5th Sunday in Ordinary Time            

            There was a theatre play that I watched years ago. It was a very simple play that needed only the setting of a courtroom.

            In this court, a man, representing humanity, was accusing and judging God for all the suffering he had inflicted upon humans. There were plenty of witnesses to prove that statement. God, for his part, offered no defense and refused to cross-examine witnesses. He just stood silently, expecting the final sentence.

            The judge, representing humanity again, stood up, summed up the charges against the defendant and then passed the sentence. “I condemn you,” he began, “to be born as a man, to suffer poverty, to be driven into exile, to be misunderstood and persecuted, to be betrayed by your own friends and abandoned, to be tortured in the body, and die a violent death in the prime of life.”

            After God, the defendant, was sentenced, the entire courtroom was filled with silence. And that is how and where the play ends. Everybody realizes that God has already served his sentence. And so, he knows what he is doing. God never asks anyone what he himself has not suffered first.

            Today’s first reading and today’s gospel talk about suffering – the suffering of Job and the suffering of Peter’s mother-in-law. From the beginning of time, suffering has been a problem to humankind. If God is good, why is there so much suffering? If God exists, why do bad things happen to good people?

            We know that Job was an upright and blameless man. Subalit ang kabaitan at katinuan ni Job ay nalagay sa matinding pagsubok. In a series of disasters, he loses his family, friends, fortune, possessions. At pagkatapos nang sunud-sunod na kamalasan at pagkawala, siya naman ang nagkaroon ng mga sugat sa buong katawan. Yet, in spite of all this, Job is still able to say: “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.”

            But even this does not answer a painful question: If God is good, why is there so much suffering? Why do very good people, like Job, suffer a lot?

            Once after Mass, a lady approached me and asked for the hard copy of my homily. She told me how she had been struggling, wrestling, grappling with the issue of pain and suffering, of illness and loss. Sabi niya, “Father, I ask for the copy of your homily because I need to reflect and pray hard over it.” “I also ask for your prayer that I may find meaning in the pain and suffering I’m experiencing.” By the way, the lady was a cancer victim…

            After a few weeks, she wrote me a short message – saying: Dear Fr. Nelson, Thank you for making me realize that Jesus did not come into this world to teach us why there is suffering… that he came to show us how to suffer and how to live life more abundantly… that through his own experience of extreme suffering he showed good and innocent people how to bear with suffering which can lead us to living a more abundant life. I may continue to struggle with the issue of suffering. But, at least now, I know – not just in my mind but in my heart – that the Lord Jesus did show us how to live through the mystery of suffering.

            She ended her letter to me by quoting a part of that homily: Fr. Nelson, please pray for me that I may learn how to create good from the evil I must endure… how to make my suffering an act of love for God.

            Binisita ko ang isang kaibigan ko na naaksidente more than two years ago. Habang nasa hospital siya, nang ilang buwan, paulit-ulit siyang natukso na maawa sa sarili at magmukmok, magalit at maging bitter, masiraan ng loob at mawalan ng pag-asa, at ma-depress. Ganun ‘yung kalagayan niya for more than a year.

            Subalit, ayon sa kanya, nagsimulang magkaroon ng bunga ang prayers ng kanyang pamilya at mga kaibigan when he decided “to cease being a victim, move on, and find new life.” With God’s grace, he became more reflective and prayerful. Bagaman hindi niya nasabi na ‘yun ay “conversion experience,” pero, para sa akin, ganun na nga ang nangyari sa kanya. He talked of “hearing a gentle invitation from God calling him to trust him more deeply.”

            This is exactly what he told me: “At that moment I strongly felt the need for me to make a choice. Will I entrust myself to the grace of God and accept his invitation to trust him more deeply? Will I respond to him and answer the call he is putting on my heart? Or will I turn in on myself in self-pity and resentment?” “I chose to abandon myself to God.”

            Naniniwala ako na ang pananalig at pagtitiwala niya sa Diyos ang nagpabago at nagpabuti sa kanya. His faith and trust transformed his physical handicap to opportunity for growth, his emotional distress to spiritual strength, his misery to grace. Ito rin ang magagawa para atin ng pananalig at pagtitiwala natin sa Diyos. Sabi nga: “Every trial becomes a grace when we find God in it.”

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