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Toward an Authentic Response to Suffering

1. Introduction the complexity and diversity of suffering No living human being can go through life escaping the bite of pain and suffering. Despite all the recent medical and technological advancements, pain remains a theme that accompanies man at every point on earth.1 The term pain usually connotes a disagreeable physical sensation which, not infrequently, can be pinpointed to a particular part of the body. In contrast, the term suffering is more encompassing, going beyond the physical order; it refers to the general state of the individual as a whole: the whole person, body and soul, experiences distress. Suffering may or may not be associated with physical pain. In this paper, the two terms are used interchangeably, however, because a human being is the unity of body, mind, and spirit. Such a unity is seen manifested especially in long standing illnesses: chronic physical pain and its ramifications eventually affect the person psychologically, mentally, and spiritually; conversely, mental/spiritual suffering can produce intense psychosomatic symptoms that can mimic organic disease. Just like death, the reality of pain and suffering is a certainty and a universal phenomenon spanning across cultures and generations. It is a phenomenon which upsets the normal flow of human life, so much so that ever since the beginning of human history, man has not ceased to search for answers to the perennial why? of suffering. According to one definition, to suffer is to feel pain or distress; to sustain injury, disadvantage of loss, or to undergo a penalty.2 But in fact, the phenomenon of suffering cannot be adequately defined, even if we do not take into consideration the notion that suffering is a mystery, with a supernatural [dimension] rooted in the mystery of the Redemption of the world.3 Viewed purely at the human level, the reality of suffering is inherently complex both in its subjective and objective dimensions. Subjectively, the experience of suffering varies from one person to another according to the persons constitution, especially his susceptibility and internal resources. This is why suffering is almost inexpressible and not transferable.4 Furthermore, the intensity of the pain as perceived by the individual (and thereby his capacity to bear it) is also influenced by other factors, because
it is infinitely easier to suffer in obedience to a human command than in the freedom of one's own responsible action. It is infinitely easier to suffer with others than to suffer alone. It is infinitely easier to suffer publicly and honorably than to suffer being marginalized and in

John Paul II, Salvifici Doloris, no. 1, 2 Daniel Harrington, Why do we Suffer? A Scriptural Approach to the Human Condition (Franklin, Wisconsin: Sheed and Ward, 2000), 1. 3 John Paul II, Salvifici Doloris, no. 31. 4 Ibid., no. 5.

disgrace. It is infinitely easier to suffer through risking ones bodily life than to suffer spiritually.

Viewed in its objective dimension, suffering also overwhelms us with the endless diversity of its manifestations both at the collective and personal levels, ranging from natural calamities, war and famine, innumerable bodily ailments, to the many grades of personal mental anguish and torment. In the latter group, it can be said that the worst suffering comes from those whom we love and trust. To top it all is the suffering which seems to come from God Himself: Go to Him when your need is desperate, when all other help is in vain, and what do you find? A door slammed in your face, and silence.6 To a person who depends on God as a little child depends on her father, there is no greater pain than the (apparent) inexplicable silent treatment and absolute darkness He leaves me in when I most need Him.7 In this crisis of the relationship between man and God, suffering is no longer just an existential problem, it is also deeply theological. 2. Response to suffering reflection or action? It can be appreciated from the above brief overview that pain is the effect of an evil which deprives man of his sense of well being. For this very reason, the why? of suffering is inherently linked to the fundamental question of God and evil, in particular the question of how to reconcile our faith in the One God, all-powerful and good, with the concrete daily manifestations of evil in the world, especially when it regards the suffering of innocent children. To this end, philosophers and theologians over the centuries have advanced theories and speculations to explain such an (apparent) paradox, namely to demonstrate that God, in fact, permits evil and suffering. On the other hand, since pain is an existential problem which demands a practical solution, it seems that such reflections, while they may be helpful for persons tempted to

