No one escapes suffering
Lent, the liturgical year shows us, is about the holiness that suffering can bring. It is about bringing good where evil has been, about bringing love where hate has been. It is about the transformation of the base to the beautiful.
But don’t be fooled: Lent is not about masochism. It is about being willing to suffer for something worth suffering for, as Jesus did, without allowing ourselves to be destroyed by it. Suffering is a stepping-stone to maturity. It moves us beyond fantasy to facts. We know now that everything in life will not go our way. We will not simply get what we want or avoid what we do not. And we will know when the price is worth paying or not.
The point is that no one escapes suffering. It is part of the rhythm of life, part of the process of living. The question then is, for what are we willing to suffer?
Because suffering is part of our mortality, it is important to spend it well. Jesus, contending with the leaders of the synagogue at the cost of his life, in order to bring the synagogue to the truth of its own tradition, we can see, is worth suffering for indeed. And many others, we know, have done the same thing for the sake of truth and justice. Martin Luther King, Jr. did. So did Francis of Assisi. So did Catherine of Siena and Joan of Arc. There are simply things worth dying for as well as worth living for.
To live for the lesser things of life is to risk not really living at all. Real life is pungent with risk, with the willingness to spend all the intensity we have for one great, lasting moment of creation—like childbearing, like human liberation, like being a witness to justice and truth and love and faith, the greater things of life.
It is not what we are willing to die for with which the Gospels of Lent confront us. It is living in the way that Jesus lived—for the sake of the sick in Galilee, for the women in Israel and Samaria and Canaan, for the poor in the temple, for those burdened by taxes in Palestine, for sinners everywhere who knew themselves to be weak and did not pretend to be strong—that determines the holiness of our suffering. That is the crossover point between sanctity and a sickness that seeks masochism.