A few years ago I listened to the audio of a debate at Sydney University between a Catholic and a Muslim. It was most interesting, and I learned much about Islam from it.
One point made by the Catholic speaker in his opening address was that he would demonstrate that Christianity is the only religion in the world that enables the human person to makes sense of suffering.
That message came to mind recently as I have been reading a book called Salvation is from the Jews written by a Jew who became Catholic.
The author, Roy Schoeman, maintains that the entire purpose and meaning of the Jewish religion was to bring about the Incarnation of God as man within a people prepared for this historic event since Abraham.
Of course, one of the major events in the recent history of the Jews has been the awful evil of the Holocaust, or the Shoah, under Hitler in Germany.
It is a very hard question for the Jews to explain why such dreadful persecution and attempted extermination of their race should occur; and we must note that it was racial not religious.
Why did God allow it? Some Jews have lost their faith because of it. Some Jewish theologians have even denied the existence of God because of it.
Roy Schoeman, the Jew who is now Catholic, would say the Shoah can only make sense in relation to Christ. It is only Christianity which can make sense of suffering.
The mystery of suffering
Those who dream of Christianity without suffering, without the cross, are fooling themselves. Maybe we all have times when we think that; even unconsciously. In the face of awful or prolonged suffering we all want to be rid of it.
But the cross is an indispensable ingredient of the life of a Christian. The way of Christ went through suffering and passion to the resurrection. And his way is ours. We cannot come to resurrection without suffering and death.
The Cross signals pain as well as hope, and it must “not be emptied of its meaning”. (St Paul) And further to that, the world will not understand this because Christ’s Cross cannot be understood or explained by the philosophy or ideals of this world, as we heard in today’s Epistle.
Christians don´t necessarily suffer less than other people. What sets the faithful Christian apart is that their suffering can have meaning when united to the suffering of Christ.
St Paul learned directly from Christ that His power is made perfect in us in our times of weakness. Also when we join our suffering to those of Christ we can complement Christ’s sufferings for the sake of all the members of the Church. (cf 2 Cor 12:9 and Col 1:24)
The example of the Saints
Many of the saints came to understand this redemptive value of suffering. Some welcomed suffering so as to participate with Christ in the redemption of the world. I think most particularly of St John of the Cross and, a more recent saint, St Teresa Benedicta, whose name in the world was Edith Stein.
Like Roy Schoeman St Teresa Benedicta was a Jew who became Catholic, traversing also the pathway of atheism. She became a Carmelite nun and she perished in the gas chambers of Auschwitz, because she was of the Jewish race; becoming a Catholic did not spare her.
In his homily at her canonization ceremony in 1998, Bl John Paul II said:
The Cross of Christ! Ever blossoming, the tree the Cross continues to bear new fruits of salvation. This is why believers look with confidence to the Cross, drawing from its mystery of love the courage and strength to walk faithfully in the footsteps of the crucified and risen Christ…Edith Stein is an eloquent example of this.
Our Christian faith, particularly as lived in the Catholic Church, is not only filled with contradictions but welcomes them.
As we hear in today’s Scripture we have to repent to experience the Kingdom of God. Our lives must be directed not according to our pleasure but according to God’s good pleasure. Everything has to be left to follow Christ.
Salvation is not an easy path. If we ever hear the call to ease and comfort it is not Christ who calls us but the Devil. And the Devil will sugar-coat the reality of evil and destruction.
Let us then cling to Christ and have confidence in Christ who has overcome all evil and suffering; who promises us resurrection and eternal blessing and bliss. And it is He who walks with us in the hours of darkness through to the light of the resurrection.