"LIKE FIRE IN MY BONES": MOMENTS OF SUFFERING. A Prayer Reflection for 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A.

Some time ago, a woman came crying to me at the confessional. She had not said a word but from the sight I could sense her deep sorrow as tears kept dripping uncontrollably that I was tempted to break the social distancing rules to offer her my handkerchief. The first words that came from her sent hot fountain of tears to cloud around my eyes. She said "father help me; my life is full of sorrows, I have cried severally to God to help me but He had refused to help me, Why? Didn't He say we should call on him in moments of distress and He will answer, why has he not responded?" She said her husband left her with kids and without any support, her rent was due, she was broke and had two elderly parents to care for. I was soo moved by her anguish that if I were God I would remove all her sorrows with a snap of a finger! This woman's anguish animates the crisis of anyone who serves God. She felt cheated by God. Are you going through similar challenges? Do you think God isn't faithful and has abandoned you? Read slowly to hear what the Word of God has to say...

Jer. 20: 7-9
You have seduced me, Lord, and I have let myself be seduced; you have overpowered me: you were the stronger. I am a daily laughing stock, everyone makes fun of me. Each time I speak the word, I have to howl and proclaim: ‘Violence and ruin!’ The word of the Lord has meant for me insult, derision, all day long. I used to say, ‘I will not think about him, I will not speak in his name any more.’ Then there seemed to be a fire burning in my heart, imprisoned in my bones. The effort to restrain it wearied me, I could not bear it.
Oh! Are you surprised that God's own prophet (someone who heard and spoke with God) could undergo trials to the extent he almost blasphemed? Don't be surprised; read slowly again: (c.f Matthew 16:21-27)

Jesus began to make it clear to his disciples that he was destined to go to Jerusalem and suffer grievously at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, to be put to death and to be raised up on the third day. Then, taking him aside, Peter started to remonstrate with him. ‘Heaven preserve you, Lord;’ he said ‘this must not happen to you.’ But he turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle in my path, because the way you think is not God’s way but man’s.’
1. No one desires suffering. Our bodies by its nature dont like pains but Jesus gives us Christians a better understanding of suffering as a pathway to glory. When we suffer therefore (not the type of suffering we bring upon ourselves by evil living), we are called to accept it as God's Will or Divine Wisdom who permits evil to happen to us in order to lead us into a glorious future or to remould us into better persons like the Potter who continues to shape the clay so as to bring forth the best object out of it. 

2. One cannot understand this new way of seeing suffering without the virtue of Hope. It is for this reason Christ describes his suffering in these words: "He was destined to go to Jerusalem to suffer and be put to death". By these words he teaches us that anything that happens to us is permitted or allowed by God. Nothing happens outside His knowledge. And to show us, suffering is not an end in itself but a pathway to something greater He adds "and to be raised up on the third day". By this Jesus affirms the Word of God in Psalm 30:5 that says "though sorrows may last for the night but joy comes with the dawn!" It is with hope to rise in the morning that we all go to sleep at night. Hence, without hope suffering resembles an end and will be difficult to accept.
3. Since Divine Wisdom defines Christian understanding of suffering, anything contrary will therefore be a suggestion of rebellion: a temptation of the devil not to accept God's plan or Will; and we are bound to resist it. Don't be surprised that Peter remonstated with Christ. This is what the evil one does to us whenever we are suffering: he sends different oscillating thoughts to us to confuse and manipulate our minds into rebellion and to break faith just as he rebelled against God. This is what happened in the case of Job when he sends his wife to tempt him to curse God and die (Job 2:9).
4. If you consent to Divine Wisdom about suffering, then you must behave like a Christian in times of suffering by uniting your "dark nights" with Jesus' sacrifice, and together with Him offer your life as a holy sacrifice. This is what St. Paul says when he writes to the Romans: Think of God’s mercy, my brothers, and worship him, I beg you, in a way that is worthy of thinking beings, by offering your living bodies as a holy sacrifice, truly pleasing to God. (Rom. 12:1).

