The Groaning of the Christian Life
Our Lord Jesus Christ used the image of a woman in labor to speak to His disciples of the imminent grief and joy that they would experience from His Passion and the arrival of the Holy Spirit: “Amen, amen, I say to you, you will weep and mourn, while the world rejoices; you will grieve, but your grief will become joy. When a woman is in labor, she is in anguish because her hour has arrived; but when she has given birth to a child, she no longer remembers the pain because of her joy that a child has been born into the world.” (Jn 16:20-21) As certain as the labor pains are for the woman in labor, so is the joy of new life that comes after the pain.
The woman in labor can only experience of the joy of the new life to come by embracing and enduring the labor pains of the present moment. Likewise, the disciples will never know the joy of the Resurrected life of the Spirit without embracing the pains of the present moment. The Christian life is the new life of Christ within us by the power of the Spirit and this life is meant to grow through the trials and pains of life, striving to be brought to perfection and maturity in the life to come. On its journey to glory, the Christian life is one of constant struggle to do and to endure many things so that word of life grows within us.
St. Paul reminds the Romans in today’s Second Reading that because of this new life that we have now, we are certain that “the sufferings of this present time are as nothing compared to the glory that is to be revealed for us.” He then uses the same image of the woman in labor to depict the spiritual life: “We know that all creation is groaning in labor pains even until now; and not only that, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, we also groan within ourselves as we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.”
Today’s Gospel shows us three ways in which the Christian groans today so as to enter into the joy of new life tomorrow. First, there is the groaning that arises from our constant struggle to grow in our faith and to withstand temptations from the devil: “The seed sown on the path is the one who hears the word of the kingdom without understanding it, and the evil one comes and steals away what was sown in his heart.” The evil one targets the new life of grace in us to destroy it by making us lose our faith in what Jesus Christ has done for us and our new status as God’s beloved children called and equipped for holiness now and eternal glory in the life to come. This is why those who have the new life of Christ are constantly tempted by the devil.
Secondly, there is the groaning that comes from the trials and persecutions of the world, “The seed sown on rocky ground is the one who hears the word and receives it at once with joy…But when some tribulation or persecution comes because of the word, he immediately falls away.” We do not find joy by turning back or by compromise with the world when persecuted but by our perseverance through it all, “You will be hated by all because of my name, but whoever endures to the end will be saved.”(Mt 10:22)
Lastly, there is the groaning that comes from that constant struggle to resist anxiety from worldly desires, “The seed sown among thorns is the one who hears the word, but then worldly anxiety and the lure of riches choke the word and it bears no fruit.” We groan as we strive to keep our hearts grounded in God and His love for us and not in earthly things and pleasures.
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, when we face those nagging temptations that we cannot break free from, when we are unjustly treated, persecuted, or face trials, when our future looks bleak or hopeless, it is so easy for us to think that we have been abandoned by God or to think that we are facing divine punishment for our sins. On the contrary, these things come our way because we have this new life of the Spirit within us. This new life must grow, mature, and be made visible by the things that we do and endure through the trials and hardships of life. We are no strangers to the groaning and anguish of the Christian life even as we have the certain hope of eternal life to come.
We must recall that the entire life of Jesus was one of groaning and pain. King Herod persecuted Him before He spoke a single word and caused Him to flee into Egypt as an infant. Jesus would later summarize his entire life in these words, “There is a baptism with which I must be baptized, and how great is my anguish until it is accomplished.”(Lk 12:50) Even His prayers were not lacking in that anguish of heart, “In the days when He was in the flesh, He offered prayers and supplications with loud cries and tears to the one who was able to save Him from death.”(Heb 5:7) He entered His Passion in the Garden of Gethsemane with this anguished heart, “My soul is sorrowful even to death.”(Mk 14:34) All this anguish was His because He alone is “The Way, the Truth and the Life,” bearing that life of communion with the Father and the Holy Spirit and He desired to bring this life to fruition and communicate it to us by His death and Resurrection. He faced the groans of the present for the sake of the new life to be manifested in us in the future, “For the sake of the joy that lay before Him, He endured the cross.”(Heb 12:2) How then can we bear the life of Christ Jesus within us and still hope to be free from the groaning of a new life that grows and matures in a world of pains and temptations?
Our Lord Jesus knew our weakness, reluctance, and fright to embrace the groaning of the new life. That is why He gave us His own mother Mary at the cross to be our own spiritual mother too. Mary is that “rich soil” who bears the greatest fruit, Jesus Christ, in all conditions of her earthly life. She received the Word Himself by her immense faith. She is the New Eve, the woman of Genesis, who has the power and the mission from God to crush the head of the devil. Mama Mary is the one who shared so deeply in the suffering of Christ throughout all the mysteries of His life, groaning with Him till His last breath on the cross so that His life may be in us too. In short, she is our Mother who continues to labor today to nurture the life of Christ in us. Mary has been tested and trusted to help us in our groaning as we grow in the life of Christ. She did not disappoint the Father who gave her His only begotten Son and she will never disappoint us too if we take her as our Mother, advocate, exemplar, and guide in the Christian journey.
Our Eucharist is always an encounter with Jesus Christ, who never ceases to sow His words of life in our hearts. Temptations, trials, tribulations and worldly anxieties may have quenched His words in our lives in the past because we were reluctant to groan as these seeds grew in us. But Jesus continues to sow His seeds of new life in us. Let us never strop striving today to let this seed of new life grow within us continuously even as we groan now so that we will experience the joy of the Lord to come.
Glory to Jesus!!! Honor to Mary!!!