“If you are insulted for the name of Christ, blessed are you, for the Spirit of glory and of God rest upon you” (1 Peter 4:14). Once again, we are challenged by the recurring message that suffering may come our way for believing and preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ in the world. This is because the world so often rejects, even despises Jesus.
Though this is so, as Christians, we have come to know things, through the gift of faith, that much of the world does not as yet know. And our calling is to help the world know these things by and through our lives and our words. What do we know? We know that God’s love, for his creation and for each one of us, is so great that even though we had fallen away from him (and still do), he did not, and will never abandon us. We know that he came among us in the flesh, that he suffered and died for us, in order to reconcile us to the Father, and to conquer sin and death forever. We know that, though he rose again to the Father, we were not left alone, for the Holy Spirit remains with us as our advocate, our encourager, our teacher, and our guide.
When Peter wrote this words above, persecution was already a reality for the Church. People were already experiencing insults and much more than that. Some had already died for love of Jesus and his word. Others had experienced the threat, or the reality of torture, for believing and preaching the word of God. At times, it must have looked very dark indeed for the still new Church. What would give them the courage to endure this suffering? It was nothing less than God’s generous gift of faith, and the encouragement and the peace that that faith in Jesus Christ gave them. And through that faith they would become the seeds of the Church, something that not even the powers of hell could destroy.
But suffering! Who wants to suffer? Of course those early Christians did not want to suffer the emotional wounds of angry insults, or the real pain of torture, or the immediate existential pain of the threat and reality of their own deaths, any more than we do. Suffering is so often experienced as senseless, or meaningless. How, then, do we find meaning in suffering? For a Christian, it is first found in Jesus, the only begotten Son of God, the second person of the Trinity, who let go of divinity, entered into our humanity fully, who suffered and died for us out of a love for us that we can only understand through faith. He is our example. Because we love him in return, he gives us the graces we need to endure the suffering that comes our way for preaching and living in accord with his word. It is he who delivers our suffering from senselessness by enabling us to participate in the saving work he began over 2,000 years ago. More than that, when we cooperate with Jesus in this way, he infuses us with the joy of his Holy Spirit, even in the circumstances of our suffering.
Lord, Increase our faith. Make us worthy disciples, strong in faith, courageous enough to endure whatever comes our way for loving you in this all too broken world that needs your love so dearly. If suffering comes our way for loving you, Jesus, turn it into a conduit for your great graces of forgiveness, mercy, and reconciliation in our world today. Let that be our joy. We pray this in your name, Jesus. Amen!SKM: below-content placeholder