Perhaps because the weather promises to be wet and wild today, making my body know it is aging, my first thoughts upon waking were of suffering. Watching the news puts the topic front and center – especially because of all the destruction from floods and tornadoes – but also in my mind were so many conversations I have had over the past week with people whose lives have been tinged with sorrow or disease that has turned their world upside down. As is often the case, I found Scripture to be a reference for reflection on the topic and a place to find some solace. First it was Paul who engaged the topic (2COR 1:1-7) saying, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of all compassion and the God of all encouragement, who encourages us in our every affliction, so that we may be able to encourage those who are in any affliction with the encouragement with which we ourselves are encouraged by God.” Although a little wordy, the meaning of Paul’s message should engage us, I think, in an inventory of all the times and ways that we have felt God’s presence in difficult circumstances. In that way, we might be able to listen deeply to others when they need an encouraging word or a shoulder to cry on. Note that I did not say “a solution to their suffering” because that is not always possible. Rather, Paul speaks about sharing in encouragement as we share in sufferings and thus have a hope born of compassion.
In addition to Paul’s voice, today we have the teaching of Jesus in his sermon called The Beatitudes or the Sermon on the Mount (MT 5:1-12) which includes Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. There is no when or how in the promise but only the promise itself. So I guess it all comes down to the theological virtue of hope. Just as in everyday life when we hope with expectation of fulfillment of our desires, so too in our faith. The added component for people of faith, however, is that as we place our trust in Christ’s promises, we rely not only on our own strength to realize our hopes but also on the grace of the Holy Spirit and the support of the community of believers.
All of this brings me back to my earliest thoughts, recalling those people whom I know to be in pain. Holding them in prayer – each in turn and all together – will be my responsibility and my offering today to the building up of the body of hope. Won’t you join me there?