Friday May 6, 2005 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Sixth Week of Easter
Reading (Acts 18:9-18) Gospel (St. John 16:20-23)
Our Lord in the Gospel reading today, as He compares our suffering as Christian people to the labor of a woman about to give birth, tells us that when this woman has given birth she forgets the pain because of the joy of the child. And so what He is telling us is that there is going to be a new life for us. Just as there is new life in the person of this little baby and everybody rejoices in the baby, so too, He is telling us that for us there is going to be a new life after the suffering. In this world, we will suffer. But in heaven there will be no suffering and it will be a new life that will be glorious.
The suffering, of course, is not something that anyone is too terribly overjoyed about. There is no woman who is too excited about the idea of giving birth. She is very excited about the baby, but not too excited about what is going to happen for the baby to arrive. Well, we can look at somebody even like a Saint Paul, who was extraordinary in his acceptance as well as his courage in facing suffering, but in today’s reading we heard the Lord tell him that he did not need to be afraid, that he could stay in Corinth for a while and no one would attack him or hurt him. After having been stoned and beaten and so on, one can understand why he might be a bit concerned. So, again, we see the humanness. Certainly in somebody who is as great as Saint Paul, we see his courage, we see the amazing things that he was able to deal with to be able to accept those sufferings and unite them with Christ. Yet, at the same time, we see that in his humanness it was something that made him a little bit uneasy. And who wouldn’t be?
Yet, for Saint Paul, he was willing to accept the suffering if that was what was going to bring about new converts. If people were going to find new life in Christ, he knew that it was going to come only through suffering. Jesus tells us Himself that this is a new birth by water and the Holy Spirit. Well, if it is a new birth by water and the Holy Spirit, there is only one way that birth comes about – and that is through the suffering. So whether it is bringing someone to complete conversion, or whether it is bringing someone back who has fallen away, the pattern is pretty much the same. It is going to require suffering.
In the world today where the Church is quite hated, where the truth is thoroughly rejected, we have to realize that the only way things are going to come to fruition is if we suffer. Whether it is suffering because of our own sinfulness, whether it is suffering because of the desire to bring about conversion for one’s children, neighbors, or whomever it may be, whether it is a matter of bringing conversion to someone who has never heard of the Lord, or whether it is just simply uniting ourselves with the passion of the Church as She endures spiritually the passion of Christ, it matters not; it is all the same pattern. We will have to suffer in this world, but that suffering is not just like the suffering of an animal, which is useless and worthless suffering. Rather the suffering of the human person has an entirely different variety, a whole kind of dignity to it, because we have a mind and a will that we can use to accept the suffering, to choose it, to offer it up, to unite that suffering with Christ. And because we have that ability, our suffering takes on a redemptive value; it actually shares in the work of salvation and it becomes the suffering of Jesus Himself. Our human suffering becomes divine when it is accepted and dealt with in a Christian manner. And because of the manner in which it is being accepted and offered, it does not end in itself, but rather it ends in new life.
It is when we see it this way that we can understand what Our Lord is talking about, that for a while we will grieve but that grief will be turned to joy. He makes very clear to us in the reading today that it will be a joy no one will be able to take from us. It will be deep, profound, and abiding. It will be the joy that comes with new life. Ultimately, for each of us (provided we go the right direction), it will be the new life of heaven in the face to face vision of God. Saint Gianna, after she had died and came back, said she came back because she had not yet suffered enough and no one is going to enter heaven without suffering – and without a sufficient amount of suffering to be able to bring the conversion of souls and unite them to Christ. So that is what He is asking of us as Christian people: to accept our share of the suffering, not for the suffering’s sake, but for the sake of life. And it is when we embrace that new life that we will have a joy no one can take from us.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.