire of our hearts for our true inheritance, eternal life with Jesus Christ His Son and our brother.

We groan especially in the evening of our lives, at the increasingly vivid and relentless diminishing of our earthly strength—at what is inevitably the “loss of ourselves” to the limited life of this world. But our Father hears the Spirit praying in us (if we do not drive the Spirit away by willful bitterness, resentment, or despair), the Spirit who prays within our afflicted spirits in “groans too deep for words” (see Romans 8:26). Jesus our joy remains with us, even if we find no apprehension of joyfulness in our reflexive self-consciousness—which ordinarily cannot help being “filled up” with the excessive stress and exhaustion of 21st century mechanically-extended and electronically-amplified life, as well as the whole spectrum of human suffering that we each endure on the path to our destiny.

The resurrection proclaims, nevertheless, the victory of the love of God poured out on the Cross. “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?” Saint Paul cries out. “Will anguish, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or the sword? As it is written: ‘For your sake we are being slain all the day; we are looked upon as sheep to be slaughtered.’ [And all of us have experienced this, at least in some “metaphorical” way—although real, personal, and inescapable for each of us because it is our own suffering, our own need for salvation. But Saint Paul tells us that we do not need to be afraid. God holds us in His love that is greater than every kind of pain, illness, anxiety, helplessness, the threats of enemies, the crimes of war, the violence of revenge, the agony of loneliness, the injustices that cannot be overcome, the tortures of dictators, the concentration camps and gulags, the stupefying noise and ugliness and stench of a world that humans build when they ignore God and make themselves masters of everything according to their own measure… if we are poor and afflicted and reaching for the God of salvation in the midst of all the horrors and all the suffering, we must let Him grab hold of us and place our trust in Him, with the hope of joy, for victory is at hand.] No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:35-39).

Jesus Christ is Risen! Trust in Him, and rejoice!