Category Archives: Suffering

Offer it up – Is 55:8-9


-by Br Bertrand Hebert, OP

For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways. (-Isa 55:8)

Saint Thomas draws from various medieval authors (especially Saint Boethius) to explain why it is hard for man to comprehend God’s lofty perspective. To illustrate this difference in perspective, St. Thomas uses a simple analogy. Man is likened to someone traveling on a road that is along the side of a hill. He is only able to see what is a little behind him and before him—that is, some of the past and the present. This perspective differs drastically from someone who is standing on top of the hill. In a single glance, he is able to see all of these different perspectives of the traveler. Unlike the traveler, the one on the hill doesn’t have to wait for something down the road to come into his view; everything is already before him as if all of it were the present (ST Ia q. 14 a. 13 ad. 3). In a similar way, God sees all our past, present, and future in a single, all-encompassing glance.

Saint Thomas’s insight transforms the idea that we just have to “deal with” God’s providence into something more consoling: “God sees and is planning something beyond all of this.” However, every analogy limps; even so, this particular hobble ends up being helpful. God is not living on top of a hill with a far-removed and indifferent perspective on what is happening in the world of man. His higher and eternal perspective doesn’t prevent Him from having perfect knowledge of temporal things as well as Fatherly concern for the things we experience (Ps 8:5). After all, God, Himself, came into the world through the Incarnation of Jesus Christ. “He emptied Himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross” (Phil 2:7-8). Saint Paul reminds us here that God is intimately involved in our lives, even from His elevated state. In this relationship, He both governs the events that unfold on these winding roads, while also walking with us.

This last point clarifies Isaiah’s words above, and it further defends them from a disheartening interpretation. Although God is active in our lives, we can still say that He acts differently than us because, in a way far beyond our capacity, He governs with an attentive and loving concern for our greatest good. This good is ultimately found in God, Himself. He is concerned about matters from our perspective, but He also looks beyond them because he calls us to join Him in His own lofty heights.

This loftiness is what makes His ways different from ours. Even though His ways are different, we shouldn’t think they are worse. They are infinitely greater and better than our ways because they are the roads that ultimately lead us to Himself.”

Love & comfort, healing, grace,
Matthew

Lent, Suffering, & Offering it Up!!!

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liana_mueller
-by Lliana Mueller

“Lent causes suffering. The small (perhaps large to us) sacrifices that we make are meant to bring us closer to the cross. They are meant to bring us to greater reliance on Jesus instead of whatever it is we’ve chosen to give up. We can also “offer up” our myriad annoyances and sufferings, or the fact that we’ve committed not to eating chocolate and there is a chocolate birthday cake in the break room. These offerings can benefit our loved ones or the greater world. Your current suffering might involve feeling constantly exhausted due to the demands of caring for young children that don’t sleep through the night. Maybe you’re a student spreading yourself thin with academics, jobs, and extracurriculars. No matter your current state in life and the challenges that have come with it, at any given moment there is always someone suffering much, more more.

Naturally, we try to avoid suffering. It isn’t pleasant. When we’ve experienced one setback after another, or a day when absolutely every moment seems filled with a disaster, it’s easy to feel “woe is me.” We are human and need to process our frustrations, and at times may need to take steps to change a situation. But the moment we begin to dwell on the negatives is the moment where selfishness creeps in and we become the most important person. We forget the sufferings of so many brothers and sisters, both within our own circles and throughout the entire world. Instead of spiraling into bitterness about the sufferings that we have been asked to carry, or even put upon ourselves in some way, what if we remembered the suffering of someone else? What if we “offered it up,” benefitting another human being? In the process, we, too, can become better people.

