Ministry to the Sick
Part 3 Theological Issues

Chapter s31 The Mystery of Suffering

Preliminary Questions

Bibliography

God, Pain, and Suffering

Voluntary and Involuntary Suffering

Suffering and Original Sin

Suffering and Actual (Our) Sins

The Positive Value of Suffering

The Sufferings of Jesus

The Mystery of Suffering

To Think About

Preliminary Questions

Why do bad things happen to good people?  Why did Jesus have to suffer?  Why do we have to suffer?

"The Son of Man did not come to take away suffering, not even to explain it. He came to fill it with his presence." (Le Fils de l'homme n'est pas venu supprimer la souffrance, il n'est meme pas venu pour l'expliquer. Il est venu pour la remplir de sa presence." Paul Claudel, Le Heurtoir, p. 33).

 

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Bibliography

John Paul II, Salvifici Doloris (Apostolic Letter On the Christian Meaning Of Human Suffering)http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/john_paul_ii/apost_letters/documents/hf_jp-ii_apl_11021984_salvifici-doloris_en.html

Elizabeth Johnson, C.S.J., Ph. D. Suffering and Catholic Tradition.  St. Anthony Messenger Press  Tape 60 min. A6831

Sidney Callahan. Created for Joy: A Christian View of Suffering.  Crossroad. 246p $19.95 (paperback)

Mother Teresa.  Mother Teresa:  Come, Be My Light.  The Private Writings of the Saint of Calcutta. 

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The Mystery of Suffering

The current Ritual, Pastoral Care of the Sick, speaks of the "Mystery of Suffering" in the very first paragraph: 

HUMAN SICKNESS AND ITS MEANING IN THE MYSTERY OF SALVATION

"Suffering and illness have always been among the greatest problems that trouble the human spirit. Christians feel and experience pain as do all other people; yet their faith helps them to grasp more deeply the mystery of suffering and to bear their pain with greater courage. From Christ's words they know that sickness has meaning and value for their own salvation and for the salvation of the world. They also know that Christ, who during his life often visited and healed the sick, loves them in their illness." (PCS, 1)

Consequently:

1.  Suffering, and the causes of suffering, are beyond our understanding. Consequently, we must not be too quick to explain suffering.  It is always dangerous to give a "too simple" explanation for suffering. For example: "If you had gotten more sleep you would not have had that accident."

"Suffering is the price we pay to bring life to fullness. When we refuse to suffer, we refuse to grow." Robert Ingersoll, quoted in Chittister, The Liturgical Year, p 123.

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God, Pain, and Suffering

Frequently we hear people ask:  "If God is all powerful and all good and love us, why does God permit / allow / cause / us to suffer? -- (or as phrased by Charles Gusmer in his book And You Visited Me: Sacramental Ministry to the Sick and the Dying,1990, p. 91:  "If the will of God is complete wholeness of body, mind, and spirit, why does the all powerful God allow, permit, and 'stand by and watch' thousands dying every day of starvation, genocide, the holocaust, etc.?"

This question requires us to confront our notion of God. 

1.  The God of Aristotle is pure spirit, impassible, incapable of suffering.  In today's world -- where we are so aware of the enormity of suffering -- to believe in such a God naturally leads to atheism.  "Christians believe in a God who has turned his back on the human race."  (Camu).  However, the God of Jesus is not the God of Aristotle.  the God of Jesus is our father.

2.  Marriage is a sacrament; sacraments show us who God is.  Consider (human) parenthood:  do parents want their child to suffer?  No.  However, there are things that the child might consider "suffering" that the parent allows or demands in the context of growth.  The child wants candy and the parent wants the child to eat supper first.  The parent insists that the child get up in the morning and go to school, when the child would rather stay in bed.  The parent who learns the child has appendicitis allows or even requires the child to suffer the surgeon's knife in order that greater harm (death) might be avoided.  

