15th Sunday of Ordinary Time
Rom 8: 18-23
July 13, 2014
St. Vincent’s Hospital, Harrison, N.Y.
“The sufferings of this present time are as nothing compared with the glory to be revealed for us” (Rom 8: 18).
In our reading from the Letter to the Romans last week, St. Paul assured us that, if we try to live virtuous lives, the Holy Spirit already lives in us and we’re somehow already sharing in eternal life.
A passage that comes between that reading and today’s calls us “children of God” and therefore “God’s heirs, joint heirs with Christ”—heirs of eternal life and all the blessings of God’s kingdom—“if only we suffer with Christ so that we may be glorified with him” (8:16-17).
We come to today’s passage, which speaks of our sufferings and indeed of the sufferings of all of creation: “all creation is groaning in labor pains even until now” (8:22). Creation—including us human beings—knows a lot about suffering: physical suffering (not only labor pains but many kinds), mental and emotional suffering.
In another place in Romans, St. Paul links suffering to sin, and Christ’s suffering is the price he paid because of sin; not his own sin, but ours. We can’t claim to be sinless except insofar as we’ve been forgiven by Christ, whose passion and death atone for our sins.
St. Paul invites us to join our sufferings with Christ’s, to share in his work of redemption, to help Christ, so to speak, lift the created world out of its futility, out of its slavery, bringing mankind into “the glorious freedom of the children of God” (8:21). Creation waits eagerly for Christ’s work of redemption to be completed—which will occur when he returns in glory on the Last Day, and in the Last Judgment reveals who are God’s children. Till then, “we groan within ourselves [and sometimes out loud!] as we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies” (8:23).
At the same time, St. Paul seems to say, creation will be renewed; creation will be restored to the way God meant it to be, everything in good order, beautiful, serene, harmonious; and our healthy bodies, healthy minds, and healthy souls—all saved by Christ—will enjoy that creation to the max.
With that hope, the hope of sharing in the glory that Christ Risen already enjoys, “the sufferings of this present time are as nothing compared with the glory to be revealed for us.” So even in our sufferings, the inevitable sufferings of life, we have hope and we can be joyful. Suffering hurts, and we don’t embrace it, don’t welcome it; we do fight against it. But when it can’t be avoided—because of what nature has done (e.g., Hurricane Sandy), because of what other people have done to us (e.g., violence, a family fight, problems at work), because of an accident, because of illness, because of everything that comes with aging, even because of our own stupidity (why did I do that?)—then we join our sufferings with Christ’s; we realize we’re one with God’s own Son; and we look to having our adoption as God’s children completed when Christ comes in glory and brings us into his glory.
There’s something else we do about suffering. We try to alleviate it. We try to remedy people’s problems—pain, hunger, unemployment, homelessness, violence, discrimination, illness, etc. We try to prevent problems in the first place. That’s why we, as Christians, do so much for society: hospitals, education, soup kitchens, adoption services, care for refugees, etc., etc. We anticipate the day when “creation itself will be set free from slavery to corruption” by trying to bring a little freedom, a little healing, a little more justice into people’s lives already, now. That’s why we tell the government that our schools, hospitals, nursing homes, and other social services are just as much a part of our faith, our religion, as our churches, rectories, and convents, and we have to be free to practice our faith also in our schools, hospitals, nursing homes, and other social services.
|Salesian Fr. Pietro Zago and some of his students from Lahore|
bring aid to victims of an earthquake in Pakistan in 2006.
So, sisters and brothers, keep up the good fight, as St. Paul encourages us in another one of his letters (2 Tim 4:7). Fight against the suffering of others as best you can, seeing that as God’s work. And unite your own sufferings that you can’t dodge with those of Christ; that union also is God’s work. And look toward the glory that we hope to share with Christ Jesus our Savior.