Lent Day 9 – Groaning in Labor

by Bishop Robert Barron

No one has to tell us that the world as we know it is a place of suffering, travail, and woe. Just watch the nightly news, or walk through a forest preserve or nature preserve and see the slaughterhouse of the animals. You’ll see injustice, violence, and blood everywhere.

In light of that, let us take a look at Paul’s mysterious and wonderful letter to the Romans: “I consider that the sufferings of the present time are as nothing compared to the glory to be revealed for us. For creation was made subject to futility…in the hope that creation itself would be set free… We know that all creation is groaning in labor pains even until now” (Romans 8:18-22).

These are wonderful and yet puzzling words. Paul gives us the magnificent image of groaning in labor. The gestation of a baby is a slow and often uncomfortable process, and the act of giving birth—especially in Biblical times—is often horribly painful.

So the world, in all of its travail and woe, is like a maternity ward where millions of mothers are laboring to give rise to life. Or the world, in all of its travail and woe, is like a garden that stands in constant need of pruning and hoeing and cutting.

Think of an old, gnarled tree whose beauty is largely due to the signs of its struggle with life, or the beauty of an old person’s face, which arises from the twists and turns and agonies of making it through the human journey. These are signs of suffering in the present life.

And yet all of this is in service of God’s deep purposes, even when we can’t clearly see them.


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  • ber

    Birth is a painfully process human and nature but is it not combined for the lord said there will be a new heaven a new earth are we going trough a process that will lead to a whole new creation under God until creation goes trough this process it too despells the sin of our first father’s The new birth throwing off the old to embrace the new but like every process its painfull do we hinder or make it more difficult with our own behaviour

  • Dude_Abides

    The Bishop references a beautifully written letter from St. Paul to the Romans. Couple thoughts here… two from scripture and one from Leonard Nimoy’s character Spock.
    “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.” (2 Corinthians 4:17)
    “Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.” (1 John 3:2)
    As to the worldly human condition we find ourselves in, from the perspective of a half Human half Vulcan Spock:
    “Permission to speak freely, sir? May I say that I have not thoroughly enjoyed serving with humans. I find their illogic and foolish emotions a constant irritant.” – Star Trek, season 3, episode 7 (“Day of the Dove,” 1968)

    • Elizabeth

      Thanks for your humor about us humans through the eyes of Spock. After all, to err is to be human!!!!!

    • jesspinosa

      Another humorous thought about humans, attributed to Woody Allen: “I like humanity, it’s the people I cannot stand” or something like that.

  • Patrick Cassidy

    As somebody who used to be in an abusive relationship, I can say with confidence that suffering in this world is only temporary, but God’s love and glory is eternal. Many people attribute suffering to the unfairness of God. But, honestly, I think that we all need to go through the fire of this life to become polished gold, and more durable. It will be a tough process being refined and going through trials, but they will ultimately bring us closer to God.

  • Elizabeth

    “So the world, in all of its travail and woe, is like a maternity ward where millions of mothers are laboring to give rise to life. Or the world, in all of its travail and woe, is like a garden that stands in constant need of pruning and hoeing and cutting” says Bishop Robert Barron.

    In a family once children come on the scene, both parents give rise to their children’s constant need of pruning and hoeing and cutting through guidance, acceptance and love, but, most of all lead through example.

    “And yet all of this is in service of God’s deep purposes, even when we can’t clearly see them” says, Bishop Robert Barron

    “Think of an old, gnarled tree whose beauty is largely due to the signs of its struggle with life, or the beauty of an old person’s face, which arises from the twists and turns and agonies of making it through the human journey. These are signs of suffering in the present life” says, Bishop Robert Barron.

    And I see my 101 year old Godmother’s face and her clan.

    “In light of that, let us take a look at Paul’s mysterious and wonderful letter to the Romans: “I consider that the sufferings of the present time are as nothing compared to the glory to be revealed for us. For creation was made subject to futility…in the hope that creation itself would be set free… We know that all creation is groaning in labor pains even until now” (Romans 8:18-22)” says Bishop Robert Barron.

    Hope! This is why our Catholic Faith is so treasurable.

  • Bethany

    At least we are not suffering like the Israelites during the exile without God–He is always with us. We can be thankful that He is always there with his comfort. Also, I’m not sure labor is much easier today! Mine wasn’t! ;D

  • Anniloh

    Actually, the process of giving birth hasn’t changed since biblical times – except for the somewhat controversial use of pain killers which many women don’t use because of their effect on the infant – and many other women around the world don’t use because they are not available. It can be just as painful now as it was then – but aside from your somewhat puzzling comment about the pain – the analogy and image are grand. For most women, the joy of new life overwhelms the memory of the pain. I love the idea of all creation in labor giving birth to something of unimaginable beauty.

