Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Grace Under Adversity

A reflection from my book Facing Adversity with Grace which will be coming out June 1.

When I began writing this book, I was looking for answers to some of my own deepest questions. It’s often that way with my writing. I am seeking as much to learn as to teach; to explore as much as to explain. Many times I find that when I reach the end of a book I have answered the questions I posed to myself at the beginning—in this case “Why do we have to suffer?” “What’s the point of suffering?” “Does God want us to suffer?” I wish I could say that I found all the answers I was seeking, but as I finish writing about saints and how they coped with their suffering, I still find myself, despite myself, wondering why we have to suffer at all....
On the one hand, I know intellectually that uniting my suffering with that of Christ has a salvific effect on creation and I accept that. In the Spiritual Exercises, St. Ignatius of Loyola explains that “Jesus says ‘I want to overcome all diseases, all poverty, all ignorance, all oppression and slavery – in short all the evils which beset humankind.’” Since he said he came to bring abundant life, that has to be true. However, it is only through us and our work that this can be accomplished. If you believe, as I do, that we must be the transformation we hope to affect, then Colossians 1:24[1], which John Paul quotes at the beginning of Salvifici Doloris, has profound implications. As I said in the first chapter, I trust it is up to us to renew the earth and transform humanity. As I understand it, when we cooperate with the Divine in our suffering, we are transformed (hopefully for the better!) and through our transformation, we become a means of change for others as well. In becoming a new creation, we open the way to creating a new heaven and new earth. In the end, if we don’t do it, no one will.
Now I really do believe this, and when I’m feeling spiritually magnanimous I ponder such things (and even write about them), but when I’m really hurting, with the kind of pain that penetrates body and soul, all I want is for the pain to go away—sooner rather than later.
That’s why I was so moved by Pope Benedict XVI’s response to the young Japanese girl that I referenced in the first chapter. Her question was simple—Why do I have to suffer? The Pope didn’t respond with a complicated treatise on the historical roots of suffering or how it relates to salvation. He didn’t quote Scripture or even his predecessor. He simply said:
I also have the same questions: why is it this way? Why do you have to suffer so much while others live in ease? And we do not have the answers but we know that Jesus suffered as you do, an innocent, and that the true God who is revealed in Jesus is by your side. This seems very important to me, even if we do not have answers, even if we are still sad…”[2]

[1] 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.”
[2] http://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/in-historic-tv-qa-pope-benedict-speaks-about-suffering-comatose-persons-persecution/

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