(from a reflection by Father Henri J.M. Nouwen)
While Jesus brought great comfort and came with kind words and a healing touch, He did not come to take all our pains away. Jesus entered into Jerusalem in His last days on a donkey, like a clown at a parade. This was His way of reminding us that we fool ourselves when we insist on easy victories, when we think we can succeed in cloaking what ails us and our times in pleasantness. Much that is worthwhile comes only through confrontation.
The way from Palm Sunday to Easter is the patient way, the suffering way. Indeed, our word patience comes from the ancient root patior, “to suffer.” To learn patience is not to rebel against every hardship. For if we insist on continuing to cover our pains with easy “Hosannas,” we run the risk of losing our patience. We are likely to become bitter and cynical or violent and aggressive when the shallowness of the easy way wears through.
Instead, Christ invites us to remain in touch with the many sufferings of every day and to taste the beginning of hope and new life right there, where we live amid our hurts and pains and brokenness. By observing His life, His followers discover that when all of the crowd’s “Hosannas” had fallen silent, when disciples and friends had left Him, and after Jesus cried out, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” then it was that the Son of Man rose from death. Then He broke through the chains of death and became Savior. That is the patient way, slowly leading me from the easy triumph to the hard victory.
I am less likely to deny my suffering when I learn how God uses it to mold me and draw me closer to Him. I will be less likely to see my pains as interruptions to my plans and more able to see them as the means for God to make me ready to receive Him. I let Christ live near my hurts and distractions.
I really struggle with patience. It’s hard for me to sit down and finish a book, or to go online without wandering in a hundred different directions. It could be the pressure of society to succeed, to be efficient, to be “well-rounded”… or maybe it’s just attention deficit disorder? But the mistake here would be allowing the world to define who I am, rather than God.
Jesus says that we cannot have two masters, either we serve Him or mammon (Matthew 6:24). Seems straightforward enough, and yet our souls are conflicted. Does this mean we are to become like monks and nuns, utterly detached from worldly things? Consecration to Jesus through Mary does require spiritual disciplines and the offering of self. I think the question to ask is, how much of ourselves do we really want to give? Are we following the greatest commandment to give everything to God: our whole heart, soul, and mind?
By learning patience, we mustn’t confuse it with procrastination (e.g., waiting for a deathbed conversion). That’s not patience, but a type of spiritual laziness. Like Father Nouwen states above, patience is about accepting the things God wants for us, allowing Him to mold us and draw us closer to Him. “Thy Will be done,” even if it means carrying my little cross, in union with Christ’s saving cross (Luke 9:23).
The book of Job shares some important insights—even though he didn’t curse God for his suffering, Job complained and lacked patience. He had pride too, in thinking that he was above suffering. It could have been a combination of pride and extreme pain that was blinding him to God’s Will. He also didn’t have the advantage of understanding God’s own suffering in Jesus—the Father’s sacrifice and the Son’s obedience, so that the Holy Spirit could dwell among us. Love comes down through a spirit of patience.
If God Himself should choose to suffer—if He would allow His own Mother’s heart to be pierced with a sword—then we ought to join the club. God’s family suffers together—the Church Militant on earth with the Church Suffering in Purgatory… only in the Church Triumphant in Heaven will there be an end to suffering. Are we patient enough to walk along this path, on the road to heavenly peace and healing?
The other thing to consider is that because there are only two sides—God’s or Satan’s—if we reject God, we are essentially adding to the suffering of the world by increasing the burden of sin. The compassionate heart would rather suffer patiently on account of the sins of others, rather than cause suffering through the selfishness of sin. Let us maintain our purity of heart, while exercising the spiritual act of mercy of bearing wrongs patiently, through our words, actions, and following in the footsteps of our dearest Savior.