Let’s take a look at the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Though this paragraph is about illness specifically, I believe it can apply to suffering in general and how it hinders or helps us.
“Illness can lead to anguish, self-absorption, sometimes even despair and revolt against God. It can also make a person more mature, helping him discern in his life what is not essential so that he can turn toward that which is. Very often illness provokes a search for God and a return to him.” (¶1501, Catechism of the Catholic Church)

As I gripe about car problems and issues at work, I forget that having a job and a car are luxuries. A stable job that allows one to support a family shouldn’t be a luxury, but sadly these days it is. Poverty is a stark reality for millions of people throughout the world. Jobs that will support a family in third world countries are scarce, and many times when food is available, parents make the choice to feed their children and go without. Some people walk hours to their jobs that barely pay. Many in the United States involuntarily rely on public transit systems that can be unreliable and add large amounts of time to a commute, and that may force them to stand outside in sub-zero temperatures in order to keep a roof over their family’s head. Most of what we complain about is actually a blessing, and too often we forget that.

As we finish up this Lent and walk into Holy Week, let’s finish strong. Let’s allow our small burdens to mature us and also, in some way unknown to us, benefit our suffering brothers and sisters. May we embrace the cross and have a greater realization of Jesus’ love for us, as well as the immense sufferings that so many people throughout the world carry daily.”

Love & compassion,
Matthew

“Offer it up!” -Redemptive Suffering

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God’s Infinite Wisdom, Love, & Plan for Mercy for Whole World:  Christ on the Cross!  There is no other way!!  There is nothing more necessary, nothing more sufficient!!!  Nothing more pleasing to the Father-God; the Creator of Heaven & Earth, the Great I AM!!!  The Author of all Life!!!  Yes, Jesus!!!  Yes, Jesus!!!  I say:  Yes, Lord!!!  Amen.  Amen.

However elegantly constructed, something seems missing in our explanations of suffering. That missing thing is Someone.

Excerpted from “The Truth of Catholicism” with permission of HarperCollins.

“Offer it up to God, for the souls in purgatory or in reparation for your own sins.” That stock answer (which is almost never heard these days) strikes many Catholics today as lying somewhere between quaint and cruel. Perhaps there was something more going on here, though. For that answer attempted to link our suffering here and now to the redemptive suffering of Christ, and to the purification that the grace of Christ can work in our own lives and the lives of our dead friends and relatives. That is no small thing. Besides, as a famous Catholic writer of liberal disposition once said in criticizing the contemporary Catholic loss of a sense of redemptive suffering, “What else are you going to tell the kid as the dentist comes at him with that drill?”

Suffering, in the Catholic view of things, is a mystery. By “mystery,” Catholic theology means not a puzzle to be solved as Sherlock Holmes would do, but a reality that can only be grasped and comprehended in an act of love. There is no “answer” to the problem of suffering in the sense that there are answers to questions like “Was Alger Hiss guilty?” or “What is two plus two?” The Church has always believed and taught that there is a different kind of answer to the question “Why do we suffer?” That answer takes us directly into the heart of the Church, which is Jesus Christ.

That Jesus Christ is a suffering redeemer has been a shock and an offense since the first days of Christianity. The challenge of belief in a redeemer whose victorious strength is displayed in his weakness may be greater today than at any other time in the past two thousand years, given our culture’s resistance to the idea that suffering is the necessary path to beatitude or human flourishing.

But that is the mystery — the profoundly human mystery — of suffering. Dogs and cats and pandas feel pain. Only human beings suffer. That fact should suggest that there is a link between suffering and the essence of our humanity. Pondering that link is an opening into the entire Catholic story about the world and about us. In that story we meet an even more astonishing proposal. God’s answer to suffering is not to avoid it, or deny it, or blame it on human folly. God’s answer to suffering is to embrace it — to enter the world in the person of His Son, to redeem suffering through suffering.

Redemptive Suffering

The Bible, Pope John Paul II notes in his apostolic letter Salvifici Doloris, is a “great book about suffering.” In it we encounter many instances of that “pain of the soul” which is the worst form of human suffering: the death of one’s children, one’s spouse, loved ones, the fear of annihilation, barrenness, exile, persecution and mockery, loneliness and betrayal, the prosperity of the wicked amid the misery of the just, unfaithfulness and ingratitude. Suffering, in the biblical world, clearly has to do with evil. We suffer when we experience evil.