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Widerstand und Ergebung. Briefe und Aufzeichnungen aus der Haft (Mnchen: Siebenstern Taschenbuch Verlag, 1951), 22. Es ist unendlich viel leichter, in Gehorsam gegen eine menschlichen Befehl zu leiden als in der Freiheit eigenster veranwortlicher Tat. Es ist unendlich viel leichter, in Gemeinschaft zu leiden als in Eisamkeit. Es ist unendlich viel leichter, ffenlich und unter Ehren zu leiden als abseits und in Schanden. Es ist unendlich viel leichter, durch den Einsatz des leiblichen lebens zu leiden als durch den Geist. 6 C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed (New York: HarperCollins e-books, 2009), 6. 7 cf. Jer 15:17-18. Under the weight of your hand I sat alone because you filled me with indignation You have indeed become for me a treacherous brook, whose waters do not abide!; Ps 22:1-2: My God, my God, why have you abandoned me? Why so far from my call for help, from my cries of anguish? My God, I call by day, but you do not answer; by night, but I have no relief.

doubt or disbelieve, will be of little value to persons in actual situations of suffering.8 Job is a case in point; all the different arguments put forth by his friends, in an attempt to give a reason to his suffering, are nothing but vain remedies which only add torment to his soul.9 A person in pain is in a way like a hurt child. What he needs most is not theoretical explanations, but consolation and reassurances; a warm hug and a few minutes of patient listening mend more hearts than the most learned theological lecture.10 In other words, it is one thing to analyze suffering philosophically or theologically from outside the space of suffering, it is quite another to be consumed by the experience itself. CS Lewis, in the midst of grief and despair following the death of his wife, could not even apply the wisdom of his earlier book (The Problem of Pain) in which he defends, rationally and persuasively, how pain and suffering are coherent with Gods goodness and power.11 It is not surprising, therefore, that some contemporary authors insist that action, instead of reflection, is the way to deal with suffering. The problem of pain is not something theoretical that calls for intellectual investigation or understanding. To reflect upon it brings no change to the miserable situation itself. As a concrete reality, it can be confronted only with action, one that should be both humane and rooted in the Christian belief.12 The danger, however, is that the emphasis of action over reflection may be carried to the extreme, whereby the reality of suffering is seen as something not to be explained or accepted, but as something to be eliminated at all cost with the available modern medical and technological means. Personal experience indicates, however, that reflection and action are not in opposition but complement one another in the response-process to suffering. Trials and tribulations not infrequently impinge on our freedom, crush our aspirations or force us to change direction. For us as Christian believers, the most critical existential question then becomes how to suffer well, i.e., how to overcome the suffering, integrate it into our lives, all the while remaining firmly anchored in the faith. Therefore, the more we have reflected upon our past ordeals in the light of faith, and the more we have nourished ourselves with theological reflections on suffering written by respected Christian witnesses of the past and present, the

Avery Cardinal Dulles, S.J., Divine Providence and the Mystery of Human Suffering, Keynote Address, Providence College, May 30, 2006., in Divine Impassibility and the Mystery of Human Suffering, ed. J.F. Keating and T.J. White (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Erdmans Publishing Co., 2009), 334-335. 9 Job 13:4. You are glossing over falsehoods and offering vain remedies, every one of you, 19:2 How long will you vex my soul, grind me down with words?; 21:34, How then can you offer me vain comfort. 10 Harold S. Kushner, When bad things happen to good people (New York: Avon Books, 1983), xi. 11 Samuel Joeckel, Narrating Pain: C.S. Lewis and the Problem of Evil , Inklings Forever, vol. 4 (2004),, accessed 13/12/2013. 12 Erich Zenger, Durchkreuztes Leben: Besinnung auf Hiob (Freiburg im Bresgau: Herder, 1976), 14.

more solid a framework we will have with which we can respond to the painful situation at hand in a more active and effective manner.

