St. Alphonsus Retreat House, Long Branch

At a nursing home a group of seniors were sitting around talking about what they were suffering from. "My arms have gotten so weak, I can hardly lift this cup of coffee," said one. "Yes, I know," said another. "My cataracts are so bad I can't even see my cup of coffee." “I can't turn my head because of the arthritis in my neck," said a third, to which several nodded weakly in agreement. "I forgot where I am and where I'm going," said an elderly gent. "I guess that's the price we pay for getting old," winced an old man as he slowly shook his head and all agreed. "Well, count your blessings," said Betty cheerfully, "Thank God we can all still drive."

We were brought to the desert with Jesus last week. This time, we are on the mountaintop with Him. One pictured desolation and the other showed glory. One manifested loneliness and temptation, the other affirmation and acceptance. One exemplified the bitterness of the winter of sacrifice while the other had the radiant birth of spring. Both places, however, manifested a reality all of us know by now: the only way to glory is sacrificial suffering. During Lent, the readings about the transfiguration of Jesus always come after the readings about his 40 days in the desert.

When Jesus was transfigured on that mountain, he opened to us the idea of a suffering Savior. The time will come when our faith will be tested. The time will come when we will be like Abraham when we have to surrender to God people we love as they depart this world. The time will come when we have to remind ourselves what St. Paul said, “If God is for us, who can be against us?”

Nobody among us wants to suffer. Nobody among us wants to be in pain. We asked the same questions ourselves, “If God loves us, why do we have to suffer? If He is an all loving God, why does He have to take our loved ones away? If God is love, why do we see so much hatred around?”

Our religion is filled with helpful contradictions. We know that it is only when we suffer that we are glorified. It is only when we die that we are born again. It is only when we embrace the painful Cross that we are blessed and sanctified.

Only those who have been purified can say that they have been victorious. Only those who have passed through the painful phases of growing and its difficult stages can say that they have really grown up: our baby steps that journeyed from learning how to walk, talk, reason out and being independent. Those were the days when we had pimples, freckles, braces, first car, first friends, first crushes, first loves, first marriages, and for some, first divorces. And we say from all these experiences that we can fully appreciate the view from the mountaintop only when we have gone through the desert of our lives.

As children, we somehow know part of the answers to suffering. Better to study, do our homework assignments and prepare for class for that is what we are being called to do. Playing videogames, surfing the Internet, texting and calling up friends have its own time and moment. As parents, we somehow know part of the answers to suffering. Spare the rod and spoil the child. It is better for us to endure some growing pains, than to grow enduring pain.

And as adults, we know part of the answers to suffering. Jesus Himself is a picture of it. Whenever we look at the Cross, we see a sacrificial Lord and we can just remember what St. Paul said that the sufferings of the present time are as nothing compared to the glory that is revealed for us.

When St. Teresa of Avila in a vision was once heard asking our good Lord why a lot of people are suffering, it was said that God replied, “That’s how I treat my friends. I let them suffer for awhile.” And St. Teresa was heard to say, “Now I understand why you only have a few friends.”

Those who are in the midst of suffering right now, be thankful and be grateful to God, who is your friend. Only those who want us away from God would not let us suffer. Only those who want us apart from God would hate the meaning of love and sacrifice. And only those who tempt us in wanting for pleasure and not pain, comfort and not inconvenience, diversion and not reality would prevent us from being at peace.

When Jesus was transfigured, his face shone and his clothes became dazzling white. He was at peace with His Father. Whether it is in the desert or on the mountaintop, he knew that His Father will always be with him. We should never forget that in moments of happiness, contentment, peace and mountaintop experiences, God is there with us. And in moments of suffering and uncertainty, in moments of doubt and pain, during our own desert experiences, God will never be far from us.

Thank God, He is driving!

8 March 2009

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