How many of us here can say that we do not have pain and suffering in our lives? If we look at the world we will see that there is so much pain and suffering. If we look into our own lives, many of us here too would have to admit that we also have much pain and suffering. Before we reflect on our personal pain and suffering, I would like to begin with some statistics of what is happening in our world. These are a sample of some global statistics:
UNICEF tells us that every day 22,000 children die of poverty, and they die quietly in some of the poorest villages on earth, far removed from the security and the conscience of the world. Being meek and weak in life makes these dying multitudes even more invisible in death. Other researches tell us that the richest 20% earns 75% of the world income, while 40% of the poorest earns only 5% of its income. United Nations development programme tells us that infectious diseases continue to blight the lives of the poor across the world. An estimated 40 million people are living with HIV/AIDS, with 3 million deaths in 2004. Every year there are 350–500 million cases of malaria, with 1 million fatalities. Of the 2.2 billion children in the world, 1 billion live in poverty. While some 1.1 billion people in developing countries have inadequate access to water and millions of women spend several hours each day collecting water, in the United Kingdom the average person uses more than 50 litres of water a day flushing toilets. The highest average water use in the world is in the US, at 600 liters day. While 2.6 billion people lack basic sanitation and 1.8 million children die each year from diarrhoea.
In terms of global priorities, United Nations Development Programme statistics show that in 1998, while $6b is spent on basic education for all and $9b on water and sanitation, $780b is used for military spending, $400b on narcotics drugs in the world. In Europe $105b is spent on alcoholic drinks, $50b on cigarettes and $11b on ice-cream. In the US $12b is spent on pet food, $8b on cosmetics, and in Japan $35b on business entertainment.
These statistics can fill many more pages, but I believe it is enough that we become more aware of how our world is suffering so much. What these figures do not tell us is the more frightening tragic truth of how the poorest of the poor people in the world are the greatest victims of exploitation and abuse through multinational companies, powerful politicians, multi-millionaires and billionaires who literally possess the power to control the lives of billions of people through unjust social structures and oppressive regimes that do not respect the dignity of the human person at all.
Human suffering pervades the whole world and permeates our hearts and our homes too. No one is spared from pain and suffering. One of the reasons why Good Friday service draws the largest crowd of people not only in our parish community, but in all churches in the world is because every one of us are trying make sense of what “human suffering and pain” is about. Can Jesus, who Himself suffered so much and was eventually crucified so cruelly help us and humanity make sense of all these sufferings that we speak about?
If we reflect on the causes of human sufferings in the world and our personal experiences of pain and suffering, we will have to say that human suffering and pain are primarily caused by the misuse of human freedom. And for us believers, we have failed to be Christ-like to others. When we cause pain to people in relationships, when we do not care for people in need, when we over focus on our own needs, we are misusing the gift of freedom that God has given to us. This is what the Gospel and our Church calls the sin of committing acts of self-centeredness and the sin of omitting to do the good of other-centeredness.
We all want to be good persons and live in God’s ways, but this is never always very easy. St Paul himself too admits in his letter to the Romans, “I see what is good, but I always end up choosing what is bad. . .yet, it is Christ and not I who lives in me.” This inner struggles of wanting to do good and be Christ-like in our daily living and yet finding ourselves to be somewhat weak and constantly falling and disappointing the very people we love through our sinful ways is a helplessness that we must constantly fight against, and believe that with God’s graces and strength, nothing is impossible.
Unfortunately, one of the basic problems of human living is that we choose to remain at the surface of things, events and relationships. I am sure many of us have people who blame God for their pains and sufferings, they even get angry would stop coming to Church and stop practicing their faith. Many would say, “If there is a God, why is there so much suffering and pain in the world? To such persons, their expectations of God is that He should be there to wipe away all pains and suffering. Such a narrow and self-centered view of God is a form “moral atheism” that tries to use God for our needs, and if God does not answer our prayers in the way we expect, then we do not need God. Our refusal to admit the misuse of our human freedom is a form of pride and arrogance.
At a glance, today’s Gospel of St John’s account of the Passion of Christ may be similar or to some of us a repetition of what we heard proclaimed on Palm Sunday. However, this is not the case, if we were to look and reflect on the text more carefully we will find that all the details of Jesus pain and suffering are not mentioned.
For more than 1,200 years, the Church has use St John’s Gospel for the Good Friday liturgy. In this Gospel, Jesus experiences no pain or suffering. The Way of the Cross is a triumphant parade. There is no agony in the Garden and no description of the pains and sufferings of Jesus. Jesus acts in control at all times and even tells His captors what they must do. When He proclaims that “I am” the soldiers all fall down, in the presence of the divine.
Good Friday that is proclaimed in St John’s Gospel is a celebration of triumph of goodness over the evils of this world that we highlighted earlier. Our Good Friday celebration today affirms that while the world and its powers try to destroy the goodness in human lives, God would intervene and will not allow it to happen.
Even as Jesus suffers and eventually dies on the Cross, His death ultimately proclaims to the world that He is the Lord of life and He will rise again on the third day. In His death, Jesus manifests to the world that our pain and suffering in life are to be submerged in the joy and happiness of God’s Saving presence as we go through in life. Thus, we are never alone in our pain and suffering; we are certainly never going to be defeated or destroyed by them. The world; the non-believers who do not know Jesus are surprised to find that Good Friday is not a day of mourning but a day of rejoicing of what God has done to the human race through Jesus Christ’s death.
If we reflect on our lives more deeply and get in touch with our more authentic selves, we would realise that we have each experienced God’s presence in our lives thousands of times. Have we not experienced His forgiveness, His Mercy and Compassion, His healing graces, insights, inspirations, strength, love that come in so many ways?
To experience the joys and happiness of the graces of Good Friday is not a self-centered joy; it is a joy that is infinitely more than feeling better, stronger and healthier. It is the experience of Jesus’ life-giving death that has destroyed death once and for all. This is Jesus’ triumph over all the evils of this world through His goodness. We must now share with peoples in our daily lives, this triumph of goodness over all evil in the world that is won by Christ’s death, as He will raise again in three days!
Fr Philip Heng,S.J.
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