(Homily. Father François Beyrouti. Sunday, June 5, 2016.)
We live in a world where comfort comes at a very high cost. When you book a flight, a few inches of extra comfort could cost you thousands of extra dollars. For example, you could buy a regular round trip ticket from New York city to Mumbai, India for only $786. However if you need a little more comfort you could book the most expensive commercial flight available which is a 125 square foot luxury suite for $72,000. Therefore, you could pay one price for normal comfort or approximately 100 times more for a one day trip with greater comfort.
We are used to wanting more and more comfort in all aspects of our life, but the letter to the Romans we read today actually speaks of something that we may
not be too comfortable with. There Saint Paul tells us: “We rejoice in our sufferings.”
When was the last time you rejoiced in your suffering? It is difficult for us to find meaning in our suffering, but Saint Paul goes on to explain why he rejoices in his suffering: “We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance,  and endurance produces character, and character produces hope,  and hope does not disappoint us…” (Romans 5:3-5)
Of course we should never specifically want to suffer, but we should keep in mind that during our life a certain amount of suffering is inevitable. Suffering is not always a bad thing or a thing that we should avoid at all costs. All great people who achieved exceptional accomplishments would agree with Saint Paul who associates suffering, with endurance, character, and hope. There has never been a saint, a Nobel prize winner, a successful athlete, or anyone at anytime throughout history who has accomplished anything great who has not suffered in one way or another. Therefore although we should not search for suffering we should also realize that no personal development is possible without some suffering.
In order to understand why Saint Paul says that “suffering produces endurance,  and endurance produces character, and character produces hope,” we have to keep in mind three things: First, suffering is not necessarily a result of failure. Second, suffering does not mean that God does not love us or that He has abandoned us. Third, we should not see suffering as an end, but rather as a means to something greater.
If we look at the first point that suffering is not necessarily a result of failure we realize that Jesus suffered a great deal throughout his life, but He was definitely not a failure. When He was born Herod tried to kill him. Jesus, Mary, and Joseph suffered when they had to flee to Egypt instead of going back home to Nazareth. Also, during His life Jesus was misunderstood and persecuted. And of course Jesus suffered a most horrific scourging and crucifixion.
Jesus suffered but was a success because He was willing to suffer for His earthly mission of teaching, healing, forgiving, dying, and rising. Jesus thought of His mission more than He thought of His comfort. If Jesus ran away from suffering he would have also ran away from what He came on earth to accomplish.
Whenever we are tempted to think that our suffering is a result of our failure we should reflect on the life of Jesus and wonder whether our present suffering is actually preparing us for something greater in our life.
Second, suffering does not mean that God does not love us or that he has abandoned us. Sometimes when we are sick or going through difficulties we turn to God for help. Unfortunately during these difficult situations we sometimes also turn against God because we think that God is not with us or that God is punishing us.
There is a beautiful poem about a man who saw his life like footprints in the sand. He saw that during most of his life there were two sets of footprints, one that were his and the other was God’s. He also noticed that during the most difficult times in his life there was only one set of footprints. He was upset at God and asked Him why He had left him during the toughest moments in his life. God told him “My son, where you see only one set of footprints in the sand, those were not the times that I left you, those were the times that I was carrying you.”
Suffering does not mean that God has abandoned us, but that He is ready to carry us. As we read in Psalm 34:4 “I sought the LORD, and he answered me, and delivered me from all my fears.”
Third, we should not see suffering as the end of a journey, but rather as a means to something greater. Jesus did not run away from the suffering of the cross because He knew that without the cross there would be no resurrection.
Saint Paul not only rejoices in his suffering, but in his second letter to the Corinthians he also says: “I also dare to boast of that…Five times I have received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one.  Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I received a stoning. Three times I was shipwrecked; for a night and a day I was adrift at sea;  on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from bandits, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers and sisters;  in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, hungry and thirsty, often without food, cold and naked.  And, besides other things, I am under daily pressure because of my anxiety for all the churches.” (2 Corinthians 11:21, 24-28)
How many of us would rejoice and boast of this kind of suffering?
One of the greatest dangers in our contemporary society is that we are afraid of suffering. When we get addicted to comfort we begin to live a frustrating irony. We search for comfort but are frustrated that we cannot really find it. Even those who spend $72,000 for a round trip flight will realize when the flight is over that they still have all the problems they had before they departed.
These three points that suffering is not necessarily a result of failure, that suffering does not mean that God has abandoned us, and that we should not see suffering as an end, but rather as a means to something greater help us understand why Saint Paul says: “We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance,  and endurance produces character, and character produces hope,  and hope does not disappoint us…” (Romans 5:3-5)
This verse is important for us regardless of how old we are because when we appreciate the true nature of suffering in our life we will also realize that past difficulties have indeed made us better people who are now able to endure more. We will also realize that when we approach difficult situations with a right attitude we do not allow them to crush us but will rather overcome them with the hope that God puts within us.
We can experience great blessings in our life despite our suffering because every challenge that we allow God to help us with will actually bring us a comfort that does not end after we step off the plane.