Redemptive suffering and the whole picture of grief...

Today marks 2 years that my father left this earthly life. Certainly I am not unique in having lost a parent and most of us will at some point.  We know that grief gets easier, or more tolerable with time and yet at two years it feels surprisingly harder. Not in an ever present or debilitating kind of way. I don't even think about it all the time or even most of the time. But when it hurts, it really hurts. Not long after his death I reflected on the two phases of mourning that I had experienced. My dad had a long suffering and in the end he hardly resembled the man I knew all my life. So, immediately there was relief, joy that his suffering was over and simultaneously a feeling of loss. A few days later, after looking at pictures and hearing stories and remembering the times before and early on in his sickness, I went through a second kind of mourning, a mourning for the father I knew for 30 years before the suffering and thats where my grief has stayed for the most part, until now.
 For a while I found joy in that. Being able to put off the image of his final years, the loss of his independence, his animation, his features. It felt good, even in the midst of this newer deeper hurt, to say good riddance to the ugly thing that took him from us and the memories of that slow, slow taking. But lately I have been called to a new reflection, a third kind of mourning.
A week after Easter we read the account of Jesus asking Thomas to put his hands in his wounds and his side. I was struck by that in a new way. I mean, if I were going to raise from the dead I would give myself a body with no wounds, no scars, unblemished and new. But Christ kept his scars. Why? The prophet Isaiah tells us that it's "By his wounds" that we are healed. (Isaiah 53:5)
Redemptive suffering is a concept that we Catholics are familiar with and yet, not so familiar with. While many crucial theological elements differentiate us from our non-Catholic brothers and sisters, and even more so, the general public, this one may be the most prevalent for our day.
Redemptive. Suffering.
It seems like a contradiction of terms like 'jumbo shrimp' or 'working holiday' and yet there is a reality there that is striking. Secular culture avoids suffering at all costs and those of us who call ourselves Christians have merely learned to tolerate it. Scripture and tradition tell us, however, that there is more here, that the beauty in suffering is not simply the 'getting to the other side' of it but that there is something edifying about the suffering itself. We all will suffer in some way at various and possibly numerous times in our lives. The spaces between of joy and diligence and rest, in a way, are preparing us for those moments of suffering, building us up. So that, when the time comes we suffer with Christ and IN that suffering are perfected, not in spite of it. (Romans 5: 2-3) Our wounds then become the fruit of a life well lived, a life united to Christ, a cross in this life and a crown in the next. Suffering belongs to this life and of course it would be an empty travesty if not for the resurrection and redemption. In fact, Paul tells us in his letter to the Romans that " the sufferings of this present time are as nothing compared with the glory to be revealed for us." (8:18) And yet, we, in imitation of Christ, are called to embrace our cross.
 My dad was a very good man. He lived a life steeped in natural virtue, prayer, obedience and the Sacraments. You won't meet a person who has a bad thing to say about him. It's because of that life that I believe he embraced his suffering in the way that he He did and I believe that it is because he suffered well that (I am hopeful) he now enjoys eternity with God. Of course I will always pray for his continued purification. When I think of him now however, I do not try to look around the image of his suffering, to throw it away as if it was no longer him with us in those times. Instead I look through it, to see it as his crowning glory, a treasure polished and presented to God.
 Like Thomas who put his hands in the wounds of the risen Christ, I am called to embrace the wounds as proof of victory and to see his redemptive participation in the cross.  It is painful to embrace the whole of his life, especially the end, but perhaps it was then that he was more himself than ever.

 "We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For while we live we are always being given up to death for Jesus' sake, so that the life of Jesus may be manifested in our mortal flesh .... knowing that he who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus"

*Here's my dad portraying one of the Kings presenting his treasure to the child Jesus. Maybe this is what suffering looks like to God?



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