On the Christian Meaning of Suffering

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Photo Credit: cassiepeasedesign.com

BE NOT AFRAID. With Passiontide 2016 approaching and the events of my own life, I decided to return once more to the 1984 Apostolic Letter written by St. JP II titled Salvifici Doloris: On the Christian Meaning of Suffering that addressed the ever present question of suffering: why, what, and how? God transformed even something not part of His original design for humanity (suffering, pain, death, dying, etc.) into a means for transcendence: faith, hope, and charity.

We fear suffering. I can emphatically state in my greatest moments of suffering and the  suffering of my loved ones, I felt closest to heaven- the veil was lifted. Our suffering, united with Christ, can become salvific. “Suffering seems to be particularly essential to the nature of man. It is deep as man himself, precisely because in its own way that depth which is proper to man, and in its own way surpasses it. Suffering seems to belong to man’s transcendence: it is one of those points in which man is in a certain sense “destined” to go beyond himself (3).”

We fear weakness. Weakness means vulnerability & lack of control. Christ chooses weakness as the vehicle for salvation. “To Suffer means to become particularly susceptible, particularly open to the working of the salvific powers of God . . . In [Christ], God has confirmed his desire to act especially through suffering . . . and wishes to have his power known precisely in this weakness and emptying of self (74).”

We fear the acquisition of virtue. Striving is the key word when acquiring virtue. Virtue acquisition takes hard work and doesn’t always “pay-off” in this life. “Suffering contains a special call to virtue . . . and this is the virtue of perseverance in bearing whatever disturbs and causes harm. In doing this, the individual unleashes hope, which maintain him the conviction that suffering will not get the better of him, it will not deprive him of his dignity as a human being, a dignity liked to the awareness of the meaning of life (75).”

We fear purgation. Purgation leads to heaven. God calls you and I to redeem ourselves and the world in our little way. “The Gospel of suffering is being written unceasingly, and it speaks unceasingly the words of this strange paradox: the springs of divine power gush forth precisely in the midst of human weakness. . . The more a person is threatened by sin, the heavier the structure of sin in which today’s world brings with it, the greater the eloquence which human suffering possesses in itself (89).”

We fear true compassion. Our culture & society throws around the term compassion. What is compassion? Compassion comes from the Latin root com (with) and pati (suffer). Together compatior means “to suffer with.” Compassion means “to suffer with” another person. “We could say that suffering, which is present under so many different forms in our human world, is also present in order to unleash love in the human person, that unselfish gift of one “I” on behalf of other people, especially to those who suffer (92).”

In the Gospels, Jesus repeats dozens of times, “BE NOT AFRAID.” It’s time to let go of the fear associated with suffering, death, & dying. And focus on living. Life is beautiful in all its forms & functions. It’s time to relearn how to suffer with each other. In the words of a man who understood and lived suffering: “In the messianic programme of Christ, which is at the same time the programme of the Kingdom of God, suffering is present in the world in order to release love, in order to give birth to works of love towards neighbor, in order to transform the whole of human civilization into a “civilization of love (96).” Let us go forth and build a civilization of love . . .

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