Still, the Christian conviction, drawn from the first chapter of the Hebrew Bible, is that creation is essentially good. Evil is not a coprinciple of creation, as in other ancient religious systems. If the world God created is essentially good and yet there is evil in the world, evil and good must be somehow related. Evil, John Paul writes, “is a certain lack, limitation, or distortion of good.” Illness is a deprivation of health; a lie is a distortion of the truth. We suffer, the Pope suggests, because of evil, but that very suffering points us toward a good. Suffering is caught up in the interplay of good and evil in the world. Suffering is enmeshed in the mystery of human freedom.

The Bible sometimes describes suffering as a punishment for the evil we do, but that punishment, the Pope suggests, is also linked to good. The punishment “creates the possibility of rebuilding goodness” in the person who suffers. This, John Paul underlines, “is an extremely important aspect of suffering.” Suffering opens up possibilities for the breakthrough of good, for “conversion,” for our becoming the kind of people who can enjoy beatitude with God, because we “recognize the divine mercy in this call to repentance.”  AMEN!!!  AMEN!!!  AMEN!!!!  Praise Him!!!  Praise Him, Church!!!  Praise Him!!!!!  Let the Earth resound with the Glory of God!!!!  AMEN!!! AMEN!!!!  AMEN!!!

Still, the Pope suggests, the mystery of suffering is not ultimately susceptible to rational explanation. However elegantly constructed, our explanations leave us dissatisfied. Something seems missing. That missing something, the Pope suggests, is in fact someone: Jesus Christ.

God’s love, which was so great that it burst the boundaries of God’s inner life and poured itself forth in creation, is “the ultimate source of the meaning of everything that exists,” including, of course, the meaning of suffering. Learning that “love is…the fullest source of the answer to the question of the meaning of suffering” requires not a rational argument, but a demonstration. That is what God has “given…in the cross of Jesus Christ.”

The entire life of Christ points inexorably toward the cross. Jesus’ human life is a growth into the world of suffering to which he responds by his healings. Those healings, both physical and psychological, are signs that the Kingdom of God, a world beyond suffering, is breaking into this world. Yet even as he heals the suffering, Christ suffers. He experiences exhaustion, homelessness, the misunderstanding of those closest to Him. When Peter rebukes Jesus for saying that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer, Jesus turns on the fisherman and calls him “Satan” (Matthew 16.23). Slowly, relentlessly, the net of hostility closes around Jesus, and the crux of the matter is at hand: the moment in which to link suffering to love in the passion of the cross.

Christ’s was an “incomparable depth and intensity of suffering.” Christ suffers as a man, but “insofar as the man who suffers is in person the only begotten Son Himself,” John Paul writes, Christ’s suffering has a cosmic and divine density that is “capable of embracing the measure of evil” contained in the whole of human history. As the Swiss theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar puts it in almost frightening language, we cannot imagine what agonies that entailed. What it would mean to “bear the burden of the world’s guilt, to experience in oneself the inner perversion of a humankind that refuses any sort of service, any sort of respect, to God” is beyond our comprehension. We cannot imagine the suffering involved when the Son takes on Himself all that the Father finds abominable. Yet that is what Christ suffers on the cross.

In Christ on the cross, we meet the triune God’s “eternal…plan…to clear out all the refuse of the world’s sin by burning it in the fire of suffering love.” Christ’s passion is the embodiment in history of “the fire that has burned eternally in God as [a] blazing passion,” the passion of resolute and radical love. God burns for the world to enter into this divine passion. For that to happen, the burning love of God in Himself must reach out to the world and redeem it by consuming everything in the world that is incapable of love, including evil and suffering.

That is what happens on the cross when, in obedience to the Father and in the most profound act of self-giving love, the Son takes all the world’s evil upon Himself, including the evil of death. On the cross, Balthasar writes, two eternal realities meet: “God’s fury, which will make no compromises with sin but can only reject it and burn it to ashes, and God’s love, which begins to reveal itself precisely at the place of this inexorable confrontation.” The cross is not the end of the story. On the cross, evil and death are overcome through redemptive suffering. Christ conquers suffering by his “obedience unto death,” which the Father vindicates in the resurrection.

In the mystery of God’s love, burning its way through the world and through history, the moment of catastrophe is, in truth, the moment of liberation.”

Love,
Matthew