Questions on suffering: why do we suffer?

We need it all. This is part of gradualism. Presentation of the Church as a haven. Heaven with angels and harps. But to some whose hearts have had to harden to survive, this is distasteful. They want reality. What is reality? Reality is a cross. Good Friday is reality. Mass is reality. If we go through life thinking every moment is not imbued with Christ’s passion than we are the one’s living in an illusion. Christianity without the cross is such an illusion.

It is the act of bringing the fear of suffering into the one place that makes suffering make sense.

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I am not consoled when I am told, everything is going to be okay. Well, I am a little consoled. But then the tribulation comes again…and again…and again. What then? When will it be okay? It is not okay now. When I have heard the legends of other mothers making it through. Then I am consoled. Hearing, “oh, it is awful, but it passes” then I am consoled. I am encouraged to advance, to hold strong. “This too shall pass” my English teacher said to me when with my drivers’ permit, I ran up on the curb with my mother’s car and the tire popped, on her birthday. This too shall pass.

We have to acknowledge the suffering, have to acknowledge that it is painful and hard.

So why do we try to escape the message of suffering. “And they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love, yes they’ll know we are Christians by our love.” Perhaps somewhere (maybe in the 1970’s and 1980’s) the message got out there that people will be attracted to Christianity by the witness of our joy. And perhaps joy was misunderstood as cheerfulness (God loves a cheerful giver, you know). And with the American can-do attitude, the emasculation of men in society and media, and the over-representation of women in the pews, maybe the concept of joy in the midst of suffering was lost. We were trying to sell something to the people outside of the pews.  “We welcome you to our Eucharistic Celebration.”

It’s true, but with a happy-go-lucky tune and few references to the unbloody re-presentation of Christ on the Cross during the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, the image is unfortunately skewed.

Gina Loehr has some important points in her article, “The Passion of Pregnancy.” Perhaps the media would not be so successful at spinning conservative efforts to protect the unborn as a war on women if more recognition was made of the suffering of women who become pregnant, planned or unplanned. Taking a more compassionate approach, walking with the person (as many pro-life groups do), might get us further in the effort to support all life.

I am moved by the articles I read from those who suffer, encourage those who are also suffering. Philip Johnson, a 29-year old seminarian writes an open letter to Brittany Maynard, another 29-year old, who announced her decision to end her life and committed suicide on November 1, Feast of All Saints, rather than go through the stages of cancer. Men like Fr. Benedict Groeshel were open about their suffering and the nature of the cross. With this honesty, he reached out to countless seekers seeking answers.

The Baltimore Catechism (Q. 636) recognizes two goods of suffering. “: (1) To remind us of the misery that always follows sin; and (2) To afford us an opportunity of increasing our merit by bearing these hardships patiently.” If we recognize where suffering comes from and the goods it entails, and live our Christian faith with lively, honest hearts, evangelizing by attraction and by mercy, than I think we can make progress. What is suffering? There is the suffering that is part of life (illness, death, severely cold or hot weather). The Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church (P. 385) puts it succinctly that these seem to be “linked to the limitations proper to creatures.” We are bodily creatures. These bodies have natural limitations. And so we suffer.

Then there is the suffering where we inevitably have the sense that it is unjust, “this should not have happened.” In Christ and in religion, we find some explanation: the evil of sin unmasked in its true identity as humanity’s rejection of God and opposition to him, even as it continues to weigh heavy on human life and history (P. 386). Our actions ripple outward from ourselves and the consequences of one person’s sins, be they material consequences, physical, or psychological consequences, affects the generations that follow.

God is not the author of evil. “God is infinitely good and all his works are good” (P. 375). In the cross he suffered, and in the Resurrection he conquered suffering. We do not need to ignore the cross and have only images of the Resurrected Jesus. If we see images of what he endured, it provides comfort to those in agony, and we know, because we profess it that he lived, he rose from the dead. Each Passion message comes with the Resurrection message. With this understanding, our suffering can begin to make sense, and God-willing, a process towards healing our hearts.

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