Part of the problem of understanding the subject of suffering is that modern man is accustomed to quick answers, coupled with the fact that we usually don’t contemplate suffering until we are in the midst of it. Compounding these problems is that when we are in the midst of suffering we usually are not focused or disciplined enough to wrestle with the biblical text, the Church Fathers, or the Tradition of the Church. Often we become stuck in the quicksand of our pain, distracted by difficulty, and feel that answers are just out of our reach. Furthermore, the pace of modern life dictates to us that we should be able to go to Mass, pray a quick prayer and expect relief from our problems by the time we get back home for the football game.
While it is true that some discover the grace of God in the midst of their pain, the time to study the topic is before major problems of life occur. But an academic study of suffering can only go so far. Suffering cannot be completely taught in the objective; suffering is a vocation, a calling that can only be truly understood in the school of suffering. I became interested in the purpose of suffering myself when not too long ago I found out that I had a split disk in my neck that caused excruciating pain. While I knew the teachings of the Church on redemptive suffering, I did not know how to put those teachings into practice in my life. Furthermore, I didn’t know why or how suffering could become a profitable ordeal.
The Key to Suffering Well
There are two major kinds of suffering: physical suffering and moral suffering. Physical suffering, such as a broken leg, neck pain, or cancer, can be quite intense and can wear a person down if prolonged. Moral suffering, such as betrayal, depression, loss of a loved one, and disappointment, can often be worse than physical pain. Both kinds of suffering can be devastating.
As we survey human history, it becomes evident, it’s not “if” we are going to suffer during our lives, but “when.” And more specifically how will we suffer, poorly or well? Once the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is understood, it will become the key to suffering well rather than losing hope in life (Tweet this). There is meaning in suffering that can change your sorrow into joy. I know; I’ve been there and, like many others, have been transformed as a result of understanding the message of the Mass.
When there is no meaning attached to suffering, people can easily fall into despair. However, once meaning is attached to suffering, it is astounding what people can endure. The key is not the suffering, but the meaning attached to it. Most would agree that they would not be willing to endure great agony for six months for a mouse, because they don’t see any meaning between their suffering and the mouse. But most would enthusiastically raise their hands in affirmation if I were to ask, “how many of you would be willing to endure pain for your daughter or your son?” Your hands are raised because you have found meaning, namely the life of your child.
The key to understanding suffering is found in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. When asked, “Why did Jesus come to earth?” the answer is usually, “He came to die for my sins.” While this is true there must be more, for if he only came to die then why wouldn’t he be put to death as an infant? He was fully God as an infant, so why not offer himself shortly after being born? As we will see, the mission of Jesus involves more than simply dying. It will involve a complete identification with humanity, including suffering. We will also see that our mission in life constitutes more than going to church every week. We are called to not only attend Mass, but to completely identify with Christ by joining our lives to his.
This blog post is the second in the Suffering & Mass series, which was originally a chapter in Scripture and the Mystery of the Mass published by Emmaus Road Publishing. It is republished on The Great Adventure Blog with permission from Emmaus Road Publishing.
Flickr photo by Thomas Quine.