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Suffering and Sacrifice
Second Sunday of Lent 2021
While working on the renovation of the Motherhouse Chapel of the Ursuline Sisters in Maple Mount, Kentucky I learned about one of their members Sister Diana Ortiz who had worked in Guatemala. She went there to teach little children “to understand the Bible in their culture.” Ortiz knew her mission would be dangerous. The intentional killing of women or girls just because they are female continues in Guatemala even now.  Ortiz was gang-raped and tortured in 1989 prior to her escape.
Sister Diana, 62, died last week after a long battle with cancer. This human rights activist should be declared a saint right away. She is one of many admirable examples of a Christ-like person who suffered affliction while carrying out her Christian calling.
My religion tells me that suffering is one of the characteristics of our baptismal identity. It is the cost of our discipleship. Living up to this attribute is not at all like sacrificing movies, travel, or desserts during Lent. This season, instead, prompts us to give new energy to our baptismal covenant.
Primarily, we are called to build up the realm of God on earth, the mission Jesus did not finish. His primary objective, to save Israel from oppression, was thwarted. He was executed because he preached and practiced justice for all peoples regardless of tribal membership. The odds against fulfilling that mission are still overwhelming.
In today’s gospel (Mark 9:2-10) Jesus and some of his disciples were on their way to Jerusalem where he told them he had to die. However, what they experienced on Mount Moriah was not suffering and death but a “transfigured” Jesus. The theophany, the appearance of Jesus in glory, was unexpected. The three men were stunned and did not understand what the vision was all about.
Professor of religion and culture, Elizabeth Struthers Malbon, wrote: “The Markan Jesus tries to prepare his disciples for transitioning from witnessing the power of God’s realm in bringing food, health, and wholeness to the powerless, to risking participation in such community in the face of the powerful.”
Malbon added more about the dangers in this undertaking. “Jesus’ obedience to God entails both proclaiming and enacting God’s realm in this present age and risking the inevitable suffering that such service to the powerless may elicit from the powerful, who are threatened by any challenge to the status quo.” 
What do we risk in order to challenge corruption in church and state? Do we really have to suffer unwanted torture like Ortiz or all the martyrs named and unnamed in the history of society and religion? The apostle Paul understood that the suffering he endured served as a way to be like Christ. The Catholic Catechism reiterates: “suffering … becomes a participation in the saving work of Jesus.” 
The passage about Abraham and Isaac (Genesis 22:1-2, 9a, 10-13, 15-18) suggests that God will take care of those who follow the commandments; they will be blessed abundantly. These blessings are not so apparent today.
Many people globally are wondering where are the abundant blessings from God for those who faithfully have followed the commandments? Why have over 500,000 died from Covid related issues in the United States? Why are so many people out of work, hungry and even homeless? They ask, “Has God abandoned us?”
Further, Pope Francis’s upcoming visit to Iraq will remind us that Christians, Yazidis and others living in Baghdad, Mosul and the Nineveh Plains have been tortured and murdered just because of who they are. The history of slavery in this nation recalls the Black persons who were tortured and lynched because of their race. Anti-Semitism continues to plague Jews. Those helping immigrants along the Mexican border could be shot.
Sin and oppression will not go away. People will suffer and die because these are, undeniably, facets of human life. We live daily with suffering and death caused by failures, imperfections, diseases, loneliness, and accidents. Torture, killings, physical and psychological abuses, and other injustices happen because there are evil people living among us.
The challenge for the followers of Christ is to join people of other religious traditions to combat injustices. Kindness, empathy and sacrifice are key words. In every case showing gratitude for the blessings we do have is important. Sharing those blessings with others is our obligation. We cannot stand by and do nothing when bad things are happening to others.
1. In 2020 alone, nearly 500 femicides were reported in Guatemala, and at least 60 children were killed.
2. Women’s Bible Commentary, Newsome, Ringe, Lapsey, Editors, (Louisville, KY: John Knox Press, 2012) 480, 486.
3. Catechism of the Catholic Church No. 1521