Monsignor Philip Heng, SJ
Inseparable from our human experiences are the pain and suffering of life. However, at deeper levels of our human experiences are experiences of love: for the people we love and most deeply, for the God who loves us.
Even when we say that God is “far from us” or “I am angry with God”, God continues to be present to us personally and is loving us in all the difficult situations of our lives. A mother who is deeply saddened by her son’s addiction to smoking and possibly drugs, and refuses to give him the money to feed his addictions, continues to love her child, even if the child is angry with her, and refuses to talk to her.
In other words, let us reflect on the pain and suffering we may be experiencing, and remind ourselves that there are deeper truths and realities beyond our physical pain and suffering. There is the selfless human love of those who are close to us whom we often take for granted. There is also the unconditional divine love that at the depth of the mystery of our being, reaffirms the dignity to our human suffering.
There is a true story of Grace who wrote to her aunt during her hospitalisation, as her lungs were collapsing and needing a transplant. She shared, “No doubt, I have days when I feel frustrated. My stomach and legs get so swollen and bloated. I get headaches, and so many other things.”
“It also pains me not because I have to go through all these, but it pains me when I see the people I love suffer because of me. I can never fully comprehend how they feel, but I know what it’s like when you stand by, not knowing how you can help the person you love, yet you are willing to do anything just to ease the person’s pain. Sometimes, they feel helpless because there is only so much they can do for me; especially my mum. It pains me to see her cry and sometimes along with her, my aunt cries too and that will in turn, make me cry! But our tears are always shortly accompanied by laughter … in sad times, we find joy too. But sometimes, I tell myself that I got to be strong for them and for myself.”
Grace’s story touches the depth of our being. If we reflect on her experiences, we see how she authentically and beautifully embraces her pain and suffering with a great courage that comes from her deep love for her mother, aunt and her family.
Grace’s experiences pierce a deeper level: her love for God, the God whom she has grown to know personally over the years and now in life-threatening illness. Through her anguish, she perseveres in self-surrendering faith as she shares, “I ask God what He is trying to tell me, what is it that He wants me to learn through all these difficult episodes, what is it that He wants from me?”
Does God answer such questions? Yes, He does. But, in a way that only a person who loves God deeply and personally can comprehend.
As much as we would wish, God’s “answers” do not always come in ways that we humanly expect or hope for. When Jesus, at the Garden of Gethsemane prayed, “Father, if possible remove this cup … but, your will and not my will be done”, He in His great anguish and agony, was crying out for the strength He needed to bear His sufferings with dignity as His son; not so much as to remove the pain.
Indeed, love transcends our human desires to turn away from pain. We can draw strength, courage and humility to embrace the pain and challenges in our lives from loved ones, especially our family, dearest friends and deep relationships, as Grace’s story captures so beautifully.
Most of all, our love for God who is our deepest love, not only reaffirms our human dignity through our suffering, as in the final years of Pope Saint John Paul II’s illness, but also gives us a peace and hope that only God can give. Ponder on this precious truth during this Lenten season and rediscover Jesus with renewed strength and hope.
Monsignor Philip Heng is Rector of the Cathedral of the Good Shepherd.