Great Love & Great Suffering
Acts Chapter 7
I’d like to begin with a short prayer:
In the name of the Father, Son, Holy Spirit, Holy Spirit please fill me up and take over so that the words I speak may be your words and not my own. Also, please hold off any possibility of me going into labor for the next 10 minutes! Amen
Great suffering and great love is what I would like to talk about today. Two things that seems to be so far from each other, but the mystery is that they are so closely tied to each other. I’d like to read a small section from a meditation from Richard Rohr, a contemplative priest who runs the Center for Action and Contemplation in Phoenix, AZ, that is entitled Great Love and Great Suffering.
“We must learn to be able to think and behave like Jesus, who is the archetypal human being. This becomes a journey of great love and great suffering. This journey leads us to a universal love where we don’t love just those who love us. We must learn to participate in a larger love – divine love
Any journey of great love or great suffering makes us go deeper into our faith and eventually into what can only be called universal truth. Love and suffering are finally the same, because those who love deeply are committing themselves to eventual suffering, as we see in Jesus. And those who suffer often become the greatest lovers.”
This mystery of great suffering and great love is one that I have been drawn to for many reasons, Today, I would like to discuss briefly two areas where I see this great mystery displayed in my own life. The first being motherhood, and the second being rejection/loss/death.
So, who better to stand up and talk to you about suffering than the 9 month pregnant woman who could go into labor at any minute! I have spent the last nine months giving up control of everything in my body for the sake of a growing child. I can’t sleep, I have heartburn, restless leg syndrome, back aches, headaches, dry mouth, back aches, leg cramps…..If you talked to me during my first three pregnancies, I would have complained about how much I disliked being pregnant and how I felt like it was an alien invasion and takeover of my body for nine months. I’d say things like, “I really want more children, if only I could have them delivered by the stork and not have to be pregnant.” “I love everything about being a mother, expect being pregnant”
I’m not sure what happened, but this all changed with my fourth/fifth pregnancy. I now see pregnancy as a huge blessing, and a necessary prepping for motherhood. I believe pregnancy, childbirth, and the first year of a baby’s life are necessary sacrifices and sufferings that must be endured to fully experience the great gift of love God has given to us through the blessing of a child. I now feel so blessed to be involved with God and my husband as co-creators of the life that is growing inside of me. I understand that through our cooperation, God is producing a life that will be a gift to the whole world. It is only through some suffering that I experience this great love.
The second example is how we learn to love deeply by facing things we are most afraid of: rejection, loneliness, death, and broken hearts. I’m sure we have all had to face these challenges over and over in daily life. I began facing them when I was a child, when I was eleven years old my uncle Stevie was murdered. He was my mother’s youngest brother. She was the sixth child and he was the seventh. She love him dearly, we all did, and this event had a huge impact on me and my family. This really was a turning point in my childhood and ultimately my life. This was the first, of many untimely deaths that I would face. This event, among many others, has helped to form me into the person I am today. I have continued to be challenged every day by new blessings and trials that God places in my life. He is continually forming me and teaching me through these events. I can see myself changing, and I am very thankful for everything God allows me to be a part of, even if it brings suffering, because in time, He has the power to turn great suffering into great joy.
We are all continually asked to step out of our comfort zone. I believe we must face, or be forced to face, our fears to experience deep change and growth. God does not expect us to be it on our own, he has given us our past experiences and many examples of those who have suffered before us, such as Stephen in today’s lesson. He very much pushes us to our limits, when we feel helpless and hopeless in our situation, that is the time to most rely on His strength and not our own. That is what brings us closer to God, and makes us more like Jesus. One thing I love about being Catholic is that I get the opportunity to see Jesus on the cross. The crucifix is a continual reminder to me that I am not going through anything that Jesus himself did not have to face during his short life on earth. I can go to him with anything and he will understand it fully and deeply.
I’d like to end by reading a short writing by Henri Nouwen titled, Love Deeply:
Do not hesitate to love and to love deeply.
You might be afraid of the pain that deep love can cause. When those you love deeply reject you, leave you, or die, your heart will be broken. But that should not hold you back from loving deeply. The pain that comes from deep love makes your love ever more fruitful. It is like a plow that breaks the ground to allow the seed to take root and grow into a strong plant. Every time you experience the pain of rejection, absence, or death, you are faced with a choice. You can become bitter and decide not to love again, or you can stand straight in your pain and let the soil on which you stand become richer and more able to give life to new seeds.
The more you have loved and have allowed yourself to suffer because of your love, the more you will be able to let your heart grow wider and deeper. When your love is truly giving and receiving, those whom you love will not leave your heart even when they depart from you. They will become part of yourself and thus gradually build a community within you.
Those you have deeply loved become part of you. The longer you live, there will always be more people to be loved by you and to become part of your inner community. The wider your inner community becomes, the more easily you will recognize your own brothers and sisters in the strangers around you. Those who are alive within you will recognize those who are alive around you. The wider the community of your heart, the wider the community around you. Thus the pain of rejection, absence, and death can become fruitful. Yes, as you love deeply the ground of your heart will be broken more and more, but you will rejoice in the abundance of the fruit it will bear.