While reading the comments to the last post, I was trying to come up with a good explanation of how I’ve come to understand suffering from the Catholic perspective. But I couldn’t quite put together a non-rambling summary of my thoughts. Steve G. said well what I was trying to say:
Putting aside the issues of persecution for a moment, and agreeing wholeheartedly that ‘seeking’ suffering is basically perverse, I think something is being badly missed here.
Regardless of whether we seek it out or not, suffering will find us. We all encounter it to differing extents. That’s a fact.
The question then becomes how will we handle it? What shall we do with it? Shall we ’embrace’ it; offer it up as our sacrifice…as a prayer, try at least to bring something good out of it even as we struggle to rid ourselves of it? Or shall we become embittered by it, angry, resentful?
Mr. Teresa is taking some hits here, but to understand what she was saying, one must understand what the Church says. That God does not bring about evil, but that he can bring good even out of evil.
While Jesus’ mission surely was about alleviating suffering, about healing, restoring, etc., to miss that the most essential part of the gospel revolves around a profoundly evil act, and immense suffering is to miss the point. The point that out of and despite that evil and suffering, something profoundly beautiful is revealed…the resurrection.
Jesus most certainly embraces, offers up, or whatever catch phrase we choose, his suffering. There is no way around it. But he did so that the greater good might be accomplished. That death might be conquered and our fear and cowardice at giving up our selfishness (sacrificing our selfish desires) might be overcome.
One of the horrible things about pain and suffering is that the natural reaction is to allow it to consume us, to turn ourselves inward and become self-centered. And that’s normal, and from a purely human perspective it’s even something that one can hardly be faulted for.
But if we can but lift our gaze from our pain, we might see the path forward. That it need not consume us, that even poverty need not make us bitter, angry or resentful. That was what Mr. Teresa preached. That is what the Church does and always has proclaimed. That even in a fallen, seemingly irredeemable world, that redemption does exist, that redemption is possible.
Back when the subject of God and suffering first came up on this blog, a reader recommended that I check out John Paul II’s letter on the Christian meaning of human suffering, Salvifici Doloris. It took me about a month to get through the whole thing and absorb it all. Especially that I was still struggling to understand very basic Christian and Catholic concepts, there were many paragraphs that I had to read about five times before it sunk in. (That said, it’s an excellent read. Really worth the effort.)
After I finally got through it, I kept coming back to one simple line the late pope quoted that summed the whole thing up. Of all the 15, 000+ words JPII devoted to the subject, the countless discussions that have been had on this subject throughout the ages, one quote from Jesus in the book of John summarizes with simple elegance the Christian view on suffering: “In the world you have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.”
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