“If anyone wants to be a follower of mine, let him renounce himself, take up his cross, and follow me” (Mk 8:34). We just heard Jesus talk about suffering, the cross, being a part of what it means to follow Him. And I want to illustrate this by referring to what the Pope said about his own suffering when he broke his wrist this year.
The Pope, you may recall, fell and broke his wrist on the 17th of July this summer. And he spoke about this in public a couple weeks later [29th July], noting how God had allowed this suffering to come to him. He noted that "my Guardian Angel did not prevent my accident”, but, far from seeing this as a failing on his Guardian’s Angel’s part, he said that his Angel was “certainly following 'superior orders'”, i.e. this is what God had commanded the angel to do. And the Pope went further and speculated as to what might have been God’s reasons for ordering this, perhaps, "to teach me greater patience and humility" and maybe to give him "more time for prayer and meditation."
The Pope, of course, is no fool. And these comments are worthy of a little commentary. Because these comments hold for the suffering that comes in each of our lives too.
First, we can note that the Pope spoke to God ALLOWING suffering to come to him, of his Angel ‘not preventing’ suffering. NOTE: the Pope did NOT say that God directly caused or directly willed the suffering; he did not say that his Guardian Angel tripped him up! And this is a very important point to remember: God does not directly will any suffering, he permits it. Just as he allows us to sin because it’s the only way we can be able to FREELY love, he also allowed suffering to enter the world with Original Sin, and he similarly allows but does not directly cause the suffering that comes our own way.
That said, however, He allows suffering to come to us as part of a carefully measured and directed plan for each of us. He permits suffering to come to us to draw some greater good out of it. The Catechism gives a model for this when it says that the Heavenly Father permitted the death of His own Beloved Son on the Cross, He permitted that act of deicide that was the greatest evil in human history, He permitted it in order to draw the even greater good of the Resurrection out of it.
For ourselves, we can often wonder why God allows the particular crosses that come to each of us. We also wonder why suffering comes to those we love. As long as we live in this world our knowledge is imperfect and, though we know there is a reason, and we know this because Scripture tells us so (“all things work for the good of those who love the Lord” (Rom 8:28)), we don’t know WHAT the particular reason or reasons in our own case are. Of course, we can speculate, just as the Pope speculated as to his own suffering, with the tough benefits he saw coming to him, nonetheless, our speculation is only guesswork. We don’t know the mind of God, even though we know He does have a mind to plan, a heart to care, and the power to work what He plans.
There is a final point I want to make, and that is that the crosses we are called to carry in our following of the Lord who carried His cross, our crosses are not all big ones. A broken wrist is not that big a thing in itself, nonetheless, it is part of God’s plan. There is no detail of our lives that God is not interested in; there is no cross too small to offer it to Jesus. What counts about what we do is the LOVE with which we do it, and what counts about our crosses is how we love while we carry them: how we continue to help others even while we suffer, how we continue to pray for others while we suffer, and how we continue to offer our lives and our very crosses to Jesus while we suffer, offer them as a sacrifice.
Jesus came to this world to re-make it, to make it anew. The road to the Resurrection that He walked was the road that lead to Calvary, to the Cross. If we would be His followers, as He calls us to ‘follow’, then we must go where He went, we must go to Calvary, go with whatever small or big crosses we have. And if we go with the same love He went with then we too will achieve for ourselves and for others our share in the re-creation.