Christ wishes to answer man from the Cross…The answer which comes through this sharing in the sufferings of Christ… is above all a call. It is a vocation… Before all else, He says: “Follow me! Come! Take part through your suffering in this work of saving the world!” (JPII, On the Christian Meaning of Human Suffering, #26)
Why Suffering? This question pondered for millennia by saints, sinners, philosophers and ordinary folk seems beyond human comprehension. What we do know is that in the beginning God created man with the capacity to love in freedom, but with that came the responsibility to choose wisely and the ability to choose wrongly, to act against our true and ultimate good and the good of others.
Suffering found entry into the world through the sin of our first parents, who doubting God’s goodness and failing to place their trust in Him, chose instead to abuse the gift of their freedom and turn away from their Father and Creator.
The painful consequences of every one of our personal sins affects not only the one who commits it, but ripples out touching many others. It has been said, “God whispers in our pleasures but shouts in our pains. Pain is His megaphone to rouse a dulled world” (C.S.Lewis, The Problem of Pain). This voice of pain calls forth repentance, conversion, penance and reparation.
There is also a more troubling type of suffering, that of the innocent: children born with disease, sufferers of accidents or natural disasters, victims left scarred by the sinfulness of others… and the list goes on and on. Certainly, God does not send suffering to us; in itself it is an evil. But in His Providence, within which each of us is always held safe and secure, He permits it to happen. In permitting, He also assures it will never be the worst. God will bring goodness out of suffering. Isn’t this why the crucifix is the most powerful symbol in Christianity? Out of the greatest evil, God brings the greatest good.
“Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies it bears much fruit.” Self-giving love is the highroad to transformation, new life beyond imagining, and ultimately resurrection.
When faced with suffering, a wise old priest once said, the ultimate question is not, ‘Why?’ but ‘What?’. What am I to do in response to this suffering? What is the Lord asking of me in these particular circumstances? And then the work of faith and hope and love begin.
Originally printed in IMPRINT Magazine Winter 2009