Purposeful Pain or Strange Suffering—A Catholic Perspective

Famous scientist and prominent atheist Richard Dawkins once declared,

The total amount of suffering per year in the natural world is beyond all decent contemplation. During the minute that it takes me to compose this sentence, thousands of animals are being eaten alive, many others are running for their lives, whimpering with fear, others are slowly being devoured from within by rasping parasites, thousands of all species are dying of starvation, thirst, and disease. The universe that we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but pitiless indifference.

What a sad, desolute world outlook? To be honest, looking at the natural world and pondering my finitude and littleness in the universe, I too struggle with seeing purpose in pain and suffering. The end result of reality directly colors whether a person finds meaning in suffering or not. As a cradle Catholic, and a de-vert [a term I made up to refer to a cradle Catholic who experienced a deeper conversion], I learned that while suffering sucks, its strangeness and hideousness of suffering need not lead to the lonely road of despair and meaninglessness.

Through the Incarnation and eventually the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ the bridge between humanity and divinity was created through the means of redemptive suffering. Over the course of my young life, I learned more from suffering and lows points of my life then from my high points. Saint Pope John Paul II plainly summed up the Catholic view of suffering, “Each man, in his suffering, can also become a sharer in the redemptive suffering of Christ.” Offering any trials and tribulations that come my way—whether life-impacting or trivial—allows me to get beyond my limited perspective. Surviving suffering not only builds my character, but I acquire wisdom to learn that in the end God in ultimately in control.

Last night torrential rain poured and I realized that I parked in the back corner of the parking lot. I knew that the walk to my car would drench me from head to toe. My natural reaction normally would be to complain about the situation. Instead, I realized, “Maybe this small, trivial couple minutes of suffering may be an opportunity for me to offer up to grow in holiness and patience!”

Watching my fellow co-workers ran out to their vehicles, I simply walked to my car. The cold, constant precipitation washed over my head and down my body and my glasses fogged up instantly as I entered my car.   “Each man, in his suffering, can also become a sharer in the redemptive suffering of Christ.” My short walk of suffering is nothing compared to the sacrifice my Lord and Savior underwent on Calvary. Seek any opportunity [large or small] to unite your suffering to Christ’s Passion. I will leave you with the following wisdom of saints to reflect today and for whenever you struggle with despairing when life gets you down!

“As iron is fashioned by fire and on the anvil, so in the fire of suffering and under the weight of trials, our souls receive that form which our Lord desires them to have.” –St. Madeline Sophie Barat

“When it is all over you will not regret having suffered; rather you will regret having suffered so little, and suffered that little so badly.” –St. Sebastian Valfre

“If God sends you many sufferings, it is a sign that He has great plans for you and certainly wants to make you a saint.”

–St. Ignatius Loyola

“The road is narrow. He who wishes to travel it more easily must cast off all things and use the cross as his cane. In other words, he must be truly resolved to suffer willingly for the love of God in all things.”

–St. John of the Cross

“Suffering is a great grace; through suffering the soul becomes like the Saviour; in suffering love becomes crystallised; the greater the suffering, the purer the love.”

–St. Faustina

“For Jesus Christ I am prepared to suffer still more.”

–Saint Maximilian Kolbe

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