3. Possible responses to suffering According to Dulles, there are at least seven possible responses to suffering, including: (i) rebellion against God, (ii) stoic resignation with grim indifference, (iii) suffering seen as punishment for sin, or (iv) as a school for growing in patience and building character, (v) Job-like submission with an adoring silence before the majesty of God, (vi) suffering with the hope of eternal rewards, and (vii) suffering in union with Christ.13 Even though people react to suffering in different ways, almost always the initial reaction is one of human protest.14 This is why the above-mentioned first response, the bitter rejection of an (apparently) uncaring and silent God who chooses to ignore the cry of the poor, is a real danger that even believers can fall into. The traumatic experience can be so overwhelming as to trigger a loss of faith that plunges one straight into atheism. The story of Elie Wiesel is a case in point. He was a youth reared only on the Talmud until the day when he witnessed the horrors of inhumanity in a Nazi concentration camp. Recalling his experiences, Wiesel wrote:
Never shall I forget that night, the first night in camp, which has turned my life into one long night, seven times cursed and seven times sealed Never shall I forget those flames which consumed my faith forever Never shall I forget those moments which murdered my God and my soul and turned my dreams to dust. Never shall I forget these things, even if I am condemned to live as long as God Himself. Never. 15

On the one hand, we can sympathize with this angry protest. On the other hand, something deep in us shrinks at the idea of the rejection of Transcendence, and continues to hold fast to the belief of the existence of God the One and only God Whom we believe to be both loving and powerful. The Psalms tell us that the Lord hears the cry of the poor, and Jesus Himself reminds us of the goodness of our heavenly Father with the rhetorical question Which one of you would hand his son a stone when he asks for a loaf of bread (Mt 7:9). Nevertheless, in our darkest moments when we are consumed with self-centered pathos, it is not unlikely that, even with a well-informed faith and theological acumen, we may succumb to a temporary doubt not about His existence, but about His goodness. God is the Father of a large family of human children; He endows each with freedom. It is true that the

13 14

Dulles, 334. John Paul II, Salvifici Doloris, no. 26. 15 Elie Wiesel, Night, trans. Stella Roadway (New York: Hill & Wang, 1960), 32.

root cause of suffering in the world originates from the disordered exercise of human freedom16 which accounts for every single moral evil and suffering, and renders many of the physical evils worse. The fact that God brings things into existence and continues to maintain them in existence is clear evidence of His goodness.17 Intellectually we know all these truths, yet a nagging question arises: Which earthly father would just let his bigger children go on bullying their weaker and defenseless siblings? To what extent then, will God allow the wicked to exercise their human freedom at the expense of the freedom of the oppressed innocents? There seems to be a lack of coherence between the teaching of Scriptures (e.g., Mt 7:9) and the reality we are immersed in! Faced with such an (apparent) inactivity from Gods part, we may be tempted to concede that the Deists are right in their vision of God as a clockmaker: He creates the world, winds it up and lets it run on its own without any interference from His part. Or worse, our doubt of Gods love and justice can lead us to think, like C.S. Lewis in his despair, that God had successfully played a vile practical joke on His own Son!18 Here we come into contact with the Cross, albeit in a very strange way. Nevertheless, this could well be a window of opportunity being presented to us, beckoning us to go beyond the superficial level of angry sarcasm against God. If we then allow the eyes of our mind to shift from the all-absorbing personal suffering to the figure of Christ hung on the Cross, and let the noise of our wailing and railing fade into silence, then we may begin to hear God, through Christ, speak words of comfort to us.19 In other words, it is only when we reflect on our suffering in relation to Christs sufferings, i.e., in relation to the Pascal mystery, that we are given the answer on the meaning of our own suffering. The journey undertaken by the suffering soul to reach this turning point can be a rocky one; it often takes time, even a long time, for this answer to begin to be interiorly perceived.20 Moreover, the answer is not revealed all at once like a eureka or a speculative theological discourse that explains why God permits suffering. Rather, the answer coming from the Cross is more like an invitation to the dance with a Person (Christ Himself), a

