Let us meet suffering with joy and transform the world through love


By Tommy Hexter
For The Catholic Messenger


In the popular movie “Mean Girls,” there is a famous line: “On Wednesdays, we wear pink.” Well, fellow Catholics, it is Advent, and you know what that means: “On Gaudete Sunday, we wear pink!”

The color pink, or more technically “rose,” is used in the Catholic tradition to indicate a joyful feast or holiday, often in anticipation of a great celebration coming soon. We wear pink on only two days of the liturgical calendar: Laetare Sunday in Lent (to celebrate the coming of Easter), and on the third Sunday of Advent, Gaudete Sunday (to celebrate the coming of Christ on Christmas Day). It brings me joy just to be able to share with you why I feel joy this Gaudete Sunday.

When you look around the world right now, and especially if you’re a 24-year-old like me, it is easy to despair. The world faces unprecedented challenges — environmental degradation, war, poverty — I don’t need to name more because we all experience challenges every day. They cause us deep suffering, all members of God’s living creation across the entire face of the Earth.


We are born and baptized with the gift of love for the world. That love may turn to despair when we see creation suffer. Love expressing itself as despair and fear is a human reaction. However, love can also express itself as joy and fearless compassion in the face of even the worst suffering.

As the Buddhist ecologist, Joanna Macy, offers:

“This is a dark time, filled with suffering and uncertainty. Like living cells in a larger body, it is natural that we feel the trauma of our world. So don’t be afraid of the anguish you feel, or the anger or fear, for these responses arise from the depth of your caring and the truth of your interconnectedness with all beings. To suffer with is the literal meaning of compassion.”

When we “suffer with,” we make the deliberate choice to lean into suffering and to offer a smiling face to those who are suffering most. In my heart, this is the message at the very center of Christ’s mission. Since the time of Christ and until he comes again, there have been and always will be devastating issues. However, like his visits to Lazarus, he teaches us that the best way to encounter suffering is with joyful love and friendship.

As our Holy Father, Pope Francis, writes:

“We are called to approach the Eucharistic table with the same attitudes of Jesus: compassion for the needs of others, this word that is repeated in the Gospel when Jesus sees a problem, an illness or people without food… ‘He had compassion.’ Compassion is not a purely material feeling; true compassion is patire con [to suffer with], to take others’ sorrows on ourselves … Do I feel compassion when I read news about war, about hunger, about the pandemic? Am I capable of suffering with them, or do I look the other way? Let us not forget this word ‘compassion,’ which is trust in the provident love of the Father, and means courageous sharing” (Angelus, Aug. 20, 2020).

As we practice true compassion by loving what is suffering, we are able to make the world better, restoring social justice, reversing environmental degradation and tucking the peace of love into every nook and cranny of the crust of the Earth. This Advent, we wait for the coming of joy through Christ. This Gaudete Sunday, I urge you to consider that we are the ones we are waiting for; we are the body of Christ. We only have to wait for his coming as long as it takes us to fill the world with true compassion, to meet suffering with joy and use the alchemy of love to transform the world into a better place. Let us sing and shudder and scream and reach and dance and cry in joy — all in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

(Tommy Hexter is a member of St. Mary Parish in Grinnell.)

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