Joy and Strength in Suffering

(Homily. Father Fran├žois 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, [4] and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, [5] 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, [4] 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. [25] 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; [26] 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; [27] in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, hungry and thirsty, often without food, cold and naked. [28] 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, [4] and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, [5] 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.
Copyright © 2016 Father Francois Beyrouti, All rights reserved. 


Reflection: Take Courage and Be Not Afraid

Sr. Natalie Sayde Salameh
Over the weekend of July 10 – July 12, Sr. Therese Maria and I attended the Portsmouth Institute Conference on Christian Courage in a Secular Age. The Conference was held at the Benedictine Portsmouth Abbey in Rhode Island, and featured a number of well-known Catholic speakers such as Brandon McGinley from EWTN publishing; Sr. Constance Veit from the Little Sisters of the Poor; Robert P. George from Princeton University; and Mother Olga Yaqoob, Foundress of the Daughters of Mary of Nazareth.  
A recurring theme throughout the Conference was how do we, as Catholics, stand up and defend our Christian values and beliefs in this current secular age, an age that is increasingly relegating God to the sidelines, if not trying to obliterate His presence altogether from the public sphere. Let’s face it, as Christians, we are living in a tough world, a world that is constantly telling us that there are no truths to uphold, there are no moral absolutes, so why bother? Well, you and I know differently. Because as soon as we start espousing the views of the world, and telling ourselves that there really are no moral values to uphold or live by, then morally reprehensible things like abortion and euthanasia become ‘ok’. But you and I know that they are far from ‘ok’.
The whole line up of speakers over the weekend constantly touched upon and/or alluded to this recurring theme. I want to share with you one or two points from three of the speakers in the hopes that it might embolden you to stand up and speak out in defense of our faith when called upon or challenged to do so by the demands of our secular world.
Brandon McGinley spoke at length at how our secular culture is increasingly encouraging ‘freedom’ and ‘personal autonomy’, at the expense of procreation and fertility. Having a baby is becoming ‘ok’ in our society if it expresses the parents’ autonomy, that is, it is ‘planned’ (the term should be used loosely because we can plan nothing). The underlying current in all this is that people in society today like to feel in control and procreation becomes just one more thing that (they think) they can control. The use of contraceptive devices becomes a key tool in this web of attempting to control when life is produced or not produced. So what’s the remedy to this unhealthiness where God is clearly absent? Brandon calls it the “courage of fecundity”, that is, acknowledging that we are not in control, and relying on God’s grace to get us through any difficulties or trials we may experience, which may be the unexpected arrival of a little bundle of joy. The remedy is to be open to life!

Robert P. George of Princeton University asked the $64 million question – “are we ashamed of the gospel?” The gospel is not just the writings of the four evangelists and the epistles of St. Paul, its not just the New Testament as Robert P. George points out. The gospel is also believing in the Church’s teachings on the dignity of the human person, the sanctity of life and sexual morality. Are we ashamed of the gospel, in its entirety because we live in a culture which attempts to deny, suppress and silence us on these very issues? Food for thought….


The Foundation of Humility

Homily of Fr. Herbert Nicholls

In the Gospel today (cf. Mt 18: 1 – 5), Jesus begins a series of instruction on the way in which His Church is to be administered. The first five verses of Chapter 18 are addressed to leaders, that is, the future hierarchy of the Church. It warns against natural tendencies to pride and ambition. In whatever position they must act with humility.

St. Augustine tells us that humility is one of the main pillars of Christian life. If you ask me, he said, what is the essential thing in the religion and discipline of Jesus Christ, I shall reply:  first, humility; second, humility; and third, humility.

Fr. Luis de Granada makes the point that humility is superior to virginity. If you cannot imitate the virginity of the humble then at least imitate the humility of the virgin. Virginity is praiseworthy but humility is necessary. Virginity is recommended but humility is obligatory. We are invited to virginity; but to humility we are compelled. Virginity is a voluntary sacrifice but humility requires an obligatory sacrifice. Lastly, you can be saved without virginity but you cannot be saved without humility.

Let us now take a glimpse at our Saint of the day (June 6). Dorotheus was a priest of the Diocese of Tyre. During the reign of Diocletian, he suffered much persecution in his home Diocese, eventually he was driven into exile at Odyssopolis. The lull in persecution under the Emperor Constantine enabled him to return to Tyre where he was elected bishop.

Dorotheus was a man of great learning, well versed in both Latin and Greek, and he is reported to have authored several books. He was a full participant at the Council of Nicaea in 325. Unfortunately Constantine was succeeded by the Emperor Julian who brought back a renewal of persecutions.

He was again exiled to Odyssopolis which today is the port of the city of Varna in Bulgaria. Even so he was not left in peace but so cruelly beaten, that he died of his injuries at the age of 107 in the year 362.

"Called to be ‘Mercy’” – Teen Retreat, Easton, MA.

Sr. Natalie Sayde

The Maronite Servants of Christ the Light presented a retreat reflection on May 31st (Feast of the Visitation) to the eighth grade students graduating from Trinity Catholic Academy, Brockton. The retreat, held at Stonehill College, was hosted and facilitated by Fr. Carlos Suarez, vocation director in the Archdiocese of Boston, with the focus on their transitioning to high school.

The retreat began with Divine Liturgy celebrated in the Chapel of Our Lady of Sorrows. Fr. Carlos set the tone of the day by reminding the students that they are called to be like our Lady in her visitation to Elizabeth, in that, they are called to come out of themselves and serve the other in their moments of need and difficulty. Let’s face it – its hard to consider the other when we are so absorbed by what’s troubling us, but Mary gives us a beautiful example. Rather than being troubled by so many variables such as, how am I going to make this long journey? What if something happens to my baby along the way? How am I going to explain my pregnancy to Elizabeth? Mary sets out with love, only to find love awaiting her.   

After, some fun icebreakers and group activities, Mother Marla Marie presented a retreat reflection on being “mercy”. Specifically, Mother Marla Marie explained how we are called everyday, not just in this Jubilee Year of Mercy, to be merciful to others. Jesus gave us the corporal and spiritual works of mercy, so that none of us can be in any doubt what Our Lord meant when He said, “Be merciful as your Heavenly Father is merciful  (Lk 6: 36).


Studying at our Seminary - Washington D.C.

The Maronite Servants of Christ the Light were in Washington D.C. from Wednesday, May 25th to Sunday May 29th for music classes at our Maronite Seminary with Fr. Geoffrey Abdallah,   rector. 
The Maronite Divine Praises (the Maronite Liturgy of the Hours) is currently under review in Lebanon.  At present, several of  hymns, psalm tones and chants have been completed and translated into English. We are still awaiting the final version of the full text. As Maronite Servant Sisters, we pray the Maronite Divine Praises three times a day (morning, evening and night). 
Fr. Geoffrey taught us several of the new hymns, tones, chants and melodies to be sung during Morning and Evening Prayer across the Maronite Liturgical seasons.   We extend our warmest thanks to Fr. Geoffrey  for giving us his time and expertise to teach us. 
On Sunday, May 29th, following Divine Liturgy at Our Lady of Lebanon, the Sisters participated in a Holy Hour with the parish for vocations to priestly and religious life. It was a great blessing to pray with our parishioners, who so often pray for us.