As a college athlete I wasn't afraid of pain. I mean, I didn't want to be in pain, but I knew that the more I pushed myself and the more my body ached, the better I would become. When my arms were burning and my legs on the verge of giving out, that's when I felt the most alive. I knew there was a change happening and I was becoming the best version of myself. Through the suffering I was being made new. As my muscles were broken down they would soon begin to rebuild, stronger and better than before.
Once again, swimming was teaching me a valuable lesson that I would carry with me long after I was out of the pool... As a society we have a tendency to shy away from pain and suffering. We like things to be effortless and easy. We want the quick solution and we want it now. Our culture just can't seem to fathom a life made better by suffering or pain. It just doesn't make sense and it doesn't add up.
But it does make sense. Our suffering makes us stronger. Emotional, spiritual and physical....we are broken down, beaten, and defeated. However, when we choose to rise up and unite our sufferings with Christ, then we are made new. Uniting our suffering with Christ is another tough concept for the world to understand. How does that work? There is nothing that we go through that Christ didn't feel as well. Fully divine and fully human he felt it all. We can't say "God you don't know what I'm going through!". Because He does. He does know. When we suffer, the Lord is there is pick us up and hold us tight. He says "be not afraid..." For after the suffering comes the soft morning light of the resurrection.
Catholics are asked why we "keep Jesus on the cross?". Why do we have the crucifix prominent in our churches instead of the empty cross? Why focus on the suffering? Well, because without the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross there is no resurrection. There is no Easter Sunday. There is no salvation. The empty cross is like skipping to the end of the story. The journey in which our salvation was attained is the most important part of the story. It is not "the cross" that saved us. It's Jesus on that cross.
When Moses saw the burning bush and God was giving him instructions on how to lead the Israelites out of Egypt, he asked God how to get the people to believe him? How would he convince them to follow him to the promise land? Then God gave him a series of signs that he could show people. One of them being turing his staff into a serpent. Through the wood of the staff the Israelites would come to believe. Not by the wood itself, but God working through it. That's what the cross is for us. Through the wood of the cross we see God's wonder and power. It is not the cross itself but the Son of Man who lays upon it. Jesus who is nailed onto the wood leads us to the promise land.
Suffering is not to be taken lightly but it should also not be something we ignore or shy away from. Like the muscles of the body broken down, we too become broken down, but we only have to look at the wood of the cross to know that we are becoming new.