I believe that suffering has meaning. But it's one thing to believe something, and quite another to integrate that belief into your understanding and practice of your faith in your daily life.
During the thirty cycles we waited for Camilla's conception, I was forced to confront the truth about suffering in a way I'd never done before. I hashed it out with God on a near-daily basis, and I was blessed in the hashing: He gave me, over and over again, the peace for which I was searching. And while in the waiting I never gained a concrete understanding of the purpose for the wait, I somehow received the assurance that - whether I ever became a mother in this lifetime - there was a purpose for what I was going through, and I would understand it some day. It was quite a blessing, that assurance.
Then came a new blessing. The "Why me, God?" filled with bewilderment and tears of pain became a "Why me?" filled with wonder and tears of joy. I'd been bringing my whys to the altar on a regular basis, but with the advent of Camilla's existence I had nothing to mourn, nothing to wrestle with, for the first time in a long time. My near-constant meditation on the meaning of suffering all but ceased.
But this is Holy Week. What better time to revisit the theme of suffering?
For a couple years now Bryan and I have had a practice of reading the account of the Passion from a different Gospel each night during Holy Week. It's a good way for us to meditate on the sorrowful mysteries (we begin at the agony in the garden and read until Jesus is laid in the tomb), and a good way to mentally prepare for the Triduum. Last year during Holy Week the joy of my pregnancy was too new for me to be able to find much sorrow in the readings, but this year the sorrow is sinking in again. Every night we read, it hits me a little more strongly.
During our wait the agony in the garden was a powerful meditation for me. "Not my will but thine be done" - I felt called to make those words my own. It was a call to unite myself to Christ weeping in the garden, to realize that surrendering my will to my Father's was not just virtuous, but absolutely crucial.
I worked to achieve that surrender in regard to our wait for a child, and failed more often than I succeeded. God granted my prayer anyway. Jesus in his human will worked to achieve surrender to the divine will, and succeeded perfectly because he was the Son of God. The next day he was crucified and died as punishment for sins past, present, and future, none of which he had committed.
By our ideas of justice this is ludicrous. But it happened, and in the light of Easter we know that the incredible tragedy of Christ's violent death is the greatest blessing ever given to mankind. And it challenges every common assumption about what it means to live, to live well, to live gloriously.
He said, "Take up your CROSS and follow me." So I put on my necklace with the tiny gold cross, I hang a crucifix on my wall, and I make the sign of the cross before praying. His cross was huge and back-breaking; mine are unobtrusive and never painful, but the difference is incidental, right? I've got the cross; I've marked myself as a Christian; I'm doing what he asked.
Or maybe I'm reading that sentence with the wrong emphasis. Perhaps it should be "Take up YOUR cross and follow me." My cross isn't a couple of heavy, splintery beams, neither is it anything in the shape of two intersecting lines. It's daily opportunities to swallow my pride, work on my patience, and serve those around me. It's a baby fussing at 4am, a sink full of dirty dishes, a pile of laundry on the basement floor. And for two-and-a-half years it was discovering once again, month by month, that things hoped-for had not come to fruition.
During those two-and-a-half years I prayed more often for relief than for understanding, but I knew that someday I would understand. I imagined this day would be far in the future, probably after my life on earth was over. Yet during this Holy Week, when I confront once again the awful glory of what happened to that Jewish carpenter all those years ago - and what it meant for the rest of us - I see the value of every one of those monthly disappointments. And, wonder of wonders, I thank God for them. While they were going on I was barely able to imagine ever doing so, and the weaker parts of me know that this thankfulness comes much more easily because the answer to my disappointments is currently chewing her fists in my lap. Fortunately, the unworthiness of a recipient of grace does not make the grace itself any less stunning; in fact, I think the opposite is true. (Neither do the flaws of a meditation make its subject any less worthy, although sadly I don't think the opposite is true there.)
Whether your own current crosses are heavy or light, I wish you all a blessed and fruitful Triduum.