SCRIPTURE READINGS: [GEN 15: 5-12, 17-18; PHIL 3:17-4:1; LK 9:28-36  ]

Nothing is more feared in this life than illness, suffering and death.  If the world tries to remove suffering through euthanasia or seeks to suppress the reality of death, it is because they do not know how to handle these realities.  Instead of confronting pain, suffering and death, they reduce man to a mere material creature. We must hold that because life is a gift from God, even when it is marked by sufferings, it is always precious to us.

It is only human and natural for us to seek a cure or a healing when faced with illnesses in life.  No one wants to suffer for the sake of suffering.  It would not be human if we desire to suffer for the joy of it.  On the contrary, man fears pain and therefore would find all ways to relieve himself of pain.  This is especially so when one suffers from a terminal illness.  So we must seek to alleviate sufferings in all its forms in this world.

Of course, when such suffering becomes intolerable, especially psychological and emotional suffering, then both the sufferer and the caregivers might prefer death.  After all, the scripture speaks of the fact that our homeland is in heaven. As St Paul writes, “For us, our homeland is in heaven, and from heaven comes the saviour we are waiting for, the Lord Jesus Christ, and he will transfigure these wretched bodies of ours into copies of his glorious body.”

So which attitude towards suffering is correct?  God does not want us to suffer in this life.  He wants us to be free from sufferings.  It is the desire of God that we be happy in this life.  God is not a joy killer.   We must positively believe that God wants us to be well.  Although scriptures tell us that whilst sickness and suffering could produce positive consequences such as reinforcing the fidelity of the just person, restoration of justice violated by selfishness or cause a sinner to repent from his evil ways, it still remains essentially an evil brought about by sin.  Thus, the prophets always envisaged a time would become when there would be no more diseases, infirmities, famine, division, pain and especially death (cf. Is 35:5-6; 65: 19-20).

In the gospel, Jesus gives us the reason for illness in our lives.  His healing miracles are signs of His messianic powers that demonstrate victory over the kingdom over sin and evil.  The restoration of health, body and soul, manifest the in-breaking of the reign of God in our lives.   They reveal to us the messianic identity of Jesus and of what life for us in the future would be like.  Suffering and healing therefore are anticipation of the fullness of life given to us in Christ.  This explains why healing is one of the most important aspects of Jesus’ public ministry.  He was certainly not reluctant to heal and nothing in the gospels contains even a hint of reproach for these prayers.  His only regret was that they lacked faith.  To the man who requested Jesus’ help to deliver his son from epileptic, Jesus said, “If you can! Everything is possible to one who has faith” (Mk 9:23; cf. Mk 6:5-6; Jn 4:48).

However, we must also not adopt an attitude that focuses only on this earth.  Whilst we should pray for healing and for earthly blessings and divine protection, we must remember that the blessings in this life are only a foretaste of the blessings in heaven.  Blessings in this life on earth are to remind us of the fullness of joy in heaven.  The truth is that heaven is our final goal and the resurrection of the body is the final state.  The fear of death is the consequence of our failure to integrate death as a necessary path to life. What we must do is to live as fully as we can on this earth whilst keeping an eye on heaven, recognizing the transient state of this life.  We must remember our real destiny even whilst we enjoy this life.  Whatever joys we have in this life are only a foretaste of life hereafter. In this way we do not become attached to this earth, not even health.

Forgetfulness of our ultimate goal is the cause for fear.  The danger of the prosperity gospel preached by some Christians is that it only focuses on the blessings of the gospel, whilst negating the dimension of suffering as part of the Christian truth.  When that happens, we begin to cling on to earthly things as if they are everything.  Attachment is the beginning of sin and the worship of idols.  Then we begin to fear death.   This was what St Paul warned the Christians. “I have told you often, and I repeat it today with tears, there are many who are behaving as the enemies of the cross of Christ. They are destined to be lost. They make foods into their god and they are proudest of something they ought to think shameful; the things they think important are earthly things.”

