Good Friday: Gospel – John 18:1-19,42

How do we Make Sense of Suffering?"

Preached by Fr Philip Heng, SJ at Church of St Ignatius – Singapore
on 6th April 2012

Without any doubt, Good Friday services compared to other services during the year, draws the biggest crowd.  One of the reasons for this could be that we are trying to make sense of the meaning of our sufferings in life with the meaning of the Sufferings of Christ.

When we ponder on what is happening in the world that is so full of suffering and pain where innocent lives are lost through environment calamities like typhoons, flooding, earthquakes and if we consider how millions upon millions of innocent lives are also marginalised, exploited and destroyed under so many different forms of evil, we are can fully understand if we lose hope and want to give up on the possibility of there being a real transformation in the world where there is genuine and lasting peace and unity for everyone.  Humanly speaking, we are faced with a world of suffering and pain; a world where millions upon millions of people are helpless and hopeless.

In the midst of all of these global evil and gloom, we are gathered here and all round the world today as Christians to profess courageously that there is hope because the Jesus the Son of God Himself; fully divine and fully human WILL give us the meaning to human suffering, and our Christian faith and commitment have the ONLY answer to human suffering.

In Fr Cantalamessa’s homily on Good Friday he adds.  What do you do to reassure someone that a particular drink contains no poison? You drink it yourself first, in front of him. This is what God has done for humanity: he has drunk the bitter cup of the passion. So, human suffering cannot be a poisoned chalice, it must be more than negativity, loss, absurdity, if God himself has chosen to savour it. At the bottom of the chalice, there must be a pearl.

We know the name of that pearl: resurrection!  St Paul says, "In my estimation, all that we suffer in the present time is nothing in comparison with the glory which is destined to be disclosed for us" (Romans 8:18), and the Book of Revelations 21:4 says, "God will wipe away all tears from their eyes; there will be no more death, and no more mourning or sadness or pain. The world of the past has gone".


If life's race ended here below, we would have every reason to despair at the thought of the millions, if not billions, of human beings who start off at a great disadvantage, nailed to the starting line by poverty and underdevelopment, without even a chance to run in the race. But that is not how it is.  Death not only cancels out differences, but overturns them.  "The poor man died and was carried away by the angels into Abraham's embrace. The rich man also died and was buried … in Hades" (cf. Luke 16:22-23).  We cannot apply this scheme of things to the social sphere in a simplistic way, but it is there to warn us that faith in the resurrection lets no-one go on living their own quiet life. It reminds us that the saying "live and let live" must never turn into "live and let die." (cf. Fr Raniero Cantalamessa, Good Friday homily, 2011.)

Meanwhile, as we continue to journey in this world, as we are called to “drink the poison” of suffering that Jesus the Son of God drank.  And as we are gathered in faith, as Pope Benedict XVI says, “to immerse ourselves in the silence of “all these sufferings” (to contemplate and try to make sense) . . . of the silence of the cross . . . the silence of death. It is a silence that is pregnant with the burden of pain borne by (our God Himself) . . . a man rejected, oppressed, downtrodden . . . (and carries with Him the deep wounds of evil that tried to destroy Him . . . but in vain.)  We are here today to relive the drama of Jesus, weighed down by pain, by evil, by human sin.


When Jesus was hanging on the Cross He looked down and saw the Chef Priests who had plotted to have Him crucified cruelly as a criminal; He also saw the Roman soldiers who had scourged him sadistically and nailed Him savagely; He also saw the crowd who had chanted for His death . . . “Crucify Him, Crucify Him.”

Yet, as Jesus gazes on them, He could only feel deep compassion for them.  Every single one of them, whether he is a Chief priest, Roman soldier or crowd were precious to Him . . . and needed to be shown Compassion and offered Salvation.  And that is why in breathing His last He prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”

We have more than 1 billion Catholics in the world, if from today, every single Catholics were to take the responsibility of showing sincere compassion to those who are suffering and in pain whether it is to a family member, to a friend or better still to a foe, the whole world would be transformed by the Compassion of Christ and Christ would not have died in vain.

St Francis of Assisi was the son of a wealthy merchant; nothing but the best was good enough for him; he was an aristocrat of aristocrats; using our term today, we would say that he was the super elite of society.  In spite of having all these riches, St Francis was never totally happy and had no peace in his soul. . .


One day, while he was riding alone outside the city of Assisi, he came across a leper filled with sores and totally disfigured; to him it was truly a horrible sight.  Ordinarily, Francis being fastidious would have recoiled in horror from the hideous wreck of humanity.  However, something within him moved and touched him to get off his horse to go up to the leper. And when he was close to the leper, he was moved even to embrace him.  When Francis embraced the leper, the leper turned into the figure of Jesus.  Francis experienced such a deep conversion of heart that he gave up all his riches and wealth and from that day onwards lived a life of poverty and humility; reaching out to the poor and needy and seeing Christ poor, abandoned and abused in them.

My brothers and sisters in Christ, our pain and suffering is often beyond our comprehension because none of us want pain.  However, if Jesus hanging on the Cross is to mean something to us, we must, be God’s compassion to people in our daily living.  This could be reaching out to my aged grandmother at home, or my sick parent who suffering from dementia or treating my maid or some drunkard person in the street with dignity and respect or forgiving someone who has hurt us deeply.


Like St Francis of Assisi, we are called to be constantly open to the promptings and challenges of the Holy Spirit to dismount from our horse and go beyond our comfort zones to embrace our sufferings and the sufferings around us, so that like Christ, we will discover the “pearl of the resurrection” that awaits us.

And so, as I conclude, my sisters and brothers in Christ, I would like to add that as we later queue and wait for our turn to venerate the Cross I would like us to do so with great solemnly . . . pondering the Cross and seeing how and why Jesus, the Son of God was crucified for my sake and salvation . . . And, as you do this also sense the Lord inviting you to forgive those who have hurt you and to reach out in compassion every person that God will put in your life, to love unconditionally as He has loved

Fr Philip Heng,S.J.


visitors since 12 April 2012

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