In many ways, Lent is a reflection on suffering - not just that of Christ's, but all of society's. Today’s Gospel is a call to true suffering, and with it, to true faith. Jesus points out to his disciples the cost of discipleship, stating that those who truly wish to follow Him must “take up his cross daily”. Telling someone to take up the cross, to shoulder and bear one's burdens, seems like an easy thing to do. The deep implications of Jesus' statement, however, force us to the harsh and bleak truth: anyone who wishes to follow Jesus will suffer. For many of my friends, the cost of discipleship leads them to question why following Jesus must involve suffering. A deeper question might be: whey is there any suffering at all?
After all, isn't it sensible to question how a good and just God would allow pain to exist? If we describe God as teh Creator, the one who makes all things to be, then why make pain “to be” at all? This question can be approached from numerous angles and there is no easy answer. In my experience, I must fight the temptation to focus inward and, when suffering, look outward toward others. The fact of the matter is, we don’t suffer by ourselves. During times of struggle and temptation, it is important to remind ourselves that our commitment to one another as Christians means that we will suffer both because of others and with others.
In suffering, we are forced to look deep inside ourselves. We are often forced to confront the evil that lurks in the farthest corners of the heart – the darkness that spreads throughout the body, and wrestle with it. We seek to not to turn away, hide, or freeze in fear, but to walk towards it calmly and welcome it, embodying the Ignatian idea and challenge of finding God in all things. By embracing the bleak, cold reality of the human condition of hurt and pain, we are more able to contend with it. Through looking deep within ourselves and confronting the darkness, we take away a piece that forever haunts us. It is this memory that allows us to empathize, to understand, and ultimately to love. Through confronting suffering, we empower ourselves to turn our gazes outwardly in a new way – not one of destruction but instead one characterized by understanding. Through this consideration, one can help others to emerge from their confrontations with suffering with positive outlooks. With these graced outlooks, then, Christ's true message through his own suffering is to strengthen our faith in the God who calls us to the cross and, in a love born of suffering's dark graces, invite others into friendship with Jesus.