Struggle and Difficulty Are an Invitation to Live in the 'Brotherhood of the Belt'
Every difficulty, struggle and experience of opposition or pain can become an invitation to exercise our freedom, informed by our faith, to truly believe in and embrace the loving plan of God
Difficulties, struggles and hardships do not lessen in life as we age. Rather, they just change their complexion. We change in and through them. They can become the vehicle for some of the greatest growth in our relationship with the Lord. What had been intended for our demise can become the path to our restoration. The saints of old, such as St. Paul, grew so accustomed to difficulties they began to "boast" of them. The question that we should ask ourselves when we face struggle, difficulty, failure, disappointment and the frequent pain of life is how we respond?
CHESAPEAKE, VA. (Catholic Online) - In Year B of our Catholic Liturgical Calendar the readings for Holy Mass on this 14th Sunday of the Year include a portion from St. Paul's second letter to the Corinthians which speaks of "thorns in the flesh" and opposition in the Christian life as a path to perfection (2 Cor. 12: 7-10). Our Gospel tells the story of Jesus' return to his own hometown where His saving message falls on deaf ears. He is even unable to give them the gift of miracles due to their lack of faith. (Mark 6:1-6). Both of these readings address the failures, opposition, and struggles we often face in living our lives in, with and for the Lord. We live in a world which desperately needs redemption. That world is both within us and around us.
It seems that the older I get, struggles, hardship and difficulties seem to be on the increase. When I was a young man, I thought that struggles would lessen as I grew in faith and matured. My studies of the lives of the apostles and the saints through the years finally disabused me of that notion. Now, as I round the corner to my 60th birthday, I not only know how wrong I was - I believe I had it backwards.
There are some Christians, often well intended ones, who insist that the obstacles, struggle and pain we often face in trying to live our lives for the Lord are always opposition from the enemy of our souls, the devil. (Eph. 6:12, 1 Peter 5:8) Don't get me wrong; evil is real and, because we are joined to the Lord through Baptism, we do encounter spiritual attacks as we participate in the spiritual warfare arrayed against His loving plan.
There are other Christians whom I refer to as "friends of Job" (Job 16:2-4). They offer us their advice when we fall on hard times or face struggles and difficulties. Like the "friends" of that great figure in the Old Testament, they all too quickly blame the difficulties and struggles we are going through on us. They may accuse us of not "having faith" or of not doing the right thing. Of course, there are times when our lack of faith, and improper behavior and response, impedes the loving work of God in our lives as our Gospel passage demonstrates. However, discerning that fact can be hard and it should not be presumed.
Then, all too often, there are fellow Christians who speak as though they have God figured out, as though He were some kind of puzzle to be solved. They present the Christian faith as though it were a formula to be followed rather than a gift and mystery to be received. They minimize the Christian vocation as a call to some form of "success", accomplished by following a formula, rather than a rugged road to be walked in the footsteps of a Savior whose greatest act of Love was deemed by most who witnessed it to be a complete failure.
My experience as I age has confirmed something quite simple but hard to accept until age wears you down a bit, difficulties and struggle are just a part of the mixed human experience. They are rooted in the rupture that was caused by our individual and corporate separation from God. That is a result of sin. However, there is some very good news. When we learn to live our lives in Christ, they can also become the raw material for our continuing transformation, as they did with the great Apostle Paul. He tells the Corinthians in that wonderful passage in the second reading of Sundays Mass:
"Three times I begged the Lord about this, that it might leave me, but he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness." I will rather boast most gladly of my weaknesses, in order that the power of Christ may dwell with me. Therefore, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and constraints, for the sake of Christ; for when I am weak, then I am strong". (2 Cor. 12:7-10)
Let's be honest. Life is often difficult, painful and filled with obstacles. Yes, even when you are praying, being as faithful as you can be, cooperating with grace and really trying to believe in the Lord and all that he teaches through His Church. Pain, failure, opposition, hardship, struggle, disappointment all just seem to be a part of the program. The saints of old, such as St. Paul, grew so accustomed to difficulties they began to "boast" of them. The question that we should ask ourselves when we face struggle, difficulty, failure, disappointment and the frequent pain of real life is how do we respond to the invitation that they offer to us?
Every difficulty, struggle and experience of opposition or pain can become an invitation to exercise our freedom, informed by our faith, to truly believe in and embrace the loving plan of God. To the man or woman who is sincerely committed to following the Lord, embracing these experiences in the surrender of authentic discipleship can pave the path to holiness, form the raw material for continued conversion and equip him/her more ...
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