John Paul II, Fides et Ratio, no.80, The problem of moral evil stems not from any material deficiency, but is a wound inflicted by the disordered exercise of human freedom; cf. General Audience 20/08/1986: Abbiamo ricevuto luce su uno dei massimi problemi che inquietano luomo e pervadono la sua ricerca di verit: il problema della sofferenza e del male. Alla radice non sta una decisione errata o cattiva di Dio, ma la sua scelta, e in certo modo il suo rischio, di crearci liberi per averci amici. Dalla libert nato anche il male. 17 St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, I q6 a1. God is called good as by Whom all things subsist. 18 Joeckel, Narrating Pain. See also Lewis, A Grief Observed, 29-30. 19 Robert Walter Wall, The problem of observed pain: a Study of C.S. Lewis on suffering , Journal of Evangelical Theological Society 26, 1983, 450-451. 20 John Paul II, Salvifici Doloris, no. 26.

dance whereby the soul can discover the true meaning of her suffering as she gradually becomes a sharer in the sufferings of Christ.21 In other words, the answer to our suffering must be someone, not just something ... [because] the hurt child needs not so much explanations as reassurances. And that is what we get; the reassurance of the Father in the person of Jesus, he who has seen me has seen the Father (Jn 14:9).22 Another reason why the Person is the answer is because we humans learn by imitation. By imitating the One we love, we can fulfill our humanity and become more ourselves as intended by God, since it is in the free acceptance of embracing Christ crucified that we may grow in virtue and learn how to suffer meaningfully in loving obedience to Gods will. In this sense, suffering indeed has an educative function as a school of patience [to] elicit heroic virtue.23 Like St. Paul, we [may] even boast of our afflictions, knowing that affliction produces endurance, and endurance, proven character, and proven character, hope (Rom 5:3-4) such that we would not succumb to despair. Trials and tribulations thus serve to strengthen goodness both in [ourselves] and in [our] relationships with others and especially with God.24 They give us the opportunity to grow in interior maturity and spiritual greatness25 in the imitation of Christ during our earthly pilgrimage, thus becoming more fit for the rewards of eternal life. It is self-evident that contemplating Christ on the Cross also negates the rigid moralistic response which explains suffering as punishment for sin.26 The teaching of John Paul II cautions us against this attitude. While there is a connection between suffering and sin, it is not true that all suffering is a consequence of a fault and has the nature of a punishment.27 In the account of the man born blind (Jn 9:1:3), Jesus Himself already dismissed the Old Testament wholesale retribution theory. One thing is clear: the reasoning that suffering is exclusively a result of sin becomes incomprehensible when the innocents also suffer and the most perfect innocent is none other than Christ Himself who suffers [both] voluntarily and innocently28 to accomplish Redemption. The sacrifice of Christ on the Cross is the

21 22

Ibid. Peter Kreeft, Gods answer to suffering,, accessed 12/12/2013. 23 Dulles, 334. 24 John Paul II, Salvifici Doloris, no 12. 25 Ibid., no. 26. 26 Dulles, 334. 27 John Paul II, Salvifici Doloris, no. 11. 28 Ibid., no. 18.

divine instrument by which [man] is allowed to restore [his] broken relationship with God through Jesus Christ.29 4. Free response to suffering suffering in Christ and with Christ. To freely accept to suffer in loving union with Christ is an exercise of human freedom par excellence for Christian believers. In this way, not only will we find meaning in life even when confronted with a hopeless situation, when facing a fate that cannot be changed,30 we will also live our Christian discipleship, actively and authentically; we share in His sufferings by being conformed to His death so that through Him we may attain the resurrection from the dead (Phil 3:10-11). St. Paul reminds us that the sufferings of this present time are as nothing compared with the glory to be revealed for us (Rom 8:18). Suffering thus becomes linked to redemption/resurrection like two sides of the same coin, because Christ has transformed the Cross from an instrument of evil torture into an instrument of salvation. Not only does the prospect of future glory strengthen us in hope, but in our suffering we can actually experience in this life the power of Christs resurrection in the way that Paul described it: It is in my weaknesses that the power of Christ may dwell with me (2 Cor 12:9). Here, we can see that the process of salvation
does not consist in an initial dying with Christ followed by an experience of Christs resurrection power [Rather,] the resurrection power of Christ manifests itself, and inseparably so, as also a sharing in Christ's sufferings. The process of salvation is a process of growing conformity to Christ's death.31

