Christ is Always on the Side of Suffering

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We’ve been bombarded with mixed messages about what it means to be Catholic. We’ve had conversations that are uncomfortable and wondered if we are actually doing this whole thing right, given we have so many differing opinions within our own Church. It has become very complicated. It’s enough to make anyone’s head spin.

But if I had to explain to someone in one sentence or less on what it means to be Catholic, I would tell them simply, “Being Catholic is being with those who suffer.”

I wouldn’t tell them about this saint or that saint or this doctrine or that one. I wouldn’t tell them about fasting on Fridays or Lent or Confession. Because without solidarity in suffering, none of that means a thing. If you lose the love, all you have left is a club.

Jesus was always on the side of the suffering. Jesus always rooted for the oppressed, the beaten down, the underdog. We fight for the ones who can’t fight for themselves. We fight for the ones who are ignored, beaten, and chastised.

We all take turns being the underdog. Sometimes the Catholic is the underdog in a world that persecutes those who seek truth. Sometimes the underdog is the person rejected by  people within the Church, looking for truth, but ostracized because they don’t look or act like what we believe a Christian should.

The ones society has tossed aside, forgotten, or pushed away – standing in solidarity with them is what it means to be Catholic. You can say all the rosaries you want, you can listen to all the Christian music you want, but when it really counts, when someone needs your help, and you have the opportunity to either stand up or stand aside, that’s when you decide if you’re truly Catholic or not.

So if you’re confused, and you don’t know where you stand or the Church stands on an issue socially or politically, of where we need to direct our focus, direct to the ones who suffer. No matter the statements or opinions of those in authority, nor the politics of it all, nothing changes your ability to love. Your mission is unaffected. The mission to love and heal is unchanged.

Our Church is our home. It is our resource for our community and a tool to carry out Christ’s message to the world. She is our home base – our community we go back to for guidance and camaraderie. But it is not the only community we are responsible for.

The Seven Corporal Works of Mercy give us a tool to discern our mission:

   1. Feed the Hungry

   2. Give Drink to the Thirsty

   3. Shelter the Homeless

   4. Visit the Sick

   5. Visit the Prisoners 

   6. Bury the Dead 

   7. Give Alms to the Poor 

Just like the Ten Commandments, these instructions go far beyond volunteering at the local soup kitchen or visiting your friend in the hospital. (You should still do those things, but being Catholic, we always take things a step further.)

Ask yourself: Do I provide a source of  spiritual nourishment for my neighbors? When they are having a difficult time, do I offer to have them over for a cup of coffee  and give them my undivided attention? Or do I tell them “Sorry, I’m busy, but I’ll pray for you!” Prayers are great, but a listening ear is better.

Do I offer myself to be a safe haven for those who feel “homeless”? Feeling rejected or ostracized or without a place to call home? Do I ignore the social biases and sit with those that society rejects? Or do I wave them away, thinking, “I’ll just pray for ‘em”?

Do I check in on those who are sick and hurting? Do I offer a hand when they are going through a difficult time? Do I offer to drive them to an appointment or help them cook dinner when they’re too tired to move? Or do I stay away because I don’t want to feel like I’m bothering them? (Note: No one feels bothered when you drop off a casserole.

Do I reach out to those who have been abandoned, even when society tells me they’re a lost cause? Or do I reason, “They did it to themselves. It’s not my responsibility to solve other people’s problems”?

Do I bury the past? Do I let go of grudges and live in light of the future? Or do I hold on to the past, blinded to the hope of tomorrow?

Do I offer to pay for the meal, even when I’m not expected to? Do I throw a little extra in the collection basket? Do I offer my old clothes to charity instead of selling them on Facebook?

Do I consider these things daily? Or do I go to Mass on Sunday and call it a week?

Being Catholic is a daily commitment. It’s not a social club or a fraternity or something you do because you feel you’re expected to. It’s a challenge you say yes to every day. It’s the commitment to deny and humble yourself, no matter how uncomfortable it is. Because we only grow when our cages are rattled.

Suffering goes beyond what we see on a UNICEF commercial. The people we choose not to associate with for the sake of our reputation are also our brothers and sisters we’re called to serve – the people we socially exclude.

These are the people we forget or ignore because we don’t know how to love them if they aren’t living the way we believe is right. We are afraid to be the “judgy Catholic friend.”

We are here to sit and suffer with the suffering. Sitting with the suffering doesn’t mean fighting for their choices, it means fighting for their human dignity. It means fighting for their worthiness of love and their worthiness to be empathized with. Jesus taught this radical idea that each individual person, no matter their choices, their lifestyle, or affiliations, was utterly and undeniably loveable. No matter where they came from, they are a child of God.

The Catholic Church is where we learn to love, learn to heal, and learn to listen. It is paramount to our beliefs to love our neighbors, love our enemies, and love those who are different. The Church is such a powerful institution, but her power also lies in her humility. Her power is in her submission. Christ is not a king on a throne with a scepter. Christ is in the lowliest of the low, the humble, the meek, the suffering. He teaches us that we are undeniably loveable, despite our choices, despite our circumstances, and despite who we associate with. We are loved. And as an extension, we are called to imitate Christ. So, therefore, we are called to lower our heads and to love the unlikely without reservations.

As Catholics, we are called to be healers and listeners.  As hands and feet of Christ, we are called to be an embodiment of peace, mercy, and gentleness. We are here to foster and cultivate relationships regardless of background, status, or opinions.

We aren’t here to be right about everything – we’re here to be holy. We’re here to sit in the brokenness. We’re here to hold the hands of the people that are hurting.

So when you’re overwhelmed with the politics of the Church and the world and the need to be right, just remember where we came from and why we’re here. Remember what it means to be Catholic in the first place.

To be Catholic is to suffer. It’s to stand in solidarity with those who are abandoned and fall to our knees in humility. We are called to be humble, and if you need a little help with that (we all do), look to the right for Mother Teresa’s Humility List. No one said it would be easy. No one said you’d be recognized. No one said you’d be applauded. But we’re not here for that. We don’t just do it because we’re Catholic. We do it because we’re human.

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