First reading Jeremiah 20:7-9
The word of the Lord has meant insult for me
You have seduced me, Lord, and I have let myself be seduced;
you have overpowered me: you were the stronger.
I am a daily laughing-stock,
Each time I speak the word, I have to howl
and proclaim: ‘Violence and ruin!’
The word of the Lord has meant for me
insult, derision, all day long.
I used to say, ‘I will not think about him,
I will not speak in his name any more.’
Then there seemed to be a fire burning in my heart,
imprisoned in my bones.
The effort to restrain it wearied me,
I could not bear it.
Responsorial Psalm 62(63):2-6,8-9
For you my soul is thirsting, O Lord my God.
O God, you are my God, for you I long;
for you my soul is thirsting.
My body pines for you
like a dry, weary land without water.
So I gaze on you in the sanctuary
to see your strength and your glory.
For your love is better than life,
my lips will speak your praise.
So I will bless you all my life,
in your name I will lift up my hands.
My soul shall be filled as with a banquet,
my mouth shall praise you with joy.
For you have been my help;
in the shadow of your wings I rejoice.
My soul clings to you;
your right hand holds me fast.
Second reading Romans 12:1-2
Offer your bodies as a living sacrifice
Think of God’s mercy, my brothers, and worship him, I beg you, in a way that is worthy of thinking beings, by offering your living bodies as a holy sacrifice, truly pleasing to God. Do not model yourselves on the behaviour of the world around you, but let your behaviour change, modelled by your new mind. This is the only way to discover the will of God and know what is good, what it is that God wants, what is the perfect thing to do.
Gospel Matthew 16:21-27
‘Get behind me, Satan!’
Jesus began to make it clear to his disciples that he was destined to go to Jerusalem and suffer grievously at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, to be put to death and to be raised up on the third day. Then, taking him aside, Peter started to remonstrate with him. ‘Heaven preserve you, Lord;’ he said ‘this must not happen to you.’ But he turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle in my path, because the way you think is not God’s way but man’s.’
Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘If anyone wants to be a follower of mine, let him renounce himself and take up his cross and follow me. For anyone who wants to save his life will lose it; but anyone who loses his life for my sake will find it. What, then, will a man gain if he wins the whole world and ruins his life? Or what has a man to offer in exchange for his life?
‘For the Son of Man is going to come in the glory of his Father with his angels, and, when he does, he will reward each one according to his behaviour.’
We will never learn to live to the full unless we learn to face suffering in trust, for it is part of every person’s experience. Jesus promises to be with us, but we must learn to take up our cross and follow him.
One thing suffering can do is force us to face up to the truth of our dependence – on others, but especially on God. This is something that we can forget when everything is going well.
A second consideration is that when we suffer we are forced to engage psychic energy to face whatever it is that is causing the suffering and the effects it has upon us, and to listen at every level to what is going on in our psyche as well as in our body. We are forced to take stock of our lives and if we are wasting them or living a distracting existence, suffering can help focus us on what really matters.
Thirdly, we are reminded that every new life comes after a dying. Death is the ultimate situation in which this happens, but all along the road of life there are ‘dyings’: the ordinary psychic stages of maturation; any occasion which requires that we leave someone or something we value; coming up against our own or other people’s limitations which require us to let go our self-image or our image of others and our unrealistic hopes and dreams and expectations.
Each time we accept to ‘die’ we experience a deeper communion with God who loves us through our dying, and who raises us up to a fuller life of deeper intimacy with him.
We look at Jesus and see how he suffered: with faith and hope and love and forgiveness and care. If we can learn to accept suffering the way he did we will experience a gradual purifying of our heart as we let go our pride, our ego, our self-satisfaction, and the distractions and superficiality of our lives.
Finally, there are certain flowers that grow only in the garden of suffering: flowers of compassion, of patience, of wisdom, of the kind of love that comes only from a broken heart. There are also certain special strengths that are experienced only by those who suffer.