You may have come across the book The Road Less Travelled, by M. Scott Peck. He is a psychiatrist and a devout Christian. It is a fantastic read and one of those books that I think everyone should read. 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. They are not usually looking for an answer, but just someone to listen to them who will not judge them. That is a privilege for me, because it is a reminder that people see God in the priest in some way. When I keep hearing all these different stories 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 are all struggling in the same way: problems with relationships, work, marriage, addiction, finances. And somehow it is reassuring, 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 just being negative, but it is the reality of this life. What is really important, however, is where it is going; the purpose of it.
When Jesus asked his disciples who they thought he was, and Peter recognised him as the Son of God, the first thing he did was to insist that they tell no one. He wasn’t going to take the road of glory and honour. The second thing he did was to tell them that he would suffer greatly 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 the most worthwhile path’.
The Lord is teaching us that we will struggle, but there is a purpose to it. In a mysterious way the suffering has its place. 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. When our time of service is over the Lord will come and bring us home, unless we have deliberately and consciously rejected him which I believe very few people do.
I remember when I was in school the time seemed endless as I didn’t like school, 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 15 years ago. When our time on earth comes to an end we 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 probably be disappointed, because it is not to be found here. That was one of the things that Our Lady said to Bernadette in Lourdes apparently: ‘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. 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, but we also believe that the Lord Jesus is with us the whole time, guiding us, teaching us, speaking to 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 wonderful 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 often 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.’