Shining a light on our suffering
Is there a purpose to our suffering?
The Lebanese mystic, Kahlil Gibran, uses the analogy of a lute when reflecting on joy and sorrow. He points out that until the wood is carved out by knife it will never play a note. Like the lute, we will never sing our song until we are hollowed out by suffering.
This analogy presumes we can find some purpose in our sorrows. Yet so often calamity arrives like a freight train emerging from darkness, smashing all in its way, then vanishing into the night. A husband left with two young children, having lost his life’s partner to cancer, can see no purpose. How can he see anything but an empty life in front of him? He is like the old soldiers Auden observes lying in the surgical ward as part of the wash-up from World War I:
They are and suffer; that is all they do.
A bandage hides the place where each is living.
In times like these, we struggle to find a purpose to our suffering, to find something positive to hold onto. This is when the Catholic faith can save us, filling our darkness with light.
How Jesus’s suffering brings us hope
Dying alone is a form of suffering that not even the Catholic faith can explain. In an attempt to understand it, the Catholic faith turns to the gospels’ accounts of Jesus’s suffering and death. Most portray Jesus as being abandoned by nearly all his followers. In Luke’s account, however, Jesus dies with a criminal on each side of him. He assures one of them:
Truly, I tell you, today, you will be with me in paradise. (Lk 23.43)
Such words can never take away the loneliness of death, the passing into the unknown, but it is a promise that we will not make it alone – nor without purpose.
Jesus’s promise gives us hope that no matter how bad things seem and lonely we feel (in life or when approaching death), our suffering – like the suffering of a young widower or the soldiers Auden describes – is not in vain. The peace God gives us at the end of our journey makes all the hardship worthwhile.
Father Neil Vaney
This writing is based on the content of ‘What Catholics Believe’, Booklet 2, ‘God Speaks To Us’ referencing page 10. Should you like to read more just click either of the links below to download ‘Booklet 2’ or the complete set of ‘What Catholics Believe’.