A few days ago, I was at a meeting with five married couples. At one point, the discussion turned on the experience of God in daily life and I took the opportunity to ask them two blunt questions: “As couples, do you encounter God in your life?”, and “If yes, which were or are those experiences that brought or still bring you close to Him?”

I invited them to pause and reflect for a few seconds before offering a reply. Yet one of them answered straightaway: “In suffering!” I repeated my suggestion. But her husband joined her: “It comes out instantly! We experienced God strongly in our suffering.” At that moment, I realised that I had made a mistake when I had repeated my suggestion for them to pause and reflect. There was no need for it. They were convinced of their truth.

The husband carried on: “I do not believe that suffering comes from God or that He wants or tolerates our pain. Suffering is part of this life, but when it comes along, we always find God close to us. We believe that He chooses to be at our side and weeps with us.”

Jesus always stands by our side, and weeps with us in times of suffering

This powerful testimony reminded me of the impromptu homily delivered by Pope Francis in Tacloban in the Philippines in January 2015. Fourteen months earlier, Typhoon Haiyan had hit the city at full force, destroying everything in its path and leaving around a million homeless and 6,200 dead.

During his apostolic visit to the country, Francis braved another storm and flew to Tacloban to celebrate Mass with the survivors. Wearing a thin yellow raincoat on top of the liturgical vestments, amid strong winds and pouring rain, he told the congregation: “So many of you have lost everything. I do not know what to tell you... So many of you have lost members of your family. I can only be silent; I accompany you silently, with my heart. Many of you looked to Christ and asked: Why, Lord? To each of you the Lord responds from His heart. I have no other words to say to you. Let us look to Christ. He is the Lord, and He understands us, for He experienced all the troubles we experience.”

At that point, the Pope turned and showed the people the image of Jesus crucified that was exhibited on the altar: “I see him there, nailed to the cross, and from there he does not disappoint us. He was consecrated Lord on that throne, and there he experienced all the disasters we experience. Jesus is Lord. And he is Lord from the cross. That is why he can understand us: He became like us in every way. That is why we have a Lord who is able to weep with us, a Lord who is able to accompany us and be at our side through life’s most difficult moments.”

This is the Lord who, today, at the end of another liturgical year, we exalt as King of the Universe. More often than not, we expect Him to come into our circumstances with power and might, but His kingdom is, above all, a kingdom of meekness. Indeed, He is so gentle, that at times, particularly in tough moments, we confuse His docile presence with absence.

The couple I mentioned earlier and the homily in Tacloban remind us that when we perceive absence or silence on the part of the king, it would do us well to go beyond our limited judgement. They remind us that Jesus always stands by our side, and weeps with us in times of suffering. They remind us that He is the Emmanuel, the God-with-us, whose coming we will all celebrate in a few weeks.

Fr Kevin Schembri is a member of staff at the Faculty of Theology and the Ecclesiastical Tribunal.



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