by Leon Suprenant
When I see the sufferings others have to bear, I wonder why my own crosses seem so light. Yet eventually, we all confront the reality of human suffering.
There are many fine books on the subject, including C.S. Lewis’ “The Problem of Pain” and Peter Kreeft’s “Making Sense Out of Suffering.” But we can read all we want, and pain is still a problem and suffering often does not make much sense. Suffering is a mystery that we’ll never fully understand in this life.
St. Paul writes: “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church.” What a startling verse! We know that Christ’s sacrifice atoned for our sins. Yet, as members of his body, every aspect of our lives — including suffering — is caught up in the drama of salvation.
Even more, our life in Christ enables us to enter into others’ suffering. This is known as the virtue of compassion. True compassion sees beyond the passing trials of this life to our shared hope of eternal glory.
As virtues go, compassion is the people’s choice. While some people are put off by virtues such as prudence, chastity or meekness, everyone wants to be considered compassionate.
As emphasized by Archbishop Naumann in his vision for the church of northeast Kansas, Christians often show compassion through the spiritual and corporal works of mercy, such as feeding the hungry and visiting the sick or lonely. And in this month of November, we make a special effort to remember to pray for all the deceased. In showing our love in action to all who suffer, we affirm their value and dignity.
Our compassion provides a crucial witness to our secular society, which sees no value in suffering.
Many of us who uphold the church’s teachings are told we’re not compassionate. How dare we tell couples they shouldn’t live together before marriage? How dare we encourage those with same-sex attractions to avoid acting upon these urges? How dare we bring up uncomfortable subjects, from capital punishment and just wars to honesty, the rights of workers and aliens, and the Sunday obligation?
For many, it seems that truth is a hindrance to their conception of compassion and love.
Yet, we must always strive to speak the truth in love. The truth is liberating, not condemning. We must give both truth and compassion their due.
Suffering is not a curse, but God’s way of getting our attention, of drawing us to a greater good. Nothing in our lives is accidental or a waste. Every circumstance of our lives — especially moments of pain or sorrow — provides an opportunity to grow in love.