Note that in these situations the child considers the action "painful" (to a greater or lesser extent) and often, only much later as an adult will be able to see that the action was actually a loving action on the part of the parent.  Can human parenthood tell us something about our heavenly Father?

If a human parent needlessly, willfully, causes a child harm, we see this as a fault/sin on the part of the parent.  God never does this.  God is the perfect parent (indeed, infinitely better than the perfect parent).

There are times when a parent might punish a child, but this is done is such a way so that the child learns and grows through the experience.  It is not simply "pain" to make the parent feel better.  Here again, there are parallels with our divine parent.  But...

Suffering and pain are not God's response to sin.  Sometimes the sin itself can cause pain: e.g. marital infidelity can cause the pain of divorce; but it is not God's response to sin.  

As Jesus walked along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?" Jesus answered, "Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God's works might be revealed in him.  (John 9:1-3 NRSV)

3.  When using the (very helpful, I believe) metaphor of "human parenthood" we must remember that God is infinitely better than even the most perfect human parent. 

For example, the prophet Hosea (see Hosea 11:1-9 NRSV) speaks of the tender relationship of God and Israel as a loving parent-child relationship. "When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son....  It was I who taught Ephraim to walk.  I took them up in my arms. ... I led them with cords of human kindness, with bands of love. I was to them like those who lift infants to their cheeks. I bent down to them and fed them."  [Personally, I think this is one of the most tender portraits of God is the Hebrew scriptures.]   

But even after the Parent showed great love, the child was ungrateful:  "The more I called them, the more they went from me... They have refused to return to me. ... My people are bent on turning away from me." 

Yet even in this situation the divine Parent does not abandon the beloved child:  "How can I give you up, Ephraim? How can I hand you over, O Israel? How can I make you [pass from human memory] like Admah and Zeboiim?  -- And Hosea come to the point:  God is God.  God doesn't have our faults and limitation.  Even in this situation where a human parent might have every reason to be angry and resentful, the divine Parent says:  "My heart recoils within me; my compassion grows warm and tender.  I will not again destroy Ephraim; for I am God and no mortal, the Holy One in your midst."  [For I am God and not man, the Holy One present among you." (NAB translation that we hear at Mass)  We must always us the metaphor of human parenthood in the light of this caveat.

4.  God and the suffering of Jesus

4.1.  God did not want his son to suffer.

No one would say explicitly / consciously (top of the iceberg) that God enjoyed seeing Jesus suffer, or that God wanted Jesus to suffer. I do not believe that anyone would crassly state (top of the iceberg) that God enjoyed seeing Jesus suffer, or that God wanted his son to suffer.

However, under the iceberg -- which by definition is invisible and cannot be seen; yet we can often imagine what is there by what is said explicitly -- I sometimes find Catholics who seem to understand the first chapters of Genesis to imply that when Adam disobeyed God and ate the fruit of the tree of knowledge, God was so angry that he radically changed his plan for creation and went from "Plan A" as described in the Eden Myth (a world envisioned as a peaceful garden, where men and women were at peace with one another, at peace with creation, and at peace with God) and move to  "Plan B": a world where God was angry with human beings and with all of creation. Consequently, "we were born sick" to quote the popular song by Hozier "Take Me To Church").

God stayed angry for thousands of years until finally His Son suffered terribly and died by crucifixion. And this appeased God for the sin of Adam. (Note that in Genesis 1-3 there is no mention of "sin".)

4.2 Atonement:  ("The suffering of Jesus atones for our sins")

Robert Daly, in Sacrifice Unveiled writes:

The first point to be made and always kept in mind, is that the "atonement"-- especially when one means by that any particular theory of atonement--is not a central Christian doctrine. What is central, irreducibly central, is the Incarnation of Jesus Christ. Take away the Atonement, meaning the atonement theories developed in the Christian West, one still has the vibrant Christianity of the East that, though founded on the same biblical origins and patristic sources as that of the West, bases its theology of salvation, fully Trinitarian and fully incarnational, much more on theologies of theosis/divinization rather than on Western-type atonement theories. On the other hand, take away the Incarnation and there is, at least for mainline or Trinitarian Christianity, no Christianity left.