  • Mary

    I think of all the people who want immediate gratification and how I think heaven is the reward for all of us who carry their crosses here on earth and live for the life with God in the afterlife. I am one who cannot wait until that day comes. Death is not something to be feared!

  • Mary Matuzak

    I love Bishop Barron, but I really didn’t understand the nature/forest preserve and slaughterhouse reference.

    • concerned citizen

      I think Bishop Barron was referring to the sins committed against nature and how man abused his environment and destroyed it. You see barren forests where the trees are cut but there is no reforestation. You see mountains that are quarried. Mother nature too is suffering and man as a result is also suffering from the natural consequences.

    • Jim Dailey

      I think he probably should have encouraged us to watch one of those “Animal Planet” shows where some cute animal baby gets torn apart by some other animal trying to survive to the next day. Taken from one angle the cute baby animal is a victim of terrible suffering, and relativists would cause us to cheer and hope the baby gets away. Taken from another angle, the hunter is struggling to feed it’s family, and we are rooting for the hunter to score a meal. Taken from yet another angle, this is the mysterious workings of a Darwinian, godless, harsh nature, which somehow has “evolved” to the point where animals have “improved” by means of the harsh reality of existence to cute babies who run fast and terrible predators who hunt well.
      I think Bishop Barron’s point is that humans have been freed from this terrible cycle of “evolution” We have been given the gift of love which allows us to care for one another and ease each others suffering without tearing other people to pieces to survive and thrive in our full humanity. Nature does not have this blessing, and we cannot look to nature (or relativism) for this reality of the potential of coexistence.

  • concerned citizen

    This is one reflection of Bishop Barron that I am not really sure what it all means. Could he mean our birth into eternal life? That all our sufferings here on earth are simply like labor pains accompanying us in our pilgrim journey that ends when we die and born to eternal life. Where there is no sufferings, sickness, poverty or hunger (assuming of course we go to heaven directly) and the glory is one that no man can ever imagine. Similar to a joy of a woman when she finally sees the baby she delivers.

    • ber

      Not sure maybe he will explain I believe both earth and human are like the butterfly it emerges from its cocoon where it shows off its pure beauty it had to emerge from one state to reach its goal but that took time it could not fly or cohabitat with nature until the process had finished maybe I’m wrong ??? Suffering is different for everyone its when you are alone with it that you begin to wonder if I don’t tell someone I’m I’ll I may die alone and I don’t believe anyone wants that just a thought

      • concerned citizen

        Ber, your analogy of a butterfly emerging from its cocoon is a good comparison of our passing on to eternal life. Like a baby inside the womb of his mother, that was his world for nine months. Until he was born into this world. Suffering is indeed different for everyone but the Lord never sends us a cross we cannot carry. Its okay to confide to someone that you are suffering and ask for his prayers.

        Although some saints did not do that. St. Bernadette kept it to herself that she had I think tuberculosis of the knee joints. Mother Teresa also did not tell anyone she had a heart problem until the doctor found out about it. Our Lord, being God, knew from the day He was born He was going to be persecuted and crucified but kept it to Himself.

        • ber

          Yes concerned. You are so right silence is always a good thing we can never really tell what another person is going trough we can never carry another’s pain Jesus fell under the cross his suffering was exposed to all and he needed simion to help him he complained to the father my God why have you forsaken me all those people around him yet he still felt alone forsaken I was only saying we shouldn’t judge I went to find the book yesterday and the only one they had was sold the day before but I have orders it thank you

          • concerned citizen

            Good for you, Ber. The book “Preparation for Death” is an excellent book. It talks about the eternal truths, death, judgment, heaven and hell. I have read it several times.

          • ber

            See how your reflection has planted the seed thirst for more what I love about reading peoples thoughts on bishop Barron’s reflections you never know where the holy spirit will lead you
            Blessings and thanks

        • Gary

          It is also a sign of conversion. Going from darkness into the light. Bondage of sin into freedom. Victory over defeat.

          • concerned citizen

            Yes, Gary I see your symbolism.

  • concerned citizen

    It is true that all people undergo sufferings here on earth. Everyone has a cross. But not all will go to heaven because of it. It depends on how you handle your sufferings. If you embrace it with love and joy and offer them to Jesus and unite them with His sufferings for the salvation of mankind, then it becomes a source of graces and merits to you. But if you keep on complaining and in turn make life for those around you miserable, I am not sure where you will go.

