The Joy of Suffering and Sacrifice
We need to learn the joy of suffering and prepare for martyrdom. The Via Appia is a road leading south from Rome. Days before his death, St. Peter walked along the Via Appia to escape martyrdom. On the road, he encountered Jesus Christ. Astounded, St. Peter asked him: “Domine, quo vadis?” — “Lord, where are you going?” Christ responded: “Eo Romam iterum crucifigi” — “I am going to Rome, to be crucified again.”
Every day, the Christian ought to practice martyrdom, not in fear or sadness, but in determined joy.
“Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee came to him with her sons, and kneeling before him, she asked a favour of him. And he said to her, ‘What do you want?’ She said to him, ‘Declare that these two sons of mine will sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom.’ But Jesus answered, ‘You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink?’ They said to him, ‘We are able.’ He said to them, ‘You will indeed drink my cup, but to sit at my right hand and at my left, this is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father” (Matthew 20:20-23).
There is growing interest in spirituality today. From buddhist meditations in the work place (Bill Gates and Steve Jobs do it!), to burning sage in the white house and a fascination with magic crystals, practices that were once looked at as bizarre are increasingly common place. There is something commendable to this. People are recognizing the shallowness of materialism. They are hungry for more. Nevertheless, there is a stark contrast between new-age spirituality and Christian spirituality. Pop-culture spirituality focuses on feeling good, self-gratification, and inner power. Christ-centered spirituality focuses on sacrifice, repentance, and submission to God.
“Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink?”
What does the cup represent? It foreshadows the death of Christ. In a general sense, the biblical phrase, “my cup,” refers to the life you are given. Psalm 16:5: “The Lord is the portion of mine inheritance, and of my cup.” In the beloved twenty-third psalm, we pray: “Thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.” Elsewhere, the scriptures refer to the cup of God’s wrath. “Wake yourself, wake yourself, stand up, O Jerusalem, you who have drunk from the hand of the Lord the cup of his wrath, who have drunk to the dregs the bowl, the cup of staggering” (Jeremiah 51:7). While preparing for Calvary, Jesus prepared himself to drink from this cup — the cup of God’s condemnation of everything ugly and corrupt. He drank the cup for us, to spare us from the world’s sickness. He asks us, too, to drink from this cup.
“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds” (James 1:2).
We need to learn the joy of suffering and prepare for martyrdom. In our culture, we make comfort our highest value. It is striking that comfort is something never promised us in the Gospel. Instead, Christ assures us that all his true followers will suffer. In his own words: “you will be hated by all for my name's sake” (Matthew 10:22). St. Paul had a thorn in his flesh. He pleaded three times with God to remove the thorn, and was denied three times. Why is suffering important?
Here is God’s response: “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9).
St. Paul explains: “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (verses 10-11).
When we are weak, we are able to turn to God. Each time we die to self, in the little things, we fill up more with Jesus Christ.
Joyful suffering is at the heart of authentic Christian culture. We have a parishioner here, who, for years, has suffered declining health. Merely getting in her car, walking up our ramp, and standing for communion, completely wipes out her breath. It is painstaking. Yet, she is determined. If it is at all physically possible, she will be here Sunday morning. Worship and service are her duty, and her joy. We have other elderly parishioners who, since they were children, have offered up a tenth of their income, every month, even in times of great financial strain. Others go out of their way to get here to pull up weeds, to clean up after banquets, and to do whatever it takes to keep up these walls. Our elders were raised in a generation that exalted in service and sacrifice. We, the younger generations, now need to follow their example. Do you want spirituality? This is it.
The Life in Christ is a continual practice of death to self. Giving up meat on Friday and breakfast during Lent matters. Every time we fast, we say “no” to the ego, and practice a little martyrdom. Each time we confess our sins to the priest, we put our pride on the cross, and become a little more humble. When someone wrongs us, we have an opportunity to forgive. When someone cuts us off on the road, we have the chance to practice calmness and self-control. Let the devil take it all. We have God, and that is everything. Our Lord gives us these opportunities throughout each and every day, to help us learn the art of joyful suffering. Count it all joy to share from the cup of Jesus Christ.
On July 17, 1794, the Carmelite nuns of Compiègne walked in a steady line to the guillotine. One nun after another, stepped up to her martyrdom, singing joyfully, “Veni Creator Spiritus” (“Come Holy Spirit”). St. Peter, these happy Carmelite sisters, and the thousands of martyrs before us, witness the true joy of dying for Jesus. Our elderly parishioners, and their generation, witness the joy of duty and sacrifice. Now, it remains to us, to pick up the cross. God has given us this beautiful gift: the joy of suffering and the road to martyrdom.