The Pope Emeritus has much to say about suffering and hope. Perhaps to some, suffering and hope seem contradictory, but suffering actually leads to real hope, not false optimism or fantasy.
36. Like action, suffering is a part of our human existence. Suffering stems partly from our finitude, and partly from the mass of sin which has accumulated over the course of history, and continues to grow unabated today.
Suffering comes from our humanity, Original Sin, and personal sins. We cannot avoid it and still be authentic human beings. Justice demands that we try and help those who are suffering either physically, or spiritually-hence the corporal and spiritual works of mercy all are called to do.
Sadly, Catholics are less likely to be really involved in either. Why this is, can only be sin, the sin of complacency.
Certainly we must do whatever we can to reduce suffering: to avoid as far as possible the suffering of the innocent; to soothe pain; to give assistance in overcoming mental suffering. These are obligations both in justice and in love, and they are included among the fundamental requirements of the Christian life and every truly human life. Great progress has been made in the battle against physical pain; yet the sufferings of the innocent and mental suffering have, if anything, increased in recent decades. Indeed, we must do all we can to overcome suffering, but to banish it from the world altogether is not in our power. This is simply because we are unable to shake off our finitude and because none of us is capable of eliminating the power of evil, of sin which, as we plainly see, is a constant source of suffering.
The age-old question of why suffering has been answered-we all have free will. Many people choose evil, as I see daily, even in this small neighborhood. Only God has the ability to end suffering by ending sin. But, to Him, our free wills are sacred. And, we do make daily choices for good or for evil.
Only God is able to do this: only a God who personally enters history by making himself man and suffering within history. We know that this God exists, and hence that this power to “take away the sin of the world” (Jn 1:29) is present in the world. Through faith in the existence of this power, hope for the world's healing has emerged in history. It is, however, hope—not yet fulfilment; hope that gives us the courage to place ourselves on the side of good even in seemingly hopeless situations, aware that, as far as the external course of history is concerned, the power of sin will continue to be a terrible presence.
Keeping our eyes on Christ, especially on the Passion and Resurrection, give us hope. But, we hope in eternal life, not merely comfort zones on earth. We hope for salvation.
37. Let us return to our topic. We can try to limit suffering, to fight against it, but we cannot eliminate it. It is when we attempt to avoid suffering by withdrawing from anything that might involve hurt, when we try to spare ourselves the effort and pain of pursuing truth, love, and goodness, that we drift into a life of emptiness, in which there may be almost no pain, but the dark sensation of meaninglessness and abandonment is all the greater.
To me, it is frightening how many people just drift, just follow the paths of least resistance to sin instead of embracing suffering. Life is hard, period, and for those of us who suffer willingly, graces follow.
It is not by sidestepping or fleeing from suffering that we are healed, but rather by our capacity for accepting it, maturing through it and finding meaning through union with Christ, who suffered with infinite love.
Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman wrote that a man knows how to suffer and accepts suffering. One can see the problem of too many "boys" who refuse to accept and take on suffering-not wanting to move out in courage and take responsibility for life.
In this context, I would like to quote a passage from a letter written by the Vietnamese martyr Paul Le-Bao-Tinh († 1857) which illustrates this transformation of suffering through the power of hope springing from faith. “I, Paul, in chains for the name of Christ, wish to relate to you the trials besetting me daily, in order that you may be inflamed with love for God and join with me in his praises, for his mercy is for ever (Ps 136 ). The prison here is a true image of everlasting Hell: to cruel tortures of every kind—shackles, iron chains, manacles—are added hatred, vengeance, calumnies, obscene speech, quarrels, evil acts, swearing, curses, as well as anguish and grief. But the God who once freed the three children from the fiery furnace is with me always; he has delivered me from these tribulations and made them sweet, for his mercy is for ever. In the midst of these torments, which usually terrify others, I am, by the grace of God, full of joy and gladness, because I am not alone —Christ is with me ...
I asked a priest to pray for me a few days ago as I have to move again and do not know where. I have four weeks here. The priest wrote to me and said, "You are not alone.." No, I am not, although I have no persons helping me with permanency which is also freedom.
Christ is with me, but the suffering Christ, the Christ Who sees my desires and needs and suffers with me, in me, around me. The Cross becomes my focus. I can only pray to rest in God, even if my rest is at the foot of the Cross.
How am I to bear with the spectacle, as each day I see emperors, mandarins, and their retinue blaspheming your holy name, O Lord, who are enthroned above the Cherubim and Seraphim? (cf. Ps 80:1 [79:2]). Behold, the pagans have trodden your Cross underfoot! Where is your glory? As I see all this, I would, in the ardent love I have for you, prefer to be torn limb from limb and to die as a witness to your love. O Lord, show your power, save me, sustain me, that in my infirmity your power may be shown and may be glorified before the nations ...
The martyrs give us courage. If they could endure out of love, would not God help me endure out of love?
