Sunday, May 28, 2023


Suffering for Doing the RIght Thing
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M.
/ Categories: Homilies

Suffering for Doing the RIght Thing

Homily for the Fourth Sunday of Easter

As we continue to read from the First Letter of St. Peter, he tries to open our minds to the question of suffering that is caused by doing good.

Let us not forget that the people of Jesus’ time believed in a God of reciprocity.  Do good things and God will be good to you.  Do evil and God will punish you.  Then Jesus comes on the scene, the just and sinless one.  He did nothing but good things, yet he suffered.  St. Peter uses this as the basis for his exhortation to those who are struggling to understand why they are suffering for doing the right thing.  St. Peter asks us to “follow in his footsteps.”  In other words, if we unite our sufferings with those of Jesus, we are following his example. 

No one enjoys suffering.  No one enjoys pain or depression or grief or frustration or disillusionment or any of the many ways that we human beings suffer.  Not only do we dislike suffering ourselves, but we also are equally dismayed when we witness the suffering of others, particularly our loved ones or innocent children.  Indeed, St. Peter is not telling us that we should look for ways to suffer.  No one has to do so.  Suffering is just a part of life.  It is a consequence of our humanity.  We are limited, finite creatures who will all eventually be called upon to endure either physical or mental anguish.  It is just part of who we are.

However, St. Peter tells us that if we allow suffering to unite us with Jesus, if we use it to create a bond between us, suffering can be a grace.  “Beloved: If you are patient when you suffer for doing what is good, this is a grace before God.”  Grace is the free and unmerited favor of God.  When we are graced, we possess the very life of God pulsing through our souls.  Grace is bestowed upon us not because we earn it, but because God wishes to bless us.  One way in which we are graced is, according to St. Peter, through patient suffering.  God favors us with this gift because we choose to offer our suffering as a sacrificial offering, just as Jesus offered his suffering for our redemption. 

The Gospel today speaks of Jesus as the gate to the sheepfold, the passage through which the shepherd calls his sheep.  When the shepherd has “driven out all his own, he walks ahead of them, and the sheep follow him, because they recognize his voice.”  A little later on in this chapter of his Gospel, St. John tells us that Jesus calls himself the “Good Shepherd.”  It is he that we are to follow, or, as St. Peter puts it, we “should follow in his footsteps.”  We are to go the way he has gone.  He has shown us the way and has himself gone that way before us.  Now we are to follow.  Although our translation says “footsteps,” perhaps a better translation of the Greek would be “footprints.”  We are to put our feet into the very marks he has made upon the road as he walked to Calvary and laid down his life for us.  This is, in fact, our vocation.  This is our calling.  We who profess to be the disciples of Jesus are, like him, to live our lives for others.  This is every Christian’s vocation.  No matter whether we choose marriage or consecrated life as religious or ordained ministry, we are to live for others just as Jesus lived for us. 

Of course, it goes without saying that this is not the lifestyle that our culture espouses.  We are told that we need to look out for #1 first, to “go for the gusto,” “to be all that we can be.”  We are indoctrinated in the ways to have it all.  Our American secular culture looks upon most jobs and most relationships as a way to gain, to acquire more, to get the most out of life.  If we but  gaze upon the cross of Jesus, the first lesson we learn is that this is not how Jesus lived his life. 

This congregation today is made up of people in various walks of life.  We welcome in our midst today a group of young people who are making an “Engaged Encounter” weekend.  Christian marriage, I am sure they will learn, is about putting the needs of their spouse and the needs of their family before their own needs.  The married couples who worship with us this morning can give witness to that fact.  We worship in the home of consecrated religious.  Their response to their baptismal call has been one of serving the needs of others as educators, as nurses and medical professionals, as spiritual guides and companions.  Each of us is called to be “for others.”  St. Peter reminds us in this baptismal sermon which has become his First Letter, that if we suffer for doing the right, it is a grace.

Because our culture often portrays this kind of lifestyle as foolish or short-sighted, we need something to keep us on the way.  That something is the Eucharist, food for the journey, the very grace of God’s favor, unearned and unmerited – a free gift that is there for the taking.  As we approach the table of the Lord today, let us do so with hearts full of gratitude for God’s favor.

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