In this week’s second reading at Mass, St. Peter discusses Christian suffering. He writes, “If you are insulted for the name of Christ, blessed are you….whoever is made to suffer as a Christian should not be ashamed.”
Peter was obviously trying to encourage his readers to take heart and not be discouraged when difficulties arose. But Peter wasn’t saying that suffering for Christ is a necessary evil—an unfortunate side effect of preaching the Gospel. He was saying that suffering for Christ is actually a good thing. The very first line of this week’s passage says, “Rejoice to the extent that you share in the sufferings of Christ.”
Rejoice? Really, Pete? These words sound so weird to our 21st century, American ears. In our modern culture, suffering—any kind of suffering—is the absolute worst possible thing that can happen to us.
And not just suffering. We now abhor even the slightest discomfort. A little headache causes us to call in sick to work. A paper cut is a valid reason for a two-week medical leave. A flare-up of hemorrhoids puts us into a coma for a month.
The most popular pharmaceutical products in our society are pain relievers, antacids, and sedatives. We would rather turn ourselves into over-medicated zombies than experience a little discomfort. If my grandfathers were still alive, they’d say we have become a bunch of wimps.
Now certainly Peter wasn’t trying to say that excruciating agony is a wonderful thing, while being comfortable is awful. We should not be thrilled if we develop a crippling disease. We don’t have to be delighted if a lawn mower accident slices off a few of our toes. It’s just that we are now so terrified of any discomfort at all, we are in effect withdrawing from the whole adventure of life. If you don’t occasionally experience the lows, then the highs become meaningless.
There is a basic principle of life that is unavoidable (and which has been best summarized, not by philosophers, but by guys down at the gym): “No pain, no gain.”
Our modern motto instead has become, “No pain…oh please, NO PAIN!”
Many Christians nowadays are like Charlie Chubbo down at the gym. You know Charlie, right? He’s the guy who wants to turn his Homer Simpson-like physique into a ripped babe magnet. He spends hundreds of dollars on a gym membership, but every time he gets close to breaking a sweat, Charlie retreats to the TV lounge for another cappuccino and jelly donut. Doing what is necessary to get into shape is simply too painful.
Most Christians truly want to follow God’s will. We look forward to entering Heaven and hearing Jesus say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” But whenever our faith presents a painful or uncomfortable situation, we often retreat to the lounge of anonymity, quickly blending in with popular opinion so no one singles us out for ridicule.
(And don’t forget—in our culture, suffering for Christ usually amounts to no more than being mocked by non-believers. In other parts of the world, Christians are being murdered on a daily basis for their faith. By comparison, being called “intolerant,” “narrow minded,” or “old fashioned” ain’t exactly torture.)
Most of us really want to be good Christians and do the Lord’s will—just as long as it doesn’t hurt. We are Charlie Chubbo Christians: 100% good intentions and zero-percent discipline and fortitude. As Peter explained, and as life in general teaches us, without a little suffering and discomfort, no good will ever come of it.
A lot of us need to increase our threshold for discomfort. It will make us stronger individually and reap greater benefits for the Kingdom of God.
Now drop and give me twenty.