On the Christian Meaning of Suffering

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Photo Credit: Isaiah Eyre Photography

BE NOT AFRAID. 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 . . .

Thinking Out Loud

Music can transport and capture in lyrical format a deep groaning of the human spirit. Lyrics are poems. Most lyrical poems capture aspects of human relationships.

I’m thinking ’bout how people fall in love in mysterious ways

God works in mysterious ways. Women marvel over romantic comedies, but women seek their own love story better and purer than even the best romantic comedy. We don’t want a cinema moment but a real moment. Not a cinema man but a real man. A man capable of sweeping us towards heaven not hell.

White Rose
Wild Rose

Maybe just the touch of a hand

There is an exorbitant lack of gentle affection depicted in media. Most sexuality is violent and aggressive or “passionate.” A gentle kiss on the forehead or caress of the hand is more loving and affirming than being bashed up against a wall or slammed onto a table in an intense make-out session (yes, I’m recalling certain movies in my latter description.) Not long ago, a touch of the hand was an act of bold affection, especially in public.

Maybe it’s all part of a plan

The love between a man and women is a part of God’s plan. Sexuality is good. Perversion of sexuality is bad. The love shared between a man and women reflects the exchange of love between God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Marriage, the marital embrace, and procreation mirrors Trinitarian love and provides a glimpse of divine love here on earth. Sadly, most relationships don’t reflect this reality.

Well, me—I fall in love with you every single day

We desire affirmation in our relationships. We do want our significant other to affirm us and choose us on a daily basis and for a lifetime not in an utilitarian but unconditional manner- a Christ-like manner.

Cause, honey, your soul could never grow old, it’s evergreen 

Ah! The refreshing, lasting beauty of a pure soul. What a desirable and attractive quality! Men and women flock towards those clad in virtue and sprint to the holy altar of matrimony! Yes, that was sarcasm. Virtue isn’t hipster. Religion, let alone holiness, “cramps” Friday night enjoyment and socializing. People find holiness uncomfortable or embarresing. But the soul is evergreen, everlasting. The light of one’s soul should be #1 on our list of attractive qualities.

And, baby, your smile’s forever in my mind and memory

Love begins with a smile. St. Theresa of Calcutta always taught the importance of the smile.

Oh, darling, place your head on my beating heart

Have you ever listened to your beloved’s heartbeat while resting safely in their arms? The reassuring, rhythmic thumping of a heartbeat is soothing and bonding- alive and life-giving. Though the metaphor pales in comparison, listening to your beloved’s beartbeat in their warm & safe arms is similar to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary with us.

But don’t mind me. I’m just thinking out loud . . .