Several times I’ve had the opportunity to go to Medjugorje on pilgrimage (this is the place in Bosnia Herzegovnia where Our Lady has allegedly been appearing since 1981). Once when I was there I heard the visionary named Ivanka describe the experience she had when Our Lady told her she would no longer be appearing to her on a daily basis, but only once a year. Before the vision finished she asked Ivanka if there was anything she would like her to do for her. Ivanka asked Our Lady if she could see her mother again. Her mother had died just one month before the apparitions had begun. In Ivanka’s own words she says that just after she asked this of Our Lady suddenly her mother was in front of her and she was able to talk to her and hug her. Her mother told her that she was really proud of her and to be obedient to what her grandmother told her. At the end of this testimony Ivanka said, ‘I am living proof that heaven exists. I saw my mother and spoke with her several months after she died.’ To listen to Ivanka recall this experience was very moving and watching her tell this story it is certainly hard to doubt it.
In today’s Gospel we hear another account of Jesus suddenly appearing to the disciples after the resurrection. To help them believe that what they were seeing was real Jesus does a lovely and very human thing. He eats something in front of them. He takes a piece of fish from them and puts it in his mouth, chews it and swallows it. He wanted them to be convinced that they weren’t dreaming. This helped them to believe that this was the same Jesus with real flesh and blood that they had lived with for three years, a bit like Ivanka being allowed to speak with and hug her mother. They were left in no doubt after that.
Another interesting thing that Jesus did this time was to help the disciples understand that all that had taken place—his suffering, death and resurrection—made sense. He showed them that the prophets had foretold it and that the Scriptures referred to it. And then he said to them, ‘So you see how it was written that the Christ would suffer and on the third day rise again...’ In other words he was saying that all the events that had taken place, which were so horrifying and disillusioning for them, had their place. They were meant to happen and they fitted into God’s plan for the world. That was something that took the disciples a while to get their heads around, as suffering never makes sense to any of us. So Jesus had to help them understand not only that he was alive, but that all that had taken place was meant to happen.
All of us are continually faced with difficult situations of suffering. Sometimes it is suffering that we ourselves go through, such as sickness or relationships breaking up, and sometimes it is watching people dear to us suffer, like when someone we love dies. It never seems to make sense and it always seems unfair. We find ourselves crying out, ‘How can God do this to me? Why does God allow this?’ When I worked in a hospital as a chaplain I remember often hearing people ask me, ‘Why has God done this to me?’ So often we cannot make sense of why we have to suffer and we may even see it as a punishment.
Even though we don’t have a direct answer to this question, what Jesus says to his disciples in this Gospel is a help, because it reminds us that everything that happens fits into God’s bigger plan. The struggles we go through don’t make sense to us and sometimes they are even be caused by the wrong-doing of others. How could this be part of God’s plan, we ask? The point is that God can bring good out of every situation, even turning the evil work of people into good. But for the most part we cannot see that. We are just faced with each individual situation of suffering and that is hard. However, the Lord is telling us that there is a bigger picture which makes sense of everything that happens. When we die we will then see that picture and it will all make sense to us.
St. Pius of Pietrelcina—better known as Padre Pio—used the analogy of a tapestry. He said that our life is like a tapestry in God’s hands. We are looking at it from the back, like a child looking up at it while her mother works at it. All the child can see is the various bits of string hanging out and it doesn't seem very pretty. But seen from the other side, the Creator’s side, it is a beautiful work of art. So much of what we go through makes no sense to us, but the Lord asks us to trust that He knows what He is doing. One day when we see the tapestry from the right side, we will see the beautiful picture that the Lord has created.
'So you see how it was written that the Christ would suffer and on the third day rise again...'