Stated over simply and in its most blatant stereotypical form, traditional Western atonement theory includes, or is ultimately reducible to the following affirmations: (1) God's honor was damaged by human sin; (2) God demanded a bloody victim--innocent or guilty--to pay for human sin; (3) God was persuaded to alter the divine verdict against humanity when the Son of God offered to endure humanity's punishment; (4) the death of the Son thus functioned as a payoff; salvation was purchased. (See Robert Daly, Sacrifice Unveiled, p 100)

4.3  The witness of the four canonical gospels.

Jesus announced the coming of the kingdom of God.

Those who held power in the existing kingdom realized that if God's kingdom were to arrive, they would lose power. No one likes to lose power. Consequently they did all that they could to preserve the existing kingdom. And in order to prevent the coming of God's kingdom, they crucified its messenger.

Jesus willingly suffered this death rather than compromise his mission. He preached God's kingdom not only because it was the will of his Father, but because of his love for us who will be so much better off when that kingdom is realized. If death was the price he would have to pay for announcing this good news, so be it.

To speak anthropomorphically, one can only imagine how sad God must've been to see his kingdom rejected and the suffering this brought upon his Son.

6.  A note on the Holocaust and our notion of God.

Rev. Claude Geffre, O.P., retired professor of Fundamental Theology at the Institut Catholique (Catholic University) of Paris, and Director of the Ecole Biblique in Jerusalem, in an article entitled "Is the Church Really a Sacrament of Unity?" writes (concerning the disenchantment of Christianity following the Holocaust):

The word "disenchantment" is not strong enough. The Holocaust concretized the principal objection of lots of people to what we call God. Facing this excess of evil, many people said that God's only excuse is that he doesn't exist. How can you reconcile our belief in a providential God who is good and who acts in history with his allowing this extremity of evil? This question bothers Christian as well as Jewish consciences. All modern theology is theology after Auschwitz.

The experience of the Holocaust forces us to keep our talk about God modest. Theological language must be an echo of God's own discretion. This expression comes from Michel Serres in his acceptance address at the Academie Francaise. By God's "modesty" we have to understand a kind of humility when faced with the spectacle of evil and violence. We are forced to change the way we describe God's omnipotence, even if this is awkward to do. We are trying to demystify the expectation that God will miraculously intervene in the case of physical evil inherent in the order of creation or in the case of the sinful expression of human freedom.

7. Could God have created a different world? [i.e. one without suffering] 

Maybe, (God can do whatever God wants to do); Maybe not (surely God, being God, would have created the best world possible and if you think God could have done better, I am sure God would like to hear your ideas. -- But in any case, I do not find this line of thinking helpful theologically or pastorally. 

8. Uniting our sufferings with the sufferings of Jesus

In the letter to the Colossians, we read: "I am now rejoicing in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am completing what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church." (Colossians 1:24 NRSV

I asked my former Scripture professor, Rev. Hilarion Kistner, O.F.M., to help us understand what it means to "complete what is lacking in Christ's afflictions." He replied:

People do argue about the text.  Maybe the best way to begin is the basic statement: It cannot mean that there is something lacking in Jesus' personal sufferings for our salvation. It has to mean that we are called to unite our sufferings to those of Jesus and thus live up to our call to be one with Jesus in his (mystical) body. Thus we can call our sufferings "Christ-sufferings".

I think we can also say that Jesus' sufferings are salvific because he endured them out of love and fidelity to his Father, and that means that our own sufferings are meant to be acts of love and fidelity.

