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September 16, 2018
[Our Lady of Sorrows Church, Wahiawa]
Put on a happy face! That seems to be a popular theme for the world we live in today. Is something going very wrong in your life? Just smile it away! Do you have a terminal illness that you are afraid to suffer through? Put on a party for your family and closest friends and take a pill to put yourself out of your misery – at least in this world. Do you have an unexpected pregnancy that will ruin your budding career or just cost you too much money? You know you can legally dispose of that child and go on living free and easy without him or her. Do you have a pain in your heart that is very heavy? Take drugs or alcohol to cover it over so that no one will suspect. Has a loved one died, and you are overcome with grief? Put on a celebration of life, and allow no crying but only laughs and light hearted stories. Is your marriage becoming just too difficult? Don’t bother yourself with trying to work things out or with confronting destructive communications patterns or habits, just walk away and start over. Is your Church beset with scandals and corruption? Just go find another church – or not!
Of course I am not recommending any of these supposed solutions to real problems. We might be able to put on a happy face for a while, but ultimately the problem will come back to plague us even more fiercely. Pretending that we are not grieving when someone dies deprives us of reflecting on how much love we shared with the person, and how much it hurts that the relationship cannot continue in the same way. Walking away from one difficult marriage with the same problems that led to its storminess is not going to assure success in a new marriage. Wishing the scandals in the Church would just disappear as old news is not going to bring about the reform that is needed so that the Church can be purified. Escaping the pain of life by anesthetizing oneself with drugs or alcohol is only going to compound the problems and will never really solve them.
In the Gospel assigned for today we hear Peter telling Jesus to “Put on a happy face!” Peter does not want him to talk about rejection, suffering, or death on a cross. Yet Jesus stands firm by reprimanding Peter and affirming to him that we must all face the inevitable sufferings of life and not run away from them, because if we embrace them and deal with them, there will be resurrection and the fullness of life.
Last Friday we celebrated the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. People who were living when Jesus was crucified would be shocked and scandalized by this, since the cross was the most inhumane and cruel instrument of torture and capital punishment, which no one in his right mind would exalt. Yet we do so, because by his cross and resurrection, Jesus has redeemed the world. We also celebrate the feast of Our Lady of Sorrows. How strange it must seem to many to think that we would actually honor the Blessed Virgin Mary under this title. It is not a “happy face” title by any means, but one that indicates that even the good can suffer immensely. Mary not only stood at the foot of the cross of her Son, but she already knew what it meant to take up a cross and to suffer loss of reputation, exile, horror over having lost a teenage son, and the pain of seeing her good and holy Son rejected, reviled, scourged and crucified. In celebrating these realities, the world can easily judge us out of our minds.
Yet we know that Our Lady of Sorrows and her beloved Son who was crucified, can give us a strength that no drug, no escape from suffering, and no happy face can give us. They demonstrate to us very clearly that covering over our suffering or wishing it away is never the way to final victory. It is in taking up our crosses suffering through real life changes that will ultimately bring us happiness, a happiness that is not just a pasted on smile, but a deep and abiding joy, even sometimes in the midst of suffering and tears. It would benefit us all if we could once again learn the meaning of sacrifice and suffering, because it would not only be transformative for us, but would enable to teach the rest of the world not to be afraid of grief, tears, and sadness, because if we embrace these crosses and do not run away from them, we will ultimately be rewarded with a life where there are no more tears, mourning, or sadness.
And so we honor the cross of Jesus, and we are not afraid to call his mother Our Lady of Sorrows. Because they teach us that taking up our crosses, no matter how horrible they may seem, is the only way to full freedom and to a life of unimaginable joy.