“Why do bad things happen to good people?”
I’ve been asked this question many times and it always feel awkward to answer it, as one may feel that I may sound like I haven’t experienced pain and suffering in my life. Yes, I’ve been through a lot; admittedly it’s difficult and always bring in a waterfall of emotions especially when a loved one is in pain and suffering. These thoughts occupy me as this Sunday’s Gospel speaks of Jesus telling His disciples,
“Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” (Mt. 16: 24-25)
Fact: All of the Apostles except St. John the Beloved died violent deaths. Yes, it’s true, and they died happily for Jesus.
Yet most of us think that being devoted Catholic Christians would bring us a life of comfort, prosperity and good health, that is spared from difficulties, trials and sickness. In his homily last Tuesday, the Memorial of the Passion of St. John the Baptist; Fr. Armand said that we shouldn’t be praying that our problems will disappear, but rather that “we will have the courage to handle these with joy and humility.” Truly, it makes sense considering that life on earth is temporal and fleeting. If you’re jubilant now, it isn’t guaranteed to last till eternity; likewise, when you’re in pain, it won’t be for long either. A reminder lest we be led into thinking that everything ends right here, right now. No, we’re on a journey and the way we travel this pilgrimage will determine how we will be in our final destination. Meanwhile, we have to love and care for our fellow travelers who experience difficulties, in a way helping them carry their crosses too.
One of the saints I admire most is St. Anthony of the Desert. Research noted that he was born in Coma, Egypt in AD 251, to wealthy parents. His parents died when he was about 18 years old, and left him to care for his unmarried sister. Touched by the advice of Jesus which reads, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasures in heaven” (Mt. 19: 21), the young Anthony gave away some of his family’s lands to his neighbors, sold the remaining property, and gave away the proceeds to the poor. He then left to live an ascetic life, placing his sister in a sort-of convent. Even after a time of simplicity, he again lived in the desert in a far mountain, strictly enclosed in an old abandoned Roman fort for about two decades. There he was fought by the devil in the form of wolves, snakes, scorpions and other wild animals. He was able to fight them off through sheer faith in God, such that they just disappeared as though in smoke. While he stayed there, his only communication with the outside world was through a crevice through which food would be passed by the people and he would bless them with a few words. He did not allow anyone to enter his abode; whoever came to him stood outside and listened to his advice. Anthony would prepare a quantity of bread that would sustain him for six months (!)
He chose to live a life of prayer and sacrifice to follow the Lord, and thus, denying himself, giving up his life for God.
Sacrificing ourselves for the sake of others, bearing our daily crosses, and offering all of it to God for the merits of others – not our own merit; this is surely a blessing that Jesus would bestow on us His followers. The perfect role model that He is, Jesus tells the disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, suffer and be killed. He emphasizes that this must be done for the world, for humanity. This must be done to right the wrongs, to correct all our mistakes.
Just like Jesus, we should be willing to embrace these pains and sufferings — we shouldn’t be upset like what Peter did. At that time, possibly in a spur of the moment comment, he hasn’t appreciated yet that the Lord also said, “…and on the third day be raised.”
There’s a reason and a purpose for suffering and pain, just like what Jesus experienced, which eventually became a joy and a gift to us — our salvation and the gift of everlasting life. Imagine that for eternity! We rejoice therefore that the Lord wants us to remember: the crosses we have to carry can improve our attitudes for the better, define our souls and achieve our purpose even if its meaning and significance may still remain unclear. Denying earthly desires and comforts to help others will allow us to experience deep joy and grace if we look at it as opportunities to show our love and obedience to Jesus.
And so, we shouldn’t ask God why is this happening to us – rather be guided by what Fr. Armand has said, “What is God telling me from this experience?”
“Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect.” (Rom. 12: 2)