“…we even boast of our afflictions, knowing that affliction produces endurance, and endurance, proven character, and proven character, hope, and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.” ~Romans 5:3-5
A few weeks ago, during our celebration of the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity, this portion of St. Paul’s letter to the Romans was read to faithful Catholics throughout the world. I had the privilege of attending a bilingual Mass that weekend with my girlfriend, Kara, in a high school gymnasium. The different setting, unfamiliar language, and unusually large number of altar servers hardly crossed my mind as we participated in Mass at Most Holy Trinity Parish, on this, their solemnity. It was a beautiful liturgy to say the least! What struck Kara and me most about our experience, however, were these lines from the second reading:
How many of us know someone who is afflicted? We all have family members, friends or colleagues that are struggling with cancer, unemployment, depression, etc. In the daily news - local, national and international - we hear about gun violence, war, natural disaster, and famine. Even more simplistically, we each have ‘good days’ and ‘bad days.’
St. Paul reminds us that affliction is not something to run from because ultimately, we “boast in hope of the Glory of God” (Romans 5:2). His ‘flow chart of hope’ is a reassuring message of what true faithfulness yields and how God makes His love present to each of us in our struggles.
The alternatives to hope (sin, despair, discouragement, impatience, fear, anxiety, guilt…)_ when left unchecked, are a rejection of God’s invitation to deeper communion with Him. Very basically, this reading offers us a roadmap to understand how affliction does not have the final word; hope does!
Pope Benedict XVI’s homily at Nationals Stadium during his 2008 Apostolic Visit to the United States speaks to this point: “It is a prayer of unfailing hope, but also one of patient endurance and, often, accompanied by suffering for the truth. Through this prayer, we share in the mystery of Christ’s own weakness and suffering, while trusting firmly in the victory of his Cross.”
We are able to endure our own afflictions because of the hope promised to us by God. Pain, suffering, and struggle are not pleasant, especially when they are affecting someone we know and love. As people of faith, though, we believe God is with us, united in our affliction and made present to us in the love we experience. This faith, this hope, and this love, offer us momentary comfort and strength as we journey to the ultimate glory of complete communion with God.
We have a common call to share this hope with those around us, especially with those who find it difficult to endure in times of struggle. This simple reminder of the universality of the Church also reminds us that through prayer, “we become capable of the great hope, and thus we become ministers of hope for others” (Spe Salvi, 34).
And so, as we are confronted with affliction, our prayer should be one of hope. As others struggle with affliction, our response should be one of hope. And as we begin to question why affliction affects our lives, we must remember that affliction yields hope; hope in the love of God.
“Hope, O my soul, hope. You know neither the day nor the hour. Watch carefully, for everything passes quickly, even though your impatience makes doubtful what is certain, and turns a very short time into a long one. Dream that the more you struggle, the more you prove the love that you bear your God, and the more you will rejoice one day with your Beloved, in a happiness and rapture that can never end.”
St. Teresa of Avila, The Exclamations of the Soul to God, 15:3.
Jonathan Jerome is the Director of Catholic Campus Ministry at the University of Pittsburgh Johnstown.