I hear these remarks in this context:

Each year at the Easter Vigil when the Paschal Candle is prepared and blessed it is marked with the Alpha and the Omega reminding us that Christ is the first principle of everything that exists as well as their end, and that Christ is the way in which creation advances from its beginning to its final end. Yves Congar writes: "The role of the sacraments is to reproduce in a particular mode of being [as sign]...what Jesus did for us in the days of his flesh. This allows the root to bear its fruits -- to make the Christ Alpha produce within us over time the reality of life in such a way as to form the Christ Omega." (Congar, At the Heart of Christian Worship, p 85). The vision of Christ Omega encompasses the entire body of Christ, all of us who have been initiated into that body throughout all of history. As we are incorporated into Christ Omega, we can "rejoice in our sufferings" knowing that they further the completion of Christ Omega.

Pastoral Consequences:

1. We must help the sick to realize that
    1a.  suffering and illness are not something that God wants or enjoys.
    1b.  suffering is not because God is angry at us, etc. 

2.  Truths that we believe but would not share with the sick at this time:
    2a.  The time may come when we will see that something good came from this suffering.

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Voluntary and Involuntary Suffering

Involuntary Suffering:   Usually when we are speaking of suffering and pain we are speaking of suffering that we did not willingly cause or bring about. 

Voluntary Suffering:  One of my Franciscan confreres tells of his childhood Lenten practice of putting a small pebble in his shoe each morning so that it would hurt his foot as he walked to school.  He learned in religion class that this type of Lenten penances was a way to be united with the sufferings of Christ on the cross and a way to atone for his sins.  Many Catholics have performed similar penances (and continue to do so); for example, giving up something for Lent.  These penances and the "suffering" they bring about are so much a part of Catholic piety that many Catholics do not give them much thought. 

One of my theology professors, a German Jungian psychologist, taught that "life has sufficient suffering on its own without us voluntarily adding any."

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Suffering and Original Sin

Our understanding of suffering and death is influenced by our understanding of Original Sin.  If we understand suffering and death to be a result of Original Sin, this may direct us to an overly "negative" view of the mystery. 

Frequently during our reflections we have referred to the metaphor of the iceberg.  The part of the iceberg which is visible above the surface of the water corresponds to our conscious "understanding" of suffering:  i.e. the facts we have learned from medicine and biology, religion and anthropology.  However, the majority of the content we give to the concept "suffering" lies unseen and often unrealized in our subconscious self -- just as the largest part of the iceberg (80%) lies unseen beneath the surface of the water.  Whenever we minister to the sick, dying, or bereaved this "below the surface" content plays a key role in our ministry, even if we are unaware that it is shaping our ministry.  Consequently, it is of the utmost importance to examine these (often unexpressed) memories, experiences, and attitudes so that they do not affect our ministry in prejudicial way. 

For those who think of Adam and Eve as historical figures and the "eating of the apple" as an historical even -- with a before the Fall and an after the Fall --suffering and illness and death are a result of the Fall.

For those who think of Adam and Eve as one of the divinely revealed origin stories and that the garden of Eden is a description of how God wants things to be at the end of time,  and that there was no "historical time" before the Fall, suffering and illness and death are seen as an original and essential part of being human. 

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Suffering and Actual (Our) Sins

Is suffering the result of our sins (that is, actual sin as opposed to Original Sin)?  Yes and No

Yes, in this sense: Our actions have consequences. If I drink way too much alcohol Saturday night (sin) and wake up Sunday morning with a terrible headache (suffering) there is a relation between sin and suffering.

No, in this sense: "Joe and Margaret, even though they are Roman Catholic, did not get married in a Catholic Church before a priest and two other witnesses. Because of this sin their baby was born with kidney problems." This is the type of false reasoning that Jesus warns us about in the story of the man who was blind from birth in chapter 9 of the Gospel of St. John. It is often tempting to make such connections regarding others -- or even ourselves. But this is incorrect.

