Suffering is inescapable in human life. From the moment we are conceived we possess a body that is fragile - susceptible to illness, disease, injury and eventually death. Indeed, birth is the first stage in the process of dying. It is unavoidable. As surely as new life begins, we know that that same life will someday end…
Today is Ash Wednesday. The ashes on our forehead remind us that, no matter our circumstances in life – rich or poor, young or old, sick or in good health – we are all destined for the grave. “You are dust and unto dust you shall return,” – these words are among those spoken as the ashen cross is traced upon our heads.
But the cross is not only a symbol of our death, but of suffering itself. The cross is not merely a symbol of our common end, but also the path we must tread to arrive there. We “take up our cross” and follow Him. It is a process, a march to our graves. Between conception and death, the life we live is filled with ups and downs. All life contains suffering. All life is marked with the sign of the cross; and the cross gives us hope.
The cross gives us hope, not because it brings an end to suffering, but because it redefines our suffering. Jesus agony and death do not remove suffering from our lives. Jesus did not come to end all pain. Jesus came to give our suffering new meaning!
There is no doubt that Jesus knew suffering of the worst kind. But His suffering transformed the world. If there is to be meaning in our life we must not reject suffering but embrace these moments of pain as channels of grace…just as Jesus embraced the cross for the salvation of the world. If we unite our suffering to His, then we can share in His plan of salvation, and become channels of grace to the world.
When we accept the cross of ashes we seek solidarity with the lowliest and most wretched of humanity. We search out those who suffer and find spiritual companionship. We even seek ways to suffer alongside them. As we look around us and see all those fellow travelers marked with their own crosses today, we see Christ walking beside us.