It is at baptism, when we are given the gift of redemption, that we also receive the call to be conformed to Christ, namely to share in that suffering through which the Redemption was accomplished.32 Christ explicitly told us the cost of discipleship: If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily (Lk 9: 23, cf. Mt 16:24), and walk the constricted road that leads to life (Mt 7:14). Several of the promised Beatitudes are connected to suffering (e.g., Mt 5:10-11). He also laid out before us the harsh reality of trials and tribulations as part and parcel of the true Christian vocation. Our suffering will not only be in the form of persecution by outsiders opposed to the Christian faith, it will also come from our close circle of parents, brothers, relatives and friends (Lk 21:16). Indignant as we might be when we are hit with betrayal and rejection from loved

Rik Van Nieuwenhove, The Christian response to suffering and the significance of the model of the Church as Body of Christ, Angelicum 82, 2005, 601. 30 Viktor E. Frankl, Mans Search for Meaning (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1984), 132. 31 J. D. G. Dunn, The Theology of Paul the Apostle (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1998), 487. 32 John Paul II, Salvifici Doloris, no. 19.

ones, we should remember that a servant is not greater than His master (Jn 15: 20). Christ Himself was rejected by many, betrayed and abandoned by His friends; so would we be as His followers. Already in His infancy He was persecuted (Mt 2: 13-14), later on He suffered as a free man, alone, marginalized and in ignominy, in body and spirit; and since then many Christians have suffered with Him.33 Like St. Paul, many have endured afflictions, hardships, constraints, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, vigils [and] fasts (2 Cor 6:3-4), all for the sake of Christ and for the sake of the Church, the Body of Christ. The participation of our suffering in the sufferings of Christ has its foundation in the doctrine of the Mystical Body of Christ. He is the head of the Body, the Church (Col 1:18). At baptism we are incorporated into this Body, and through partaking in the body and blood of Christ, we ourselves become the one body of Christ.34 It is fitting therefore, as Thomas Aquinas pointed out, that what takes place in the head should take place also in the member incorporated.35 The Head and the Body form an inseparable unity, analogous to the kind of unity that we observe in a human birth process in which the head is born first and the body follows. This unity between Christ and the Church is revealed in the account in Acts 9 when the glorified Christ appeared to Saul (Paul), asking him why are you persecuting Me (Acts 9:4) instead of why are you persecuting my saints? Commenting on this passage, St. Augustine wrote: the Head cries out on behalf of its members, and the Head transfigures its members in Himself.36 The same solidarity is expressed when Christ said I was hungry I was thirsty , naked , ill .. , in prison (Mt 25: 35-36) as He identifies Himself as one with us, speaking of our pain as His own. For Augustine then, the unity between the Head and the Body means that there is a kind of communicatio of suffering between Christ and His followers, the members of the Church. This idea is expressed in Augustines comment on Col 1:24. He wrote:
for whatever he suffered, we too suffered in Him, and whatever we suffer, He too suffers in us. Think of an analogy: if your head suffers some injury, can your hand be unaffected? Or if your hand is hurt, can your head be free from pain? N ow that He has ascended into heaven, and is seated at the Father's right hand, He still undergoes in the person of his Church whatever it may suffer amid the troubles of this world, whether temptations, or hardship, or


Bonhoeffer, 22. Christus litt in Freiheit, in Eisamkeit, absets und in Schanden, an Leib und Geist, und seither viele Christen mit Ihm. 34 Nieuwenhove, 604. 35 St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, III, q69 a3. 36 St. Augustine, Enarratio in psalmum, 30(2) s.1.3, quoted and trans. by Michael C. McCarthy, S.J., An Ecclesiology of groaning: Augustine, the Psalms, and the making of the Church, Theological Studies 66, 2005, 33.

oppression (for all these are the necessary means of our instruction, and through them the Church is purified, as gold is by fire).

