Perhaps none of us should take T.V. commercials too seriously. But there is one type of person who should absolutely stay away from them. These are the people who, when symptoms of any illness are described, are sure they positively have that sickness. You name it, they have got it. They may or may not be ill, but they have a healthy imagination – and they enjoy bad health.
On the other hand, there are plenty of ills that afflict us and are not imaginary. Each of us comes in for a pretty good share – beginning with chicken pox and ending with death. If we talk not just of illness but of suffering and tragedy, then we are no longer talking lightly.
A child is born severely handicapped. A person is injured for life in a car accident. Someone is robbed of health by mysterious illness. These are the afflicted. Afflicted, if not by God, at least by life. It is only human to ask why these things are happening. Why me or my children?
The blindness of the mean in the Gospel story is an evil thing, and you heard two theories that tried to explain it. Has he sinned or his parents sinned? The Jews believed that suffering was a direct result of a sinful life. But this young man was born blind. So it could not have been the result of his sins. So, even the disciples asked who sinned: this man or his parents?
Jesus rejects both answers. The disciples are puzzled by the age-old question: why is there so much suffering in the world? Like us, they could not help wondering why God made it this way. Of course, the short answer to this question is that God does not make evil. That because of our free will, the human race rebelled against God and evil came into the world. But it always has been and always will be difficult for us to get a complete answer to the problem of evil.
One of the answers or insights given to all Christians is the cross. Like it or not, we are told that to follow Christ means to accept adversity in life. To face the inevitability of the cross. All of us experience the cross. If you haven’t, you will. Take up your cross daily is not a suggestion, but a command.
All of us experience pain at some time. Physical or emotional. What we do with that pain, with that cross, is what counts. Isn’t it strange that of the two convicts who were crucified with Christ on Calvary, only one is heard? His promise that on this day, you will be with Me in paradise?
Isn’t it pitiful two men suffered the same agony and only one profited from his pain? The other cursed Christ for keeping him on the cross. Why? Because for one, the cross was sheer suffering. For the other, the cross meant sacrifice. Suffering and sacrifice are not one in the same. It is the tragedy of a bewildered world to have confused them. Sacrifice is suffering with a purpose.
I saw a movie once, where a woman was suffering from a painful illness. Her husband tells her, “Make friends with pain and it will stop hurting.” A lovely thought, but not quite true. The solution is more profound. Make friends with God, then you might stop asking “why.” And rather, start asking “how.”
How, Lord, are you going to help me through this passage. To carry this burden, or in Christian languages, to carry this cross. The man in the who Gospel who received sight did not even approach Jesus with the request. Jesus came to him.
He has already come to you in baptism. He continues to come to you in the words of scripture, the Church Sacraments. And He showed us how to deal with suffering. He did not shy away from it. His was a literal cross. He took hold of it with both hands, grabbed it, wrestled with it. Jesus did not accept His cross, that is a passive attitude. Jesus took His cross, embraced it because it was His Father’s will. It reminds us that suffering can be a journey with a goal. Not an endless road that leads nowhere.
So many of us are like those disciples on the road to Emmaus, leaving Jerusalem, walking away from death and suffering. And we all like to do that. But when we do, we miss the resurrection.