    St. Theresa once said, if she knew how much glory her sufferings on earth merited her, she would have asked for a hundredfold more sufferings.

  • Penelope

    Having also experienced abuse as well as serious illness, I agree with Patrick. The trials of my life have been a tool in God’s hand to make me who I am today. I pray in my pain and suffering, but I also know that God is with me in my suffering. As He watched over Jesus on the road to Calvary, so too He watches over me.

    Of all the pain in my life, my beloved daughter-in-law Sarah’s passing is the most painful, I miss her love and sweet presence terribly. But I know that I will see her again, and in her passing she gave to me the greatest gift of all…Sarah showed me how to say goodbye to my loved ones: she demonstrated hope, forgiveness and encouragement, and she gave counsel to all who came to say goodbye to her.

    I myself have not been so gracious in my sufferings, I moan, I complain, I cry, I whine, I pray hard for it all to go away. But in the moments of Peace, I see God’s hand and I am grateful. And in hindsight, as Patrick has explained to us, I see the good that He has brought to me through the trials. I see myself changed for the better, made stronger for the trials to come. I do not look for the pain and suffering, but I do know and pray in the good times, that the Lord will bless me with the graces that I need to get through the difficulties. With His Help.
    Thank you and praise you Lord Jesus!

    • Elizabeth

      Penelope God’s wisdom and love shines through your testimony.

      • Penelope

        Thank you for your kind words Elizabeth…the Lord is Good!

  • Marsha

    –so many aspects of suffering: physical, mental, spiritual, fear and anxiety, to name a few. It’s all about the growing in wisdom and grace and to walk w/ one another through it. The birth and new life which springs from the experiences can either draw us nearer to the bosom of God or be a cup of unappreciated bitterness. You choose- always reflecting on which is the most nriching in the long run. Paul says ” Give thanks IN all things-” and “Be anxious for nothing…” Phil 6:4. Pray to be drawn closer to God amid the steps of the journey. He’s got a plan for life–trust it.

    • Penelope

      so wonderful…thank you Marsha!

  • William John Meegan

    Life is like the continuous trimming of the Bonsai Tree. Creation is,
    for all intent purpose, CHAOS (DARKNESS) and it is the responsibility of
    the individual to bring ORDER (LIGHT) out of that CHAOS. Believe it or
    not Paradise would soon become a blistering hell if it was a perfect
    robotic world.

    Think of the rich people that have all the money
    they want and they go jet-setting around the world and they take on all
    kinds of projects in their lives and they are never-ever satisfied where
    many of them die overdosing on drugs. It is nice to go to the
    Caribbean for a vacation; however, unless you were born under that
    geodetic sun the heat will soon overwhelm you.

    Imagine if
    everything was so perfect that there was no death and man with the ‘seed
    within himself’ like the plants and animals obeyed the mandate of God,
    “BE FRUITFUL AND MULTIPLY”. This planet will soon be over populated to
    the point people would barely be able to walk down the street without
    bumping into other people. Just take a walk down the streets of New
    York City: it is disgusting to see that sea of humanity bunched and
    cloistered so close together there is hardly breathing room with the two
    way traffic on the sidewalks not to overlook the traffic in the

    Aging and death is a blessing indeed. I see the
    PRINCIPLE teachings of the Judaeo Christian Scriptures as explaining
    that the individual has to become content with life and not try to hold
    fast to every thought, word and deed. Jesus called the Pharisee white
    sepulchers; for the reason that, they lived by the frozen word and not
    by the spirit of the WORD OF GOD. Yet, no matter how hard each of us
    tries to nail down our idea of paradise everything is transitory aging
    and becoming obsolete and it is within that milieu that each of us has
    to come to terms with life.

    Continuously trimming the Bonsai tree
    appears to be keeping in place the same old same old idea. That is not
    quite so when you realize that the vegetation of the Bonsai tree is
    continuously growing and spreading CHAOS so that in a few years the
    original vegetation on the tree has been trimmed away and disposed of so
    that continuously a new tree confront you.

    The human being’s
    character and personality never-ever changes unless the divine powers of
    God intervene and overturn it and gifts the soul with a new raison
    d’etre and whether God intervenes or not the PRINCIPLE paradigm is still
    in effect the character and the personality (seed within itself) is
    continuously the same. Yesterday you may have enjoyed baseball, today
    you enjoy football and in the future you may enjoy basketball; though,
    these changes take place in life you still have the same character and
    personality. Unless these changes take place in life there really can’t
    be any contentment.

