You may have come across the book The Road Less Travelled, by M. Scott Peck. It is a fantastic read and one of those classic books that everyone should read in my opinion. The book starts with one short sentence: ‘Life is difficult’. Then he goes on to say that if you can accept the fact that life is difficult, then it no longer matters, because you’re not expecting it to be any different. We can then rise above it. There is a lot of wisdom in that.
As a priest people often come to me and tell me their problems. Mostly they are not looking for an answer, but just someone to listen to them who will not judge them. That is always a privilege for me, because it is a reminder to me that people see some kind of a link to God in the priest. What is also consoling for me when I keep hearing all these different stories is that it reminds me that we are all the same the world over. We all struggle and no one has it easy.
Hearing confessions in any international place of pilgrimage like Lourdes or Medjugorje is the same. You realise quickly that people from all different parts of the world, no matter what their culture, are all struggling in the same way: problems with relationships, work, marriage, addiction, finances. And somehow it is consoling, because it helps me to realise that this is what this life involves so don’t expect it to be different. Now that is not to give in to despair or just to be negative, but it is the reality of this life. What is really important, however, is where it is going; its purpose.
When Jesus asked his disciples who they thought he was, and Peter recognised him as the Christ of God, the first thing he did was to insist that they tell no one. The second thing he did was to tell them that he would suffer and die. And he then spelt it out for them: ‘If anyone wishes to follow me, let him renounce himself, take up his cross and follow me.’ He was saying, ‘the path is not easy, but don’t be afraid of it because it is worthwhile’.
Now back to where this is all going which is so important. The Lord is teaching us that yes we will struggle, but there is a purpose to it. All the time we are being formed; we are growing; we are learning to love and serve; but as you know that doesn’t happen easily. Then when our time of service is over the Lord comes and brings us home, unless we have deliberately and consciously rejected him. I remember when I was in school the time seemed endless, but now it is almost forgotten. When I was in the seminary for six years the time also seemed pretty long, but now that is already 12 years ago. When our time on earth comes to an end no doubtwe will also look back and say, ‘wow, it wasn’t really that long after all.’ What is important is that it is heading somewhere and there is a purpose to it, which is why we must try and hang on and not give up when the going gets tough.
If we hope to find complete happiness in this life, we will be disappointed, because it is not to be found here. That was apparently one of the things that Our Lady said to Bernadette in Lourdes: ‘I cannot promise you happiness in this life but in the next.’ That doesn’t mean that we won’t find a certain amount of happiness and contentment; please God we will and much of it, but we will never be completely fulfilled here, by anyone or anything. I think if we can accept that, it takes a lot of the pressure off. We just do our best to love and serve for the time we are given here on earth. However, we also remember that the Lord Jesus is with us the whole time, guiding us, teaching us, encouraging us; present to us in each mass in an extraordinary way. So we know that we are not alone and we need not be afraid.
The horrible image of the crucifixion—which we have become so used to—also tells us something very powerful about God. It tells us that God can be found in the midst of human suffering; that the Lord Jesus knows what it is to suffer and feel abandoned by all, even by God himself; and that when we are suffering we can be assured that God is not just looking on ‘from a distance’ as the song says, but that He is right there with us, helping us and encouraging us.
Life is difficult, but it has a purpose and the Lord is with us the whole way.
‘If anyone wants to be a follower of mine, let him renounce himself and take up his cross every day and follow me.’