Suffering Made Beautiful
Suffering. I know suffering. For starters, my new coffee mug does not fit under my Keurig. As if that is not enough, whenever I go to bed one pillow is always too low but two pillows is always too high. Also, my goodness, the facial hair of both Joe Richards and, now, Fr. Mike makes me feel like a 12 year-old boy.
Two choices: I am either going to languish in this misery or put full faith in God.
Sin. I know sin. For starters, Adam and Eve ate that fruit. As if that is not enough, I feel I am entitled to a comfortable life. Also, my goodness, I wish everything was about me.
Two choices: I am either going to, in pride, sin or I am going to, in the Holy Spirit, trust.
Humans (us) suffer. We, of course, don’t go looking for suffering. That would just be silly. Let’s not fret, suffering will inevitably come. A truth, I doubt, anyone can prove wrong. Our suffering, our pain, it is physical, it is social, it is psychological, it is (whether you belief it or not) spiritual.
Humans (us) sin. Sin brings us pleasure. It brings us moments of happiness. If it didn’t, we wouldn’t sin. Simple enough. Wouldn’t it be great if we could sin and not suffer any sort of consequence? Wouldn’t it be great if we could recognize those consequences? We could then pick and choose which sins to commit and which sins not to commit based on how drastic the consequence. We could just be thrill-seekers. The bases for morality would only concern ourselves and our lives would be a string of pleasures, moments of bliss, and highs.
Too bad sin has consequences whether immediately recognizable or not. Too bad knowledge of consequences, in other words, temperance, requires growth in virtue. Too bad this is impossible without God. Too bad the consequences of sin are death.
“For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:23)
Even if we could sin non-stop, even if we never had to deal with any sort of consequence, would it be possible to avoid suffering? The answer, no. Suffering is a part of life, whether we bring it upon ourselves or not. Toast would still fall butter side down and babies would still inconveniently poop their pants.
“Let us understand that God is a physician, and suffering is a medicine for salvation, not a punishment for damnation.” – St. Augustine
Saint Pope John Paul the Great woke us up to this. Saint Pope John Paul the Great knew suffering. He was an orphan at the age of twenty. The Nazis overran his country. When the Nazis left his country, Joseph Stalin replaced Adolf Hitler. An assassin shot him in his front yard. As an old man, he suffered from Parkinson’s disease that immobilized him and took his ability to speak. Kind of a rough hand to be dealt.
We know suffering just as well. Do you know anyone that suffers the pangs of cancer? How about someone who has taken their life due to depression? How about someone who is bound by addiction? The fact of life is that we both know the answer to those questions.
A friend once shared a story about Saint John Paul the Great with me. Apparently, one day, this great Saint fell in the bathtub and broke his hip. He laid there for three hours in some of the most excruciating pain you could imagine. When they found him they asked, “Holy Father, why didn’t you call out for help?” His response, “I didn’t want to miss the opportunity to unite my pain with that of Jesus Christ.” Legit.
Check out his apostolic letter Salvifici Doloris: http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/john_paul_ii/apost_letters/documents/hf_jp-ii_apl_11021984_salvifici-doloris_en.html
Well sure, the man is a Saint…
When my brother-in-law, Michael, was diagnosed with a brain tumor we gathered around to pray a rosary with him. When we finished my father asked him if he had any closing words or prayers. His response, “Can we pray the fourth decade, Jesus (willingly) Carries His Cross, again? This is my cross.” Inspired? I sure was, that 10 page paper I had put off was completed in a proper (non-complaining) manner.
From paper-cuts to mid-term exams to loneliness, we all suffer in varying degrees. Jesus showed us how to suffer and the beautiful thing is that we get to be united to Him in that suffering. The story of Jesus Christ reveals the story of humanity. The Man experienced all physical pain in His crucifixion, He experienced all social pain in the ridicule of Herod, his soldiers, and others, He experienced all psychological pain in His agony in the garden, and He experienced all spiritual pain in the very fact that He was, in a way, alienated from God the Father while on this earth.
“Are you unaware that we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? . . . For if we have grown into union with him through a death like his, we shall also be united with him in the resurrection. We know that our old self was crucified with him, so that our sinful body might be done away with, that we may no longer be in slavery to sin.” (Romans 6: 3-6)
Michael and St. John Paul the Great took their suffering and made it a powerful weapon. They showed others that suffering can be a beautiful gift. Suffering is beautiful when it is redemptive. What is more beautiful than the opportunity to share in the redemptive work of our Lord Jesus Christ?
If God were to remove suffering, the corresponding good that comes from suffering would be eliminated. We get to grow and learn because of our suffering, we get to have a new appreciation for life because of our suffering, we get strength to avoid sin because of our suffering and we get to love deeper because of our suffering.
Here is a challenge to all of you; inspire the world with your suffering. I am not saying to boast, that will inspire no one, because, like I said, everyone suffers. However, a life lived with trust in the Holy Spirit will inspire many. For by grace given to us in the Holy Spirit we will unite ourselves to the Cross. In the face of suffering we will reveal that we are not made for just this world, rather we are made for a relationship with the loving Father, let us bear our suffering for Him.
“Do not look forward to what might happen tomorrow; the same everlasting Father, who cares for you today, will take care of you tomorrow and every day. Either He will shield you from suffering, or He will give you unfailing strength to bear it. Be at peace then, and put aside all anxious thoughts and imaginations” – St. Francis de Sales
*Sometimes starting small prepares us for life’s greater moments of suffering. Personally, I would be darn inspired if you suffered through one less hour of sleep to join Newman Morning Prayer at 7:45.