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Suffering and Alienation or "In-Adaptation"

In our society things are built for the average user. For example "going up" usually involves going up steps. Most people have no problem with steps. However there are some who, for some reason, cannot negotiate steps and find steps an obstacle. They are "not adapted" to steps. This is an example of what the French mean by "un-adaption." This can take place in a multitude of ways. For example, in the hospital we cannot choose to sleep in her own bed, choose what food to eat in the morning, choose the temperature or surroundings, etc.

Ministry in these situations often involves bringing as much "normalcy" as we can to the situation.

For example, I found in prison ministry that simply treating these men as I would treat anyone else in the parish was in itself a ministry to them. Most of the day they were not treated like "people" but simply treated as "inmates". This is another form of "un-adaption."

"Sickness is also a crisis of communication with others within one's total environment. The experience of life as it is normally lived is disrupted. Especially when confined to a hospital, one is isolated from the usual activities: the family, work or profession, circle of friends, those things and relationships that make life most worth living." (Gusmer, p. 140-141)

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The Positive Value of Suffering

"Suffering and illness have always been among the greatest problems that trouble the human spirit. Christians feel and experience pain as do all other people; yet their faith helps them to grasp more deeply the mystery of suffering and to bear their pain with greater courage. From Christ's words they know that sickness has meaning and value for their own salvation and for the salvation of the world. They also know that Christ, who during his life often visited and healed the sick, loves them in their illness." (PCS, 1) There can be a "positive" value in pain.  For example, pain tells us to go to the doctor, etc. 

Finding this "meaning" in suffering is part of the mystery.   We must be careful that we do not jump to a superficial and too hasty conclusion that we have found this meaning.  Frequently it is only much later that we are able to see the "meaning" and suffering.

There is, of course, a certain "immediate value" in the experience of pain. A constant and severe stomach ache tells us that we should see a doctor. The burning pain from touching a hot skillet on the stove tells us that we should immediately remove our hand.

There are many situations where pain is very useful and indeed valuable.

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The Sufferings of Jesus

Matthew 16:21-23 (NAB)   From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer greatly from the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed and on the third day be raised.  Then Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, "God forbid, Lord! No such thing shall ever happen to you."   He turned and said to Peter, "Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle to me. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do."

Mark 8:31-33 (NAB)   He began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer greatly and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and rise after three days.  He spoke this openly. Then Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.  At this he turned around and, looking at his disciples, rebuked Peter and said, "Get behind me, Satan. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do."

Luke 9:22-24 (NAB)   He said, "The Son of Man must suffer greatly and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed and on the third day be raised."  Then he said to all, "If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.   For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.

Luke 17:24-25 (NAB)   For just as lightning flashes and lights up the sky from one side to the other, so will the Son of Man be (in his day).  25  But first he must suffer greatly and be rejected by this generation.

 Luke 22:14-15 (NAB)    When the hour came, he took his place at table with the apostles.  He said to them, "I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer, ...

Luke 24:24-27 (NAB)   Then some of those with us went to the tomb and found things just as the women had described, but him they did not see."  And he said to them, "Oh, how foolish you are! How slow of heart to believe all that the prophets spoke!  Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and enter into his glory?"  Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them what referred to him in all the scriptures.

Luke 24:44-48 (NAB)   [Jesus] said to them, "These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the law of Moses and in the prophets and psalms must be fulfilled."  Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures.  And he said to them, "Thus it is written that the Messiah would suffer and rise from the dead on the third day  and that repentance, for the forgiveness of sins, would be preached in his name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.

Acts 9:13-16 (NAB)   But Ananias replied, "Lord, I have heard from many sources about this man [i.e. Saul], what evil things he has done to your holy ones in Jerusalem.  And how he has authority from the chief priests to imprison all who call upon your name." But the Lord said to him, "Go, for this man is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before Gentiles, kings, and Israelites, and I will show him what he will have to suffer for my name."

Romans 8:14-17 (NAB)   For those who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God.  For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you received a spirit of adoption, through which we cry, "Abba, Father!"  The Spirit itself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if only we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.