    Think for example about tobacco and liquor
    and drugs. These initially pleasurable things become addictions and
    burdensome and are at times with people throughout their lives and these
    initially pleasurable objects become dominant and tyrannical on the
    character and personality of the individual so much so that they create
    internal diseases; because, that are fixations (concrete white
    sepulchers) in the metabolism of the body; thus, the body can’s fight
    against those concrete walls (Berlin Wall) that tobacco, liquor and
    drugs build up in the bodily system. The body is not capable of holding
    back the tsunami of addiction (symbolically starting with a drop of
    water) that these pleasurable things amount to. This kind of CHAOS is
    found in all kinds of obsessive activities in the world. Adults are
    merely aging children birthed with archetypal beastly desires that have
    never been taught to be moderate (trimming) in life. Symbolically, it is only the
    trimming process of the Bonsai tree that illustrates how to cull the
    LIGHT (beauty of life: Phoenix) OUT OF THE DARKNESS (out of death and
    the ashes of destruction).

  • Gary

    St. Paul concluded that our present sufferings are far outweighed by the glory that will be revealed in as well as to and through us. The future glory is so great that present sufferings are insignificant by comparison. Also the glory is forever whereas the suffering is temporary and light. This truth can certainly help believers endure afflictions.

  • that florida lady

    I like the garden explanation better. I have been married 17 going on 18 years this upcoming May. I have no kids and have never given birth. I cannot relate to that. We could not have kids. It is no big deal. I am 52. I can understand the garden explanation better. Bishop, please know that I got married late in life aka age 34, just short of my 35th. We live in Florida and are very happy. I love it because we just did a whole lot of gardening on the side of our house here. It was overgrown and needed clearing with weed killer. Too bad I could take a pic of that episode of hard work on the side of the house. Theologically speaking and lent speaking, sin needs a weed killer, so I guess that is confession right? I mean spiritual direction and confession are like weed killers. I will keep that in mind when we finish the job on the side of the house. Clearly we will keep that parable in mind. :) Thanks. Where can we send you a pic of when this is done? Maybe we can make a prayer garden as a tribute to lost family members.

  • P. Taylor

    I am slowly going into the darkness because I am going blind and I am fearful of how I am going to be able to deal with it. Although I am 76 years old, I am still in fairly good health. I pray about it all the time and I know it is God’s will and I must go through this for a reason. My hobby is reading and it will be difficult…I also wear hearing aids, so listening to audio will be difficult. I’m trying to figure this all out and am very depressed. Jesus be merciful.

    • that florida lady

      Get a better doctor .. My prayers for you. :)

      • P. Taylor

        I have many specialists. I have macular degeneration. I am being treated, but there is nothing more they can do. thank you so much for your prayers. God bless you.

        • that florida lady

          Check out the state of the art laser surgery. Ask about it.

          • P. Taylor

            I’ve had the laser surgery…in fact, the doctor that I go to has invented a new laser surgery that helps to keep the macular degeneration from spreading. Thank you so much for your concern and prayers. :)

          • that florida lady

            I m cheering :-) at this news. more prayers

          • P. Taylor

            God bless and keep you! Thank you so very very much! :)

  • Linda Dokey

    Amen Amen ♡

  • Barbara

    Lord, help me to patiently allow myself to go through the birthing of the new me as you would have me. Let this Lent be a significant part of the journey that I will long remember …

  • rtclovesmac

    Such is the life we live, and the world we live in.

    Our world aches for the return of its Creator, to prune the tree of life so it can become all it was meant to be.

    Lord I long to see Your face.

    You have been cultivating the Garden of my Soul daily, I feel You, but the weeds continue to grow.

    They would choke me if not for Your Mercy, Your Love my salvation

  • kayeloney@cox.net

    The world is in this condition because of the disobedience of Adam, it changed the whole structure of the connection between God and Mankind, everything is upside down. The Human Will on it’s own is prone to Evil. It needs the Divine Will to operate in a upright manner. Suffering is part of this world, so very simply give your Human Will back to Jesus and ask Mother Mary for the gift of the Divine Will to Pray in unity with Jesus for all Soul’s Past, Present, and Future for animal’s as well as for Peace in this World. Prayer is Love, you are giving all your Love back to the Most Holy Trinity.

  • Mary Jane Madeline

    Thank you Bishop Barron for giving us another good Lenten reflection on suffering with consideration of God having purpose.I also appreciate comments from all perspectives.
    From a recent ‘Our Lady of Fatima” article, St Frances de Sales was quoted as regarding Suffering as the “8th Sacrament” and “the sign of the elect:. In looking for more definition, I looked up “elect” in the dictionary and found a link to Divine Mercy, His favor, and salvation. Really does give another spin on suffering being for the good, and accepting “thy will be done”. With God’s Grace.