What makes it possible for us to suffer in union with Christ is that Christ Himself, who endured every single possible category of human suffering, has in a sense opened His own redemptive suffering to all human suffering.38 In that way, Redemption Christs supreme gift of salvific love remains always open to all love expressed in human suffering.39 This is why Paul could say in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of His Body, which is the Church (Col 1:24). Paul was not implying that that the sufferings of Christ were insufficient for achieving Redemption, for he also said we are afflicted in every way, always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus For we who live are constantly being given up to death for the sake of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may be manifested in our mortal flesh (2 Cor 4:8-11). In light of this passage, what is expressed in Col 1:24 is
the principle that every Christian must live in his flesh the passion of the Savior. Paul has not yet finished living it since he still had to endure sufferings; only with his death would he complete that which was lacking to fulfill the afflictions of Christ in his own personal existence. This principle shows how Christs redemptive work is the foundation upon which all human sufferings find their meaning; through these sufferings, the Redemption [already fully accomplished by Christ] is extended into the life of every person.40

Christ has also raised human suffering to the level of the Redemption.41 Thus, as we embrace our afflictions in a spirit of loving obedience and unite ourselves to His Cross, we discover that our suffering takes on a special salvific meaning; we are being made active sharers of Christs work of redemption of the world. Is this not a great honor to such miserable sinful creatures that we are, to be serving, like Christ, the salvation of [our] brothers and sisters?42 Is this not a gift of love, to be invited to share in His gift of salvific love so that, as members of His Body, we too become like Him, the bread to be broken for others? Our suffering, then is not meaningless. Rather it is a mission of most lofty value for

St. Augustine, Enarratio in psalmum, 62 (2), trans. by Maria Boulding OSB, as Exposition of the Psalms, Vol. 3 (New York: New York City Press, 2001), 230-231. Quoted by Nieuwenhove, The Christian response to suffering, 605. 38 John Paul II, Salvifici Doloris, no. 24. 39 Ibid. 40 Jean Galot, S.J., Sofferenza delluomo e parola di Dio, La Civilt Cattolica, 132, 1981, 445. Il principio (sottinteso) e che ogni cristiano deve vivere, nella sua carne, la passione del Salvatore. Paolo non ha ancora terminato di viverla, perch deve sopportare ancora delle sofferenze; solo con la sua morte avr completato ci che mancava al compimento dei patimenti di Cristo nella sua esistenza personale. Questo principio mostra come tutto il senso delle sofferenze umane fondato sullopera redentrice di Cristo; queste sofferenze prolungano la redenzione in ogni vita individuale. 41 John Paul II, Salvifici Doloris, no. 19. 42 Ibid., no. 27.

both the Church and society.43 In the words of John Paul II, the offering of our afflictions is the only medicine capable to heal at its root the evil that threatens man and his living environment.44 In other words, the solution to evil and suffering in the world is our suffering,45 suffered in Christ and with Christ. Our modern mentality to avoid suffering at all cost is very much contrary to the message of the Gospel; it is analogous to Peters reaction, God forbid, Lord! No such thing shall ever happen to you (Mt 16:22) when Jesus announced His upcoming Passion. Jesus harsh words of rebuke to Peter, Get behind me, Satan! You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do (Mt 16:23), should shake us out of our false understanding on suffering. To refute suffering at all cost amounts to collaborating with the devil himself to obstruct Gods eternal plan of salvation for humanity; hence, in that sense it can be said to be of demonic influence. The real evil [of suffering] is not suffering itself but rather wasted suffering.46 By attaining the insight about the salvific meaning of suffering, the soul becomes liberated from this very evil, however. The soul also realizes that in her afflictions she carries a very special particle of the Redemption of the world,47 and how this treasure is to be shared with others. As a result, she finds herself overflowed not only with peace, joy, and gratitude, but also with an ardent desire to be made more conformed to Christ, the Beloved One, so as to share ever more deeply in His redeeming love, itself the visible manifestation of the love of the Father and the Son within the Trinity. Even though the flesh still recoils and groans loudly at the prospect of pain, the soul can recognize that suffering is a gift (in disguise) of divine love both for her own good (bringing her to closer intimacy with Christ) and the good of many others. It is an even greater blessing when the conditions of her tribulations also bear certain similarities to those endured by Christ or by His Mother. Thus, the answer to suffering is Gods love, manifested most explicitly in His Son crucified Who gives meaning to our suffering. In our flesh we may continue to suffer greatly


