The Big Lie.
There are certain myths that a lot of people believe in this life. A big one is thinking that others in this life are having all the fun. It is the thought that perhaps all these others have been spared difficulties. The truth of the matter is that life is not a bowl of cherries. It’s not even a box of chocolates. Everyone gets trials. Everyone experiences some form of suffering. While it is true that some might indeed get a tougher dose than others, no one gets by unscathed. It used to be said that the only sure things in this life are death and taxes. But these days some are able to squeeze by without paying any taxes (according to an April 26, 2012 CCNMoney article, nearly half of all American households end up owing no federal income tax). But no one can escape their inevitable physical death.
Imagine the case of the person who would have had the perfect existence while on this earth: Wealth, esteem, friends, beauty, and good health. Does anyone really know of such a person? Then one day this person, totally unacquainted with suffering, has life ripped out from underneath him or her. The person is totally unprepared. Death comes as a blow. Everything that this person held in the temporal material world is gone. The person goes on to either eternal loss or eternal life.
Think of all those who have fame and fashion. Pick up a gossip magazine in the grocery store check-out and one will discover that such an existence isn’t so glorious. They are often in the midst of scandal and controversy, relationship break-ups, untimely deaths, and bankruptcy. Day after day the tabloids feature one fallen star after another. Bodies are horribly botched and altered through plastic surgery, fad diets, and regimens in an effort to obtain the artificial culturally thin eternal look of youth.
The “no one suffers worse than I” myth.
Another way to phrase the “others appear to be having more fun” fallacy is the “no one suffers worse than I” myth. We all know of at least one such a person. No matter what we have been through, they have always had it worse. If we ache, their whole body is in intense pain. If we are short on cash, they are broke. If we have a meager dwelling space, their whole house has burned down. If we had been mistreated as a child, they had been abused. In the realm of distress, they honestly believe they have it worse than anyone else. Everyone would like to tell such persons, “Get over yourself”. I always think of the scene in Moonstruck where Cher slaps Nicholas Cage and yells, “Snap out of it.” Because in reality, no matter how bad one has it, there will always be someone in a worse predicament. Just think of the innocent who suffer. All of us also know those who experience tragedies that they seemingly don’t deserve. It doesn’t take long to find someone who might have been aborted, falsely accused, starved, beaten, cursed, robbed, cheated, labelled intolerant, and/or abandoned.
Being told what one needs to hear.
The day I graduated from high school, my Mom told me that “life is not a bowl of cherries.” She probably doesn’t even remember saying this. At the time, I thought, “Gee, Mom thanks for the encouragement.” But the older I get, the more I realize that her advice was the best. Life does bite and then you die. There is something critical to our condition here. Instead of trying to flee from the inevitable, we actually should embrace it. What we are trying to evade actually has redemptive value and gives opportunity for spiritual growth even beyond ourselves and this life. We cannot eliminate sufferings but we can learn how to cope with them. Our sufferings are what can make us saints. How we bear our difficulties shows our true character. I always like to say that fighting Chicago traffic brings out the lowly beast in me.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church states: The way of perfection passes by way of the Cross. There is no holiness without renunciation and spiritual battle (2015).
This is not to say that we should bring it upon ourselves, but trials, difficulties, suffering, and ultimately death will find us.
We bring a lot of suffering upon ourselves.
It is true that we are often our own worst enemies. This is often through our flawed decision-making ability. I have noticed that many (not all) persons who come for counseling are reaping the fallout of a poor decision somewhere. Their lives are like soap operas. They have victimized themselves and the goal is to get them out of that rut. But the truth of the matter is that all of us do this. We all make a mess of our own lives. We are living in a world tainted by original sin and none of us can cast the first stone. We live in an indulgent society that wants to forget long-held values. We want things and we don’t want to wait for anything. The Catholic Church is viewed as counter-cultural with its pro-life and traditional marriage positions. We have yet to see the modern-day consequences of removing the Ten Commandments from the center of our society. But we do have the age-old examples of those in history, Sacred Scripture, and in the Tradition of the Church. The wisdom of the ancients isn’t enough for some hipsters.
Fr. Benedict Groeschel, CFR, writes in his book, Arise from Darkness, “If there is anything obvious in the New Testament, it is that to compromise with the values of the world is not only to betray God, but to defeat your own cause, to bring down upon yourself all kinds of disasters, not from God but from self (p. 91).”
Let me make this clear – God does not cause evil and suffering, just in case anyone is in the business of blaming God. Only good comes from God.
God brings good out of evil
The end result of all of one’s suffering can actually be a good one. God can and does make something good out of it. When all is lost, God remains. He does not change. There is something very beautiful about losing control over our lives – we have the opportunity to let God have control. When we are at the end of our rope, God’s arms are stretched out on the Cross to guide us. And when we think that someone else is having all of the fun, just remember that Jesus took it upon Himself to be crucified for our sake.
For a while He allows the weeds to grow along with the healthy plants. Saturday’s Gospel speaks of God’s ultimate harvest (Matthew 13:24-30):
Jesus proposed a parable to the crowds. “The Kingdom of heaven may be likened to a man
who sowed good seed in his field. While everyone was asleep his enemy came and sowed weeds all through the wheat, and then went off. When the crop grew and bore fruit, the weeds appeared as well. The slaves of the householder came to him and said, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where have the weeds come from?’ He answered, ‘An enemy has done this.’ His slaves said to him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’ He replied, ‘No, if you pull up the weeds you might uproot the wheat along with them. Let them grow together until harvest; then at harvest time I will say to the harvesters, ‘First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles for burning; but gather the wheat into my barn.
Whether or not we go on to eternal loss or eternal life depends on how we are anchored, whether we are the weed or the wheat. If we anchor ourselves down with only temporal and material securities, like a weed, we could find ourselves with eternal loss. However if we are rooted in God we can face eternal life. It was Jesus who said, “I came that they might have life and have it more abundantly” (Jn 10:10).
How dare the Harvest Master be so discriminating!