Whenever we read the story of Job, it brings with it a reminder that it is absolutely beyond our comprehension to fully understand why some people suffer and some—we think or assume—do not. Years ago, I visited a dying parishioner who said she was angry with God (and me) because God gave her a lot of pain, and I hadn’t prayed enough for God to take them away. I really felt guilty that perhaps I had neglected to pray as much as I should for this parishioner. She recounted how she’d spent her life doing good, how much time and money she had invested in the Church, how she had stood firm raising her children who wouldn’t any longer care to visit her (again my fault?); her attendance to Mass and the sacraments, her volunteer work with Meals on Wheels for 35 years, with Catholic Charities, St. Francis and St John’s hospitals, and on, and on. I felt cornered but yet told her that I didn’t know the answer to why she suffered. Thinking I could lighten the mood, I asked if she knew someone called Jesus, to which she angrily retorted, “What kind of question is that?” Woo! I retraced! Next, I pointed to the crucifix by the wall of her room and asked her to give me one reason the guy should be hanging there, suspended between heaven and earth, in terrible anguish, with bruises and wounds. That question was my winning question. The cross is always a winner; it can win for you too!
So, when anyone would ask, “Why me?” “Where have I gone wrong?” “Why all the suffering?” The answer is the crucifix. If a righteous one should suffer so much for other people’s transgressions, who am I to complain about my own sufferings that I probably deserve, given the sin in my life. Do you presume yourself innocent? Then you haven’t made a proper examination of conscience. I suggest that you bend in penitential discipline and ask for mercy.
The Bible tells us not to envy the proud and the godless who appear to be enjoying health and prosperity. Someday, if human justice doesn’t catch up with them, divine justice must. You saw how years ago, some executives of Enron were led away to prison. You sure remember Madoff, Weinstein, and Epstein. Where are the riches they hoarded while they defrauded people; particularly, what became of Epstein and his island of filth?
Storms, waves, and sufferings in life are meant to balance and keep us strong—but especially not to trust in this world, for the world and its desires pass away (IJn 2: 17). All over the world, the Germans are believed to be strong. People believe that they build stronger cars, roads, and houses, probably because of what they have gone through as a people and nation. Israelis are believed to have the strongest and most sophisticated security network because they live side by side enemies who constantly threaten to wipe them out. America is strong because of the sacrifices of its gallant citizens. The Catholic Church is strong because of the fierce persecutions she has suffered and continues to suffer through history from all sides. The individual Christian—you and I—also have had our share of trials and sufferings. In all these, it often seems the Lord is “asleep” and shows no concern. But we find that the Church is still afloat in spite of the storms and sufferings, because the Lord is in the boat and has promised to remain with us till the end (Mtt 28:20).
Every follower of Jesus should expect many occasions to launch over troubled waters. While a fair weather Christian will dally, a courageous disciple grows through storms of ridicule, opposition, severe criticisms, and even threatened violence. But why should the Lord be sleeping? Because he knows the storm will not sink you, and he doesn’t really want to pry into every small detail you can handle yourself, as long as you have trust in Him. So, sail on, and Bon Voyage!
Fr. Chukwudi Jo Okonkwo