A few years ago, a young woman working the same job site as me found out that I was a deacon. She sought me out and introduced herself. She asked if I had any problem talking about religion and if she could ask me some questions. I said sure, I’m all about religion. She began to tell me about herself and how she was raised Catholic by her very devout parents. She went to Catholic grade school and high school and pretty much stayed faithful to the teaching of the church and raised her children Catholic as well. She then told me about her father. He was a very faithful and devout man. He never missed Mass, prayed all the time, and was the true inspiration to the rest of the family to also practice their faith. This is where the story went south. She told me her father developed cancer. Her family experienced the rollercoaster ride that cancer treatment can be. Good news one day, bad the next. Her father tried everything and never gave up but, in the end, after quite a bit of suffering, he finally passed from the horrible disease.
During his suffering, he never lost his faith, totally trusting in God’s plan for him. This tragedy, however, left this woman very lost and angry. She was angry at her father for never getting mad at God, and she was furious with God. How could God put her father through all that if He loved him? And how could God take away her father whom she loved so much if God loved her? She asked me with all the suffering her family went through and all the suffering she sees in the world, how could there ever be a loving God.? She believed that there was no God. She no longer practiced her faith and stopped raising her children as Catholics.
The first thing I told her was she must not really believe there is no God, because why would she come and find me to talk about it? God’s grace was still moving in her heart. The second thing I told her was that it was okay to be angry with God. He can take it. He can take it because he was suffering right alongside her father and her family. Most of all, I told her, God created us to love us. All he asks is that we love him back. That’s it.
God could have created us to automatically love him in some kind of robotic relationship, but God wants more than that. He wants us to choose him with our total hearts. To achieve a total kind of love, we must be able to do that in an environment which allows us not to choose Him. If everything was perfect all the time, it would be easy to love God; or maybe, if everything was so perfect, would we even need God? God does not want us to love him because we have to, He desires us to love Him because we want to. Suffering is the opportunity to recognize that God is right beside us and to allow Him to share in our suffering.
We sometimes forget that God did not spare His only Son from suffering. It was through Christ’s suffering and death, which he chose, that we are reunited with the Father. Christ’s obedience and love had to be genuine or His sacrifice for us would have meant nothing.
We will all experience loss and tragedy. No one is spared from it. Even the apostles did not want to hear that Jesus would suffer when Christ revealed to them what is in store for Him in this world. It is after this revelation Christ chooses to share with Peter, James and John what His suffering will bring: His Transfiguration. They were illuminated and surrounded by the love of God and living in that very love. Loving God and living his Gospel brings us through our trials and will transfigure us and bring us through all suffering.
The last thing I spoke to her about was that she is going to need God again. The death of her father was not the last tragedy she will experience. Why would you choose to suffer without our God by your side? Her father knew this. It was why he never lost his faith. When you are in a difficult situation and you are struggling, turn to God. He is right beside you.
May Jesus live in our hearts forever.