One of the lovely experiences of my time at home was being with my grandnephew who is just over three months old. The first day I arrived at their home he was restless, in need of sleep and his mother was trying to settle him. She handed him to me, so I walked around the room with him, singing to him the Swahili song Malaika, praying the Hail Mary over him in Swahili. It’s a very soothing language and, after the second Hail Mary, the child fell asleep, his head resting on my chest for about an hour. It’s one of the most tender things a man can experience, to be so trusted by a baby, to gaze upon his sleeping face, the beauty of it, to be one with him in that way and to be touched by the presence of God in such a moment.

But I’m aware too that suffering has already entered into this little life of his, the suffering that comes to every baby born, the very act of coming to birth. It is sometimes written on his astonished face. His mother was telling me about his experience of having injections – how much they hurt him, how distressed and distraught he becomes. And he looks up at her puzzled that she’s letting this awful thing happen to him. She can do nothing but feel the pain of his pain and hold him, soothe him until he is consoled. There are no words to explain to him that he needs these injections, this terrible pain in order to be safe and well.

When Jesus tells us again and again that we must take up our cross every day and follow Him; when I am faced with the reality of suffering – my own and that of others – I am like this little baby. Puzzled, distressed and unable to fathom the reason why, people sometimes withdraw from God, stop believing in Him because of the terrible reality of suffering. But in time of suffering the very place we need to be is near to God, nearer and not further away, to allow ourselves to be held and embraced by Him until the worst is over and we are consoled, comforted. 

As the Book of Wisdom (9:13-18) says, we can only understand the ways of God when we receive His gift of wisdom, when we surrender to it and through prayer come to the kind of trust that a child has in the arms of a mother and father.

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