March 30, 2011 // Local

Redemptive suffering

It is not easy to block out the multiple cries of pain and suffering that permeate the world. It is almost deafening. All one has to do is turn on the radio, read the newspaper, watch television or go online. We are bombarded with news of pain and suffering, almost to the saturation point. I think of the people in Libya, Haiti, Japan and others affected by war and natural disasters. It gives me an overwhelming feeling.

A couple of years ago I attended several lectures on the martyrs of El Salvador who were killed during a civil war that took place there in the 1970s and 1980s. Archbishop Oscar Romero, four women missionaries and several Jesuits — only to name a few of hundreds of people — were brutally murdered because they spoke out against the intense suffering of the Salvadoran people and a system of government that perpetuated it.

The poor still suffer there and around the world, including in our own country. However, suffering is not limited to the poor. Who of us cannot look around and find suffering in our own life or in the lives of those who touch ours? No one is spared.

Everyday we hear of people diagnosed with fatal illnesses that change their lives or people who are out of work for a long time and become desperate to support their families. We know of families broken by divorce and those who experience the sudden death of loved ones. So many are bearing difficult crosses.

In the light of all this pain the question is often asked that if God really loves us, why does He allow all these good people to suffer? It reminds me of the book I read several years ago. It is called “When Bad Things Happen to Good People” and was written by a Jewish rabbi. At first I wondered why he didn’t call his book “Why bad things happen to good people.” I have since come to the conclusion it is because we don’t know the reason why. All we know is that God allows suffering to exist in the world. He permits it but He doesn’t make it happen. And He doesn’t use it to punish us.

Suffering is a deep mystery of life. Although we may not feel it at the time, what our faith tells us about suffering is that God never abandons us in it. With all suffering, there eventually comes a resurrection. That is the Paschal Mystery. It is a central doctrine of our faith. Jesus suffered, died and rose. We, too, live that mystery in our own lives in big and in small ways. To suffer is part of being a Christian. It is not easy, but God is with us just as He was with Jesus during His life on this earth.

As Catholics we believe that suffering is redemptive. We are called to unite our suffering with that of Christ’s. Suffering can embitter us or it can transform us. There are people who have suffered greatly who are very holy, caring, compassionate people and then there are others whose suffering has turned them into bitter, resentful people.

We have little power over most suffering, our own and others, but we do have control over how we let it affect our lives. Experiencing a hurt or loss can enable us to be more compassionate and loving to others in similar circumstances.

And there is some suffering we can control. That is the suffering we inflict upon other people. It might become a good habit to reflect upon each day to see if we have caused anyone to suffer or, if we have suffered, to unite our suffering with Christ’s and ask Him to help us to allow our pain to make us more sensitive and loving persons.

As Jesus lived the Paschal Mystery, we, His followers, are called to do the same.

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