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Where is God?

A Reflection on suffering and physician-assisted suicide In the past few months we have heard and have learned much about the problems, both moral and practical, with the Massachusetts ballot initiative regarding physician-assisted suicideQuestion 2. As citizens we take it upon ourselves to become informed that we might consciously and prudently cast our votes. As Catholics we bring the wisdom of our faith and the encounter with our God to this endeavor. Perhaps, then, we might pause, both to wonder and to contemplate: Where is God? Politics aside, how do we experience suffering? What has God to say? Suffering cannot be avoided; it is part of the human condition. At the same time we find little natural glory or goodness in suffering. Quite frankly, its terrible. Theres little wonder, then, that people struggle with understanding, with find a meaning or purpose. Anxiety, fear, loss of control and autonomy: these sentiments and lived emotions drive us to flee from or to reduce suffering as much as possible. Though we try, we cannot, however, escape its effects. Jesus, arriving at the scene of mourners wailing over the death of Lazarus, experiencing within Himself the loss of this beloved friend, weeps. As Catholics, we profess at Mass, with renewed clarity, the tenets of our faith in the Creed. Jesus suffered death, and was buried. Hear that again, Jesus suffered death. So vividly described by the new translation, these words lead us, intimately and personally, into the heart of Christ and the mystery of salvation. For Jesus did not merely die; no, He entered into the very depth of that suffering from which we flee and concerning which we shudder. He took upon Himself the fear, anxiety, loss of control, loss of autonomy: Father, if you are willing, take this cup away from me; still, not my will but yours be done Lk 22:42. Thereafter, from the Cross, by means of His perfect suffering and sacrifice, Jesus wins our salvation. He conquers sin and death. His perfect sacrifice not only reveals love to the world; it begets it. Herein lies the profound mystery and invitation. God does not need us in order to effect salvation. Nothing we do, or could do, adds to His power. And yet, He invites us, in a way both profound and mysterious, to participate in His salvific work. Our suffering, in union with His, brings about the salvation of the world. Within the intimacy and particularity of our suffering, mine and yours, God draws us into His heartinto personal communion with Him. Certainly such a teaching can be difficult to understand, let alone accept. Here again God, in His loving mercy and providence provides us, His children, with an efficacious sign, a sacrament, that we might have something real to hold onto as we journey into his infinite Love. The Sacrament of the Sick, the anointing, unites us to Christs passion; it strengthens us to endure as He endures, and brings about the forgiveness of sins. Both the words spoken by the priest and the oil, felt and enduring on the forehead and palms, bring certainty to our senses and confidence in faith that God is present and we are with Him.

The particularity of the sacramentthis one, you, is anointedrecognizes and sanctifies your suffering. It brings meaning, not in some vague or general way, but brings meaning to the life and suffering of those in pain and approaching death. God speaks love and intention into the abyss of helplessness, despair, and fear. He draws from ushow extraordinary to encountersaving love. The reality of suffering touches us all. Everyone confronts mortality. The same meaning we encounter in Christ we mete out in our compassion, our kindness, and our love for those suffering. We visit the sick. We care for the hurting. We comfort the dying. Our faith and divine Charity sustain us; our humanity compels us. Life, and suffering, has no easy answers. We discover in all who endure suffering the most personal and intimate of human experiences. Profound loneliness meets fraternal love. The abyss of despair confronts certain hope. The mystery of sacrifice, and suffering, finds love. And its this love that saves the world.