At the end of September, a little over a month ago, I went to Philadelphia with about a million other people from around the world to attend the World Meeting of Families. While I was there, I heard Pope Francis speak about the importance of maintaining our diverse identities while struggling for unity as a people. Walking around the city, I heard languages from around the globe and saw countless nations' flags paraded through the streets. As I continued walking, it warmed my heart to see so many people in Philadelphia for the same reason I was. Eventually, I found myself standing in front of a devotional exhibit adjacent to the Basilica.
This exhibit was far from conventional. It consisted of a large dome structure made of white ribbons suspended by a wooden frame, a wall of similar white ribbons suspended by a net, and a large painting of Mary, untying a piece of knotted white cord. Upon entering the area, a volunteer handed me a blank piece of cloth ribbon and explained to me that I could write something down on it that I wanted people to pray for and hang it up in the dome with the others. She asked that when I hung up my intention, I take another person's down and pray for that intention. When I was finished, I was told to hang that intention up on the net along the wall.
Walking through the dome, I was forced to recognize the sheer magnitude of the suffering in this world. I read many ribbons as I passed by and I felt as if my heart had been ripped from my chest. I asked God, “Why? Why is there so much pain? And how? How can God sit there and watch all of this go on?”
A little while later, it came to me that in the same moment that I was faced with a small representative sample of the pain of this world, I felt an intense sense of unity and solidarity with everyone. In a similar way to the communion I feel with my fellow Christians at receiving the Blessed Sacrament, I felt a strong bond with every human being on this planet.
Now, I think about All Souls Day, the Day when we celebrate the souls of all people. Every person we remember today had suffering. Everyone who ever existed has experienced suffering; even Christ suffered. But when Christ suffered, he accomplished the greatest love, laying one's life for one's friends. So too, when we suffer, we can use it as an opportunity to love one another, to become closer to one another, to comfort one another, and to become closer with God.
Our sufferings may be simple compared to the pain of Christ's crucifixion, but that does not prevent our suffering from teaching very profound things about ourselves. Without obstacles, there would be nothing to overcome; yet, it is in the moments that we overcome obstacles that feel the most accomplished. A lamp can have a very dramatic effect on a darkened room. In looking at suffering as a means by which we can love more fully, brightening our lives and the lives of others, we can find joy even in the midst of our suffering.
~Frazier N. Baker