Thursday, April 29, 2010

Christ and the Mystery of Suffering

"The cross of Christ throws salvific light, in a most penetrating way, on man's life and in particular on his suffering."

With these words of the Venerable Pope John Paul the Great, from his monumental letter Salvifici Doloris, I wish to dedicate this blog entry to the reality of human suffering.

Suffering is an integral part - perhaps we can say, a necessary part - of human life. Between our creation - at the first moment of conception - and the finish line of our lives, we shall each endure the hardship and distress of many trials. This hardship is greater and more intense for some than it is for others. But it remains an experience for every one of us. In very simple terms, when we face suffering we should say, "this is the way things go down here on earth." What are we to do when we suffer? What am I to do when I endure hardship and pain? Pope John Paul the Great points us to the Lord Jesus Christ.

Christians who devoutly make the Stations of the Cross, or even those who watch the excellent film The Passion of the Christ, come away with the profound awareness that Christ suffered. He suffered intensely. Therefore, when we suffer, we are experiencing a reality that Christ Himself experiences willingly. In this regard, we can already perceive that our suffering is not meaningless. When I suffer, I am doing what the Son of God did. And since I live for Him, since the purpose of my life is to be one with Him, then suffering does not derail my life's plans; it does not frustrate the track of my life. Is it possible, then, to believe that when I suffer I am actually achieving something? I am actually gaining something? Here we can begin to see the light that the cross of Christ throws onto suffering.

Ever since we were baptized, we have not belonged to this world. We are in the world by the good plan of God, but we are not of the world by the plan of His love. Therefore, our response to the mystery of suffering must be different than those who live for this world only. This is difficult. Very difficult. On account of our fallen human nature, it is quite possible to adopt some of the ways of the world. But with the grace of God, we can work this through. What, then, is to be my response to suffering? It must be what we call "total abandonment to Divine Providence." It must be trust in the good God who loves me and who knows everything about me. In this way, suffering does not bring chaos into my life because I am one with Christ. Also, ever since my baptism I am no longer working with my own plans, I am working now with God's plans. Suffering, then, intense as it may be, does not make things spin out of control. If hardship and pain has foiled some of my plans, then I let them go to the wind. Better to trust in the plan of Eternal Wisdom than in the plans of my wisdom. His plans, which He works out in my life, are much better.

Because each one of us is unique and unrepeatable, our sufferings are unique to each one of us. Therefore, our response to suffering is likewise unique. In the lives of the Saints, the plan of Divine Goodness unfolded uniquely in each one of them, and the Cross was never far from their lives. It is the same for you, for me.

Dear brothers and sisters who suffer, I know that some of you have tremendous pain in your life right now. But you are not alone. Even though your suffering is unique to you, the Lord Jesus is with you and He is loving you. Trust in Him. Trust in His goodness and in His love for you. He will not allow you to suffer more than His grace will give you the strength to handle, and His plan for you is greater than your hardship. Therefore, do not be afraid.

God bless you.