Many years ago, around 1998, the world chess champion Garry Kasparov competed with the IBM Supercomputer, “Deep Blue”. I believe this computer can compute up to about 1 million moves per second. In the first match Kasparov won. IBM increased the challenge by producing a more powerful computer. Kasparov on the other hand prepared even harder for the re-match. In this match, Kasparov lost. When this happened, this Grand Master, the greatest chess player in the world, a man with such powerful brain and great clarity of thought burst into tears. In doing so, Kasparov, did not reveal his weakness or the defeat of a computer over a human person, but instead revealed the absolute superiority of the human person over a computer. A computer cannot weep; only a human person can because only a human person has a heart.
Ponder on the great marvels of the world and the universe; the magnificent beauty of the mountains, the breath taking sunsets of the seas and the great connectedness of how the birds in the sky, the animals of the earth and the fish in the sea, all of them exist in one perfect harmony within the wisdom in ecology. Yet, the human person is the most “perfect” and most “beautiful” of all of God’s creation because only a human person has a heart with freedom. It is the heart that defines us and gives us our identity. It is the human heart that makes it possible for us to develop relationships with our fellow human beings, and most of all develop a personal relationship with God.
Only yesterday morning, someone phoned me in the office; let us call her Jane; not her real name. Jane is not a parishioner. For the twenty minutes we were on the phone, Jane was weeping uncontrollably; her baby girl had died three days ago. Jane said, “Father, I refused to believe the doctors who told me that my baby would die; up till the very last breath of my baby, I was still begging God to save her; I believed that God would save her, but He didn’t, why?! Why did God allow my baby to die?! Father, can you give me an answer? Can you tell me why God did not save my baby?!”
I was silent because I had no answer for Jane. I knew that the “whys” of life is a very human question, especially so when a person is suffering so much. There are many “whys” in our lives and they all express the reality of our human vulnerability and helplessness. When Jane continued to pressure me for an answer, I knew I had no answer except to point her to Jesus and ask her to learn from Him. When Jesus was faced with the reality of His own cruel suffering and death, He too had not answer except to pray in the Agony in the Garden, “Father, if possible remove this cup, but not My Will, but Yours be done.”
I then added, “Jane, we can never tell what may happen to your child in the future . . . God has His Ways. Meanwhile, you need to trust in the Lord; you cannot give up; you must continue to hold on to the Lord; He has not abandoned you. In fact, your daughter who was Baptised before she died, no longer has to suffer from her illness, and is now in heaven with God and all the angels. She too feels your pain and Jesus too feels your pain, and they are praying for you.
It’s the sufferings in the world and the pains in our hearts that is symbolised in the image of the “Sacred/divine Heart” of Jesus; the Feast we celebrated two days ago. In pain and suffering, it is the symbol of the “heart of Jesus” that makes most sense and gives most hope. The “heart” is also a human symbol that we can all relate to as it got to do with our deep human affectionsand love and all the pain that go with love.
The symbol of the “Sacred Heart of Jesus” is not only a heart that is aglow with God’s unconditional love for us, but also a symbol of a heart that is being crowned with thorns or pierced with a sword. It is a love of God who is willing to love so unconditionally that He is willing to suffer and die for us in order that we can gain eternal happiness. The fullness of God’s love is most evident when we see Him hanging on His Cross; it is through the Cross too that the Resurrection of Christ becomes more profound in its mystery.
What do you think would have happened if Jesus only preached, performed miracles and died of old age? Do you think we would take His Message seriously without the Cross? Do You think the Good News of Salvation would have much impact on us if Jesus did not die on the Cross?
The depth of our love for God and for one another is often proven more in crises and trials than when things are well and fine. It is said that the fragrance of a flower is more pronounced and beautiful when its petals are crushed. Three days ago, I celebrated a funeral Mass here for Constance. Constance experienced great suffering when she contacted cancer in 2003. Since then she had relapses in 2005, 2008 and in December last year; at each relapse Constance had to go for fifteen rounds of chemotherapy and finally in May this year her cancer had spread to her bones, brain and lungs.
Throughout her illness and intense suffering, Constance never once complained about her illness or questioned God about her pain. Instead, she continued to transcend her pain and suffering and expressed great concern for people who were close to her. Each time her husband or people visited her and tried to console her, Constance would in turn tell them, “Don’t worry about me, I am fine, please go home; you must be so busy and tired from your work; Constance was always caring; she was always concerned about the needs of others; indeed, she was always putting others first in spite of their intense suffering in life.
In the last days of Constance’s life when her pain must have been excruciating, she continues to struggle with great determination to join the prayers of those who were praying the Rosary and other prayers at her bedside. The greater her pain, the more she would pray, “Jesus, I trust in You. Jesus, I trust in You.” And, during the last moments of her life, Constance told her husband repeatedly with much peace in her heart, “I am ready to go to God, I am ready to go to God.” And, a few moments later she took her last breath and died with a beautiful smile on her face as though she had seen Our Lord and Our Lady coming to meet her and bring her to heaven.
A person’s holiness becomes evident when he/she is being tested with great pain and suffering, and when he/she is not only able to accept her pain, but also go beyond it and interiorise their pain with their relationship with Jesus and draw strength and peace from Him.
That is precisely what Jesus is challenging you and I to become when He says in today’s Gospel, “Come to me, all you who labour and are overburdened and I will give you rest. Shoulder my yoke and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. Yes, my yoke is easy and my burden light.”
And so, when we are faced with pain and suffering in our lives, while we may say that it is very human for us to feel upset and even be angry with the pain and our helplessness, yet we are each called to be Christ-like, like Constance, and to face our pain and suffering courageously, and better still transcend them by finding our strength and peace in Jesus who is always there for us. . . for He assures us in today’s Gospel, “Come to me when you are over-burdened . . . I will give you rest for your souls . . . for My yoke is easy and My burden light.”
Fr Philip Heng,S.J.
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