John Paul II, Message for the Fifth World Day of the Sick 1997, no.4, 44 John Paul II, Ai Volontari della Sofferenza e ai Silenziosi Operai della Croce (17/06/1995), no. 3, Dalla contemplazione del Signore crocifisso deriva linvito alla riparazione, allofferta della propria sofferenza come lunica medicina in grado di guarire alla radice il vero male che minaccia lessere umano ed il suo ambiente di vita. 45 Kreeft. 46 Dulles, 334. 47 John Paul II, Salvifici Doloris, no. 27.

if not worse; physically we may become weaker, but spiritually we grow stronger, armed with the reassurance that
when God permits us to suffer , He always gives us the grace and strength to unite ourselves with greater love to the sacrifice of His Son and to share ever more fully in His plan of salvation. Let us be convinced of this: He is our Father, a Father rich in love and mercy!48

Suffering, when offered up in loving union with Christ as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God (Rom 12:1) bears a two-fold benefit: (i) it brings the suffering person toward a fuller realization of his humanity as he receives grace and strength to become more Christ-like, and (ii) it fosters conversion, generosity and charity in others, especially those called to assist the suffering individual. This second dimension, the Good Samaritan work, which reminds us of Jesus earthly ministry of healing the sick, has become more institutionalized, involving various levels of the society, from voluntary organizations to professional institutions (e.g., hospices and hospitals). However, as indispensable as institutions are, the most important element still remains the human heart, for which no institution can substitute when it comes to dealing with the suffering of another.49 5. Conclusion the necessary disposition to suffer in union with Christ To suffer in union with Christ so as to offer up our afflictions as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God (Rom 12:1) requires an attitude which incorporates several interrelated virtues, such as humility, detachment, love, hope, obedience, and perseverance, among others. Only the first three are treated (briefly) here because of their relative importance. The foundational requirement is humility. In humility we acknowledge that we are finite creatures whose very existence [like the rest of creation] is utterly dependent upon God,50 that all the good things we have are received from Him as a gift, and most importantly, that we are not the ones in control but that God is.51 In that way, we can be detached from our self-centeredness and surrender ourselves [to God] in the way that Christ surrendered Himself.52 It belongs to the heart of Christian faith that we have a disposition of selfabandonment, for it is written Whoever seeks to preserve his life will lose it, but whoever loses it will save it (Lk 17:33).

John Paul II, Letter to the Elderly, no. 13, 49 John Paul II, Salvifici Doloris, no. 29. 50 Nieuwenhove, 596. 51 Ibid., 599. 52 Ibid., 607.

Our attitude toward God affects how we relate to ourselves and others. A disposition of humility and detachment can protect a suffering patient from being so self-absorbed in his pain or infirmity to the point of becoming mercilessly demanding of those around him, often by means of subtle manipulation.53 This is not an uncommon phenomenon, however. Such a patient needs great help to overcome his self-centeredness, let go of himself (especially of his desire to control), accept the new constraints imposed on his life, and to welcome with gratitude the love of God manifested to him through those who give him care and assistance. Sustained by love and affirmation, and being conscious of the authentic meaning of his suffering, the patient himself, in turn, can become an efficient conduit of Gods love flowing through him to others. The physical reality of pain does not necessarily disappear. It has been conquered by love, Gods love which lives in our hearts, the love that bears all things hopes all things, [and] endures all things (1 Cor 13:7).


Gisbert Greshake, Pourquoi lamour de Dieu nous laisse-t-il souffrir? (Paris: Les Editions du Cerf, 2010), 88.


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