5. For you to overcome moments of suffering you MUST focus on the Word of God and not on the words of men! You MUST focus on Divine Wisdom and not on human thoughts and voices. You MUST cultivate a new "mentality" built on Divine Wisdom and do away with the old mentality of seeing suffering as "end of the road" that is why St. Paul adds: Do not model yourselves on the behaviour of the world around you, but let your behaviour change, modelled by your new mind. (Rom. 12:2). This is the only way to discover the Will of God, to know what God wants and to know the perfect thing to do. Take good advices from men that are not contrary to the Word of God but shut your ears to evil advices.
TASK: Meditate on Jeremiah's suffering and ask yourself: why he did not break faith and blasphemy? Why did he not stop preaching since the word of God brought him persecutions and more enemies? Now listen,  he didn't blasphemy and couldn't stop preaching because he understood that from one's mission, work or state of life comes suffering, trials and temptations hence he exclaimed "Your Word is like fire imprisoned in my bones". If he tries to stop preaching the word of God, the more he cannot resist preaching it. Hence his fulfilment lie not in giving up but in fulfilling the Word of God, therefore he did not give up!
Are you giving up already? Pick yourself up and move on because success is not achieved by quitting: successful people and overcomers are non-quitters! They are those who refuse to be stopped! The are those who refuse to stop trying. 
I Pray God to grant you strength to remain faithful in carrying your cross, and the power to overcome difficult moments in Jesus name. Amen.

© Fr. SimOne Madu,OSJ

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  1. Amen Padre. Quite a journey of struggle in this path called life but yet our part is to remain steadfast even if it feels weary and tiring due to our human nature.
    In comparison to the case study of Jeremiah and Christ, Jeremiah's expectations differ from that of Christ. Do we say firstly, Christ's nature as both God and man and secondly, that Christ acceptance for the mission before taking the human form helped him walked that pat of suffering? Unlike Jeremiah who only had a human nature

    1. JESUS' Nature as God, I my opinion would make it more difficult to accept suffering. Its easier for a poor man to accept moments of lack than for the rich who have never tested poverty. My dear this what Jesus did: For our sake "the Lion" of the Tribe of Judah (Rev.5:5) became a "the Lamb" that was slain (Rev.5:9/Phil. 2:9) for our sake he that is Blessing Himself became curse for us (Gal.3:13) and was abandoned by the Father!(Matt. 27:46). Its enormous my dear! His nature as God makes it even more difficult hence because of this enormous service and selfless love, God (the Father) highly exalted him and Gave him a name that is above every name in heaven, on earth and under the earth (Phil. 2:7-11). As for Jeremiah (and like us) we are humans but Divine nature in us (we are created in God's image and likeness) Jeremiah walked the Path and was faithful, even though we hear his several complaints. And who told you Jesus didn't complain? There's something we miss out sometimes in the whole salvation process: Christ though God, didn't count equality with God (meaning he striped himself of Glory to die). Hence God died in the flesh. It wasn't easy to accept. When the hour came, he wept blood, he complained to the father, but the father at that hour when he bore the sins of many abandoned him! JESUS ALSO COMPLAINED! But the message which is also a question is: When we undergo suffering who do we complain to? The best Person to complain to is God, not man! If you tell men your predicament they may likely lead you astray as Peter almost did. But Christ teaches us: rebuke such voices Jeremiah! Jeremiah was only a prefiguration of Jesus! Jeremiah accepted the mission because God promised to keep him safe and exalt him! That is what is called spirittual consolation. When he faced challenges and was almost giving up he re-energised himself Jesus! He rebuked those voices of rebellion in him. Jesus also had those consolations from the father while on earth. He is God but needed the continuous comfort and consolations from the father! Hence he continously prayed, even all through the night! Why? He needed divine consolations!


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