2 Corinthians 1:3-7 (NAB)  Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and God of all encouragement,
4 who encourages us in our every affliction, so that we may be able to encourage those who are in any affliction with the encouragement with which we ourselves are encouraged by God.  For as Christ's sufferings overflow to us, so through Christ does our encouragement also overflow.  If we are afflicted, it is for your encouragement and salvation; if we are encouraged, it is for your encouragement, which enables you to endure the same sufferings that we suffer.  Our hope for you is firm, for we know that as you share in the sufferings, you also share in the encouragement.

Philippians 1:27-29 (NAB)   Only, conduct yourselves in a way worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that, whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear news of you, that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind struggling together for the faith of the gospel, not intimidated in any way by your opponents. This is proof to them of destruction, but of your salvation. And this is God's doing. For to you has been granted, for the sake of Christ, not only to believe in him but also to suffer for him.

Revelation 2:8-10 (NAB)   "To the angel of the church in Smyrna, write this: " 'The first and the last, who once died but came to life, says this:   "I know your tribulation and poverty, but you are rich.  I know the slander of those who claim to be Jews and are not, but rather are members of the assembly of Satan.  Do not be afraid of anything that you are going to suffer. Indeed, the devil will throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and you will face an ordeal for ten days. Remain faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life."

James 5:13-15 (NAB)   Is anyone among you suffering? He should pray. Is anyone in good spirits? He should sing praise.  Is anyone among you sick? He should summon the presbyters of the church, and they should pray over him and anoint (him) with oil in the name of the Lord, and the prayer of faith will save the sick person, and the Lord will raise him up. If he has committed any sins, he will be forgiven.

Hebrews 5:8-9 (NAB)   Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered;   and when he was made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him,

Philippians 2:5-11 (NAB)   Have among yourselves the same attitude that is also yours in Christ Jesus,  6  Who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance,  he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross.  Because of this, God greatly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth,  and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Colossians 1:24-26 (NAB)    Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of his body, which is the church, of which I am a minister in accordance with God's stewardship given to me to bring to completion for you the word of God, the mystery hidden from ages and from generations past. But now it has been manifested to his holy ones.

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The Sufferings of Jesus and Our Suffering

It has been a traditional and excepted part of Catholic piety to unite our sufferings with the sufferings of Jesus on the cross. 

Some devotional practices put much emphasis on the suffering of Jesus.  "Is there any sorrow like my sorrow?" 

Devotion and doctrine are not the same thing.  --  For example, I have hear Catholics say:  "Jesus only suffered 3 hours;  I have been in intense pain 30 years!"  --  "The Romans crucified hundreds and thousands of people, not just Jesus.  And many hung on their crosses suffering for days; Jesus died relatively quickly!"  "Those soldiers in Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ were just doing their job, the job they did day in and day out.  There were no more mean and cruel to Jesus than to any other criminal who came under their care, and probably less so!"  

And I have heard others say:  "Jesus knew that if he continued to upset the religious and civil leaders he would be arrested.  Yet he went ahead deliberately.  In a real sense, his death is a suicide.  It not something he had no control over.  I have no control over my pain.  I did nothing to cause it." 

When speaking of the sacrifice of Jesus (or when speaking of the sacrifice of the Mass) the focus is not on suffering but on the biblical understanding of the nature of sacrifice:  joyful union with God. 

Note the difference between "healing" and a "cure."

"I [Paul] am now rejoicing in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am completing what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church. I became its servant according to God's commission that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known, the mystery that has been hidden throughout the ages and generations but has now been revealed to his saints." (Colossians 1:24-26 NRSV)

Note:  Mystery - mysterion - God's Plan for the world to be "summed up" "come to a head" in Christ.  Mysterion becomes Sacramentum.  Jesus is the sacrament of God.  This forces us to rethink the Greek philosophers' notion of the divinity.  "The sick offer a sign to the community that through the weak, the sick, and the suffering, we see Christ."  [RG]

Note:  Incarnational theology, especially the Franciscan School, understands that God would have taken flesh and come among us even if Adam did not sin.  Incarnation does necessarily imply crucifixion, suffering, and death.

