With the death of my mother, and amidst praising God for what seemed like a very good death graced to her, I have done a lot of thinking about the Cross and the Resurrection. While it is true that many saints indicate that those closest to Jesus seem to suffer the most on earth, we also must remember that everyone (regardless of religion) will face much pain and suffering and death on this planet.
If everyone suffers, then why is Christianity so unique? It is unique because it is the only world-religion that allows us to praise God in the fiery-furnace, in the storm, even from the cross. That might seem sentimental or remind you of an evangelical praise song, but I have been doing a lot of thinking about world-religions’ answer to suffering. Buddhism comes closest to having an answer, but it’s basically this: Suffering is caused by desire, so, to eliminate suffering, you must eliminate desire. Even many Buddhists will admit they have no real answer to suffering except: Avoid it. (Impossible.)
Why then can we Christians praise God from the storm of life? Because of what we hear in the liturgy: It is in dying that you destroyed our death, and it is in rising that You restored our life.
I mentioned in the sermon to my mother’s requiem Mass that the Medical Examiners of the City of Denver were in a meeting on the morning of the third of April, so my mother’s body had to be left in her bedroom for hours. Every time I went into that bedroom of my parents, there was light and grace and peace. I really didn’t expect that for a bunch of reasons I explained here. But it gave me an intuitional sense that Christ had truly conquered death. (I have mentioned numerous times that I am not out to canonize my mother by any means in asserting this.)
Today, I bury my mother since there were no funerals allowed during the Triduum. Burying my mother in the Easter Octave is the last thing I ever wanted to do. But it gives me the hope of the Resurrection. I look back at all my complaining through so many sufferings in life when God wanted me to praise him in those times. Regarding certain horrible situations in He Leadeth Me, Fr. Ciszek wrote in Four Years in Purgatory: “The situations themselves were His will for me.” I see that instead of looking for a better cross from which to praise Jesus, or even a better angle on that cross with less pain, we have only to find the one we are currently on to praise Him in abandonment to Divine Providence. That doesn’t mean we refrain from escaping from a temptation to sin or remain in an abusive relationship. But barring such unique examples, we are given everything we need through Our Faith and Sacraments to triumph over death and suffering in this life, even in the non-romantic situations that come our way.
I still believe my favorite line from any saint to explain suffering on earth comes from St. Bernadette who wrote, “Why must we suffer? Because here below, pure-love cannot exist without suffering.” That also might look at first-glance like a saccharine-sweet line from a French female saint. But if you look closer at it, you again see that only Christianity—specifically Catholicism with her teaching on Redemptive Suffering—offers the explanation of why we should continue to live in such a broken world.
Here is how I interpret St. Bernadette’s line: As long as God allows free-will on earth, God has chosen not to destroy evil until every human and angel’s will is finally focused on eternal good or eternal evil (heaven and hell.) Before that point in world history, earth is the place where good and evil must collide. Not just Jesus and Satan collide, but every Christian and non-Christian must collide on this planet “here below.” While pagans kill Christians, it is not our duty to kill them (except for self-defense.) It is our job to convert them through loving our enemies. The closer we come to pure-love here on earth, the more our Triumph will arrive by winning the world to Christ on the cross of Redemptive Suffering.
If God were to destroy free-will, He would have to destroy the world. If this happened, there would no longer be a place to choose charity, either. Therefore, evil and good must collide on earth in ways that seem unfair to us. God only allows specific evils from which He can draw greater goods. This is the entire message of Good Friday spanning into Easter Sunday—that the evil of man’s sin was turned into man’s salvation without sinking human freedom.
Ultimately, God will have the last word in the Final Judgment, the General Resurrection of the Dead. Now mercy prevails, but at that point justice will prevail. The evil ones will not get away with it forever (like those who pushed the covid-vaccine on the world to enact their own version of population control, unless they repent of such a genocide before death.) Yes, those who lived on earth in hatred of Christ will meet their doom at the end of time.
But those who have lived “here below [a] pure love” (as St. Bernadette wrote) will have the same love of the Resurrected Christ in heaven in bliss as they did praising Him from the furnace of trial here on earth. Yes, it will be a love purified and amplified, divinized and better-focused in heaven versus what we have in our hearts here on earth. But in some sense, it will be the same charity given us in our baptism here-below praising God in the storms of our life as what we will (please God) have in the Beatific Vision as we adore the Risen Christ face-to-face one day. Mercy will also prevail for all the elect for all eternity as they praise God for all the sins He has forgiven them.