May 22 • 13M

Homily: Why Do Christians Suffer?

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I realized that some of the side gigs I do, although they pay me pennies at most are important to what I do and to my preaching.

Let me give you an example: One mystery in my life was always if St. Maximillian Kolbe was such a saintly and holy man, why did God allow him to suffer and die in the Auschwitz? I discovered the answer when I interviewed the associate producer of the movie Two Crowns which was about the Polish saint. I had to see the movie in preparation and then I did the interview and I realized that I had the scenario backwards. God was not powerless to prevent Maximillian Kolbe from being sent to Auschwitz, Kolbe ended up there to be a presence of God in a place that to this day defines evil.

So when we think of this idea we can then look at the second reading in our continued walk in 1 Peter and see what the apostle is teaching.

He is writing about suffering for the faith. The obvious question I have is if we believe that Jesus is the Lord and King why are we suffering for the faith? Peter does not really answer this question. He basically says it is a part of the reality and he is right, but we know it is also part of the Christian reality. We can read this and understand. Our suffering is not part of some bad practical joke that God is playing on us or some kind of test of our faithfulness. Our suffering is a witness to what we believe.

People ask why is there evil in the world, let’s look at the model of evil and see why. Why didn’t God stop NAZI Germany and prevent it from happening? The answer is simple. NAZI Germany could have stopped if people did one simple thing—simply realize that they built their world on a false assumption and then turned to Christ. They created a science-only ethic that rejected God and therefore was built on a false anthropology. Their flawed assumption built a flawed world that fell into darkness.

The reason why it lasted as long as it did was because many people were blind to the darkness it was creating. Remember, many in this country prior to discoveries of the evil of the NAZI regime thought Hitler was great.* At the 1936 Olympics, a woman from California kissed Hitler. The news reports that ran in many newspapers celebrated this act. Not one appeared shocked that anyone would try to do this, except, of course, Hitler’s security. So many people were blind to the darkness that was so obvious when it finally revealed itself in the defeat of the NAZI regime.

Many people, however, died rejecting the teachings of the regime in places like Auschwitz.

They suffered for their faith but in doing so were witnesses to the fact that the people had embraced a darkness to which they were completely blind. It was the people of faith who could see and by living their faith were witnesses to the light shining in the darkness.

This is what St. Peter is teaching. The suffering is not a consequence of trying to live our faith, the suffering is a witness to the light that shines in the darkness. The suffering is not so that we can be saved but that those surrounded by darkness can be saved.

We are surrounded by people who are lost in darkness and many others are warning us that the darkness is growing. Others are getting lost trying to fight the wrong battle and so they are ready to pick up arms against what they perceive is a growing threat. Peter today shows us the true weapons to live our faith truthfully and faithfully.

You do more to fight evil by attending Mass than anyone can do stockpiling arms. I say that because there was a celebrity priest calling for people to stockpile certain firearms in case Washington State outlaws them.

You do more to fight evil by allowing the fruit of your prayer to strengthen the Holy Spirit within you than any movement advocating violence against political forces.

St John reminds us that the light shines into the darkness and Saint Peter is showing that when we seek to live in the light the darkness tries to silence our witness. However, in order to silence our witness they have to recognize our witness and the message that they try to silence. Our most powerful witness is simply to live our faith and to live the fruit of our prayer. When we do that we are the light that shines into the darkness. We are living the message of salvation and that is why we have received the sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation.

We had a convocation this week and the speaker spoke to us about how to improve our celebration of the Mass. He explained that receiving communion is making a covenant with the Lord. When you come up to receive you are choosing to be part of the Kingdom of God and its light that shines into the darkness. The light is not so that you will be saved it is so you can lead others to be saved. That may require some forms of suffering but that is the point. It is part of the witness that St. Paul is talking about, something that Maximillian Kolbe understood so well.

*Special note: One of my favorite songs is the late Jack Hardy’s folk song “Ragman” among the lyrics are:

“Ragman . . . was a wallpaper hanger in ‘24

in ‘37 he and your Uncle Joe were very good friends”

a clear reference to Hitler and how he was on friendly terms with US for a time.

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