 Sidney Callahan. Created for Joy: A Christian View of Suffering.  Crossroad. 246p $19.95 (paperback)

"In empathy and love Jesus suffers not only his own pain and distress, but all the world's past, present, and future travail. Moreover, as we have seen, empathy can be felt for the ignorant and deformed evildoers who in their moral wickedness reject the light and remain in darkness. In this sense Jesus bears the burdens and sins of humankind. He is innocent, but through loving empathy can suffer for the lethal and sinful lapses of his people. His bearing of the sins of the world is not a passive punishment laid on Jesus by God, but rather it is a voluntary act of love and empathy for the human family. A mother mourns and suffers vicariously in and with her children's destructive sins, and so Jesus suffers for us." I have cited this passage at length, because I think it recapitulates the heart of Created for Joy. The heart is Incarnation. God so loved the world that God gave the beloved Son. Jesus so loves us that he continues to give himself, sharing our sufferings that he might in turn share with us his life. Sidney Callahan's book, in plumbing suffering's depths and celebrating joy's heights, is, first and last, a love song to this loving God who creates us for joy. [From a review of the book by Rev. Robert P. Imbelli, America September 24, 2007 (197:8 Whole No. 4786), p 27.]

Mother Teresa.  Mother Teresa:  Come, Be My Light.  The Private Writings of the Saint of Calcutta

Most believers who read Come Be My Light will at some point ask, "Why would God do this?" Of course one might just as well ask, "Why is there suffering?"

In his Spiritual Exercises, St. Ignatius Loyola suggests three possible explanations for spiritual desolation. First, we may be "tepid, lazy or negligent" in prayer. Clearly this was not the case for Mother Teresa, who was utterly faithful to her daily prayer, to the Mass and to frequent visits to the Blessed Sacrament. Second, it may test "how much we are worth and how far we will extend ourselves in the service and praise of God." Again, if Mother Teresa, who worked tirelessly until her death, did not "extend herself," who of us has? Third, it may give us "true recognition" that consolation is "a gift and grace from God our Lord." In other words, it reminds us who is in control. But after 10 or 20 years of the darkness, Mother Teresa had grasped this, as her letters to her spiritual directors demonstrate.

Any divine "reasons" for her trials remain mysterious. But with hindsight certain fruits of her suffering -- besides the heightened ability to identify with the poor -- may suggest themselves.  (James Martini, "In My Soul" America, September 24, 2007 (197:8 Whole No. 4786), p 16.) 

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Praying with the Sick

The minister who is visiting the sick of the parish should have at his or her disposal a book or list of prayers which the minister has found appropriate and appreciated by the people he has visited.

There are also occasions where spontaneous prayer is appropriate. As Catholics are not always accustomed to making up prayers. One formula that can be of help is the Beraka.

The Baraka has three parts. Naming God, grateful remembering, and partition. For example, merciful God, source of our life and peace, you have blessed us with a wonderful family and you have given us a gift of faith in your son Jesus. As we believe you were with him in his suffering and you raised him from the dead. Be with us now in this time of trial. Let us feel your presence and make us sure that no harm will come within us.

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To Think About

What is your response to "the mystery of suffering"?   Have these reflections given you anything "new" to think about?  If so, what?

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Copyright: Tom Richstatter.  All Rights Reserved.  This page was created by Fr. Thomas Richstatter, O.F.M.  Every effort has been, and is being made to acknowledge sources when the ideas are not my own.  Any failure to comply with the United States Copyright Act (Title 17, United States Code) will be corrected immediately should I become aware of it.  This site was updated on 03/29/17.  Your comments on this site are welcome at trichstatter@franciscan.org