Beloved brothers, as you hear all these things may you give endless thanks in joy to God, from whom every good proceeds; bless the Lord with me, for his mercy is for ever ... I write these things to you in order that your faith and mine may be united. In the midst of this storm I cast my anchor towards the throne of God, the anchor that is the lively hope in my heart”
God never asks the impossible. Therefore, if He puts us in tremendous suffering, He wills us grace as well. This martyr shares his grace with us.
. This is a letter from “Hell”. It lays bare all the horror of a concentration camp, where to the torments inflicted by tyrants upon their victims is added the outbreak of evil in the victims themselves, such that they in turn become further instruments of their persecutors' cruelty. This is indeed a letter from Hell, but it also reveals the truth of the Psalm text: “If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I sink to the nether world, you are present there ... If I say, ‘Surely the darkness shall hide me, and night shall be my light' —for you darkness itself is not dark, and night shines as the day; darkness and light are the same” (Ps 139 :8-12; cf. also Ps 23 :4). Christ descended into “Hell” and is therefore close to those cast into it, transforming their darkness into light. Suffering and torment is still terrible and well- nigh unbearable.
The Harrowing of Hell is a credal belief-"He descended into hell". Hell did not all of the sudden become clean and bright, joyful and glorious for Christ's descent. No, He went down to lead those who had waited for His Redemptive Action on the Cross to free them.
So, too, we wait and hope, wait and hope.
Yet the star of hope has risen—the anchor of the heart reaches the very throne of God. Instead of evil being unleashed within man, the light shines victorious: suffering—without ceasing to be suffering—becomes, despite everything, a hymn of praise.
A grateful and generous heart finds praise amidst suffering. Sometimes this praise is merely being with Christ on Golgotha, just being, silent, watching, waiting.
38. The true measure of humanity is essentially determined in relationship to suffering and to the sufferer. This holds true both for the individual and for society. A society unable to accept its suffering members and incapable of helping to share their suffering and to bear it inwardly through “com-passion” is a cruel and inhuman society.
Our own nation lets women and men kill their Down's Syndrome children in the womb, in order to avoid suffering. Our own nation is moving towards euthanasia, in order to avoid taking care of the suffering. The poor are ignored and the homeless made illegal in order for people to avoid seeing and responding to suffering.
Many nations have become cruel. Another name for this approach is utilitarianism. If a person seems useless, kill them, says the utilitarian. Society only wants the strong, the rich, the beautiful. But, this attitude creates a false paradise.
Yet society cannot accept its suffering members and support them in their trials unless individuals are capable of doing so themselves; moreover, the individual cannot accept another's suffering unless he personally is able to find meaning in suffering, a path of purification and growth in maturity, a journey of hope.
Here it is..the great theme of this blog...purification and maturity only come through suffering.
Why are there so many Peter Pans and Peter Pams? Because these people run away from suffering. Women know that if a man cannot suffer when they are dating, that man is not marriage material. Waiting is love.
Why are there so many men and women who refuse to get married, make commitments, have children, endure illness in others and so on? Because they refuse to take on suffering. To choose to really love is to choose to die to self.
Indeed, to accept the “other” who suffers, means that I take up his suffering in such a way that it becomes mine also. Because it has now become a shared suffering, though, in which another person is present, this suffering is penetrated by the light of love.
In America, suffering isolates people, because most people do not want to reach out of their comfort zones in order to share with someone else's suffering.
This is why so many of us who suffer find ourselves alone. We become invisible.
The Latin word con-solatio, “consolation”, expresses this beautifully. It suggests being with the other in his solitude, so that it ceases to be solitude. Furthermore, the capacity to accept suffering for the sake of goodness, truth and justice is an essential criterion of humanity, because if my own well-being and safety are ultimately more important than truth and justice, then the power of the stronger prevails, then violence and untruth reign supreme.
Why do those who refuse to stand up for Truth hate those who do? Because deep down inside, they know they are avoiding suffering and they do not want to be reminded of this. Solitude becomes the life of too many people who suffer because there are no consolers.
Truth and justice--first. Seeking security and safety leads to great sin-deceit, lust, fear, avarice...then a nation loses its soul.
Truth and justice must stand above my comfort and physical well-being, or else my life itself becomes a lie.
Daily I see and meet people living lies. Their entire lifestyle is one of deceit. They lie because they refuse to face justice and truth.
Deceit leads to greater sins of addiction to porn, fantasy, lust, and most obviously here in the States, avarice. If one cannot ever be uncomfortable, one will lose one's soul.
In the end, even the “yes” to love is a source of suffering, because love always requires expropriations of my “I”, in which I allow myself to be pruned and wounded. Love simply cannot exist without this painful renunciation of myself, for otherwise it becomes pure selfishness and thereby ceases to be love.
Benedict has just summarizes the entire perfection series in one paragraph.
"Love simply cannot exist without this painful renunciation of myself, for otherwise it become pure selfishness and thereby ceases to be love."
Adultery, sodomy, graft, abortion, contraception, and all mortal sins come from pure selfishness.
To love is to be wounded, to be open to pain. If one is not, one will never experience real love. Never...and never is a long time.
to be continued...