This truth is conveyed in the story of the Transfiguration.  It clearly reminds us that to be a follower of Jesus would entail the cross at some point in our lives.  It is good to take note that just before the Transfiguration scene, Jesus reminded His disciples that “whoever wishes to be My follower must deny his very self, take up his cross each day, and follow in My steps.” (Lk 9:23)  By bringing them up to the Mountain, Jesus was preparing His disciples to be ready for the eventual outcome of His ministry.  Of course they forgot that encounter in the face of the passion of Christ.  As a consequence, they abandoned Jesus as well.

Christ, by suffering on the cross, took upon Himself our sufferings and redeemed us.  Christ Himself, though without sin, suffered in His passion pains and torments of every type, and made His own the sorrows of all men thereby bringing to fulfilment what had been written of Him by the prophet Isaiah (cf. Is 53:4-5).  Because He suffered with and for us, we can now share our pain with Him.  When suffering and pain is united to the suffering of Christ, suffering becomes redemptive and a means to salvation.  Through His suffering, Christ redeemed human suffering as well for He has raised human suffering to the level of redemption by enjoining His suffering with ours so that we in turn in our suffering become sharers in the redemptive suffering of Christ.

Thus, Christ’s victory over illness and other human sufferings is not overcome merely through miraculous healings but also through the voluntary and innocent suffering of Christ in His passion.  It is through identification with His passion that the sufferer can unite himself to the sufferings of the Lord.   When sickness is understood as an occasion for us to be in union with Christ for our spiritual purification and also an opportunity for the healthy to exercise charity and patience, suffering can truly become redemptive in our lives.  Most of all, sickness as in all other forms of suffering, leads us to turn to God in fervent prayer, be it asking for deliverance or the grace to accept sickness in a spirit of faith and conformity to God’s will.

But do we find strength in suffering?  We must also find strength from Jesus’ transfiguration.  The Transfiguration experience was not just to prepare the apostles for the passion but it was for Jesus as well.  The Father knew that Jesus needed to be affirmed in the direction He was taking.  It would be foolish of us to think that Jesus was a stoic and did not fear death.  He too was afraid of suffering, for all of us fear pain.  Not just the physical pain but the emotional and psychological pain that came with it, the loss of dignity.

It was at the Transfiguration that Jesus found strength to do what He was required to do.  This strength came from His Father’s assurance of love.  The vision of Moses and Elijah was to confirm Him in His mission as the fulfillment of the Law and the prophets.  By allowing Him to have this unique experience of being transfigured, Jesus knew for certain that this was what the Father wanted as well.   What is important for us too in our suffering especially in moments of darkness, is to enter into prayer.  If Jesus were transfigured at prayer, we too will experience some form of transformation at prayer as well.  It will be at prayer that the Lord speaks to us about His plans for us.  Indeed, this was what the Father told the apostles, “This is my Son, my Chosen, listen to him”.  Yes, when heaven has spoken, then we know that we can follow Jesus even in suffering and death, for regardless what happens, we know that victory over sin and death is certain.  Yes, when we are assured of His love, we can suffer with greater conviction and union.  Truly, we must go to Mount Tabor in times of confusion, suffering and pain.

Written by The Most Rev William Goh, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore © All Rights Reserved

Best Practices for Using the Daily Scripture Reflections
  • Encounter God through the spirit of prayer and the scripture by reflecting and praying the Word of God daily. The purpose is to bring you to prayer and to a deeper union with the Lord on the level of the heart.
  • Daily reflections when archived will lead many to accumulate all the reflections of the week and pray in one sitting. This will compromise your capacity to enter deeply into the Word of God, as the tendency is to read for knowledge rather than a prayerful reading of the Word for the purpose of developing a personal and affective relationship with the Lord.
  • It is more important to pray deeply, not read widely. The current reflections of the day would be more than sufficient for anyone who wants to pray deeply and be led into an intimacy with the Lord.

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