d) Suffering

Cross without Jesus EasterTop Quotes AT-A-GLANCE: Suffering

(See Further Down the Page for the Full Quotes.)

  1. “The more we can bear pain, the more we will be able to understand others and open ourselves to them.” (Pope Benedict XVI)
  2. “God never sends suffering. Never. It is never ‘God’s will’ that we should suffer. God would like us not to suffer. But, since the world brings suffering, and since God refuses to use his almighty power and treat us as foolish children, he aligns himself with us, goes into Auschwitz with us, is devastated by 9/11 with us, and draws us with him through it all into fulfilment. This is a high price to pay for human freedom, but it is worth it.” (Sister Wendy Beckett)
  3. “How can God allow this massacre and all the massacres that darken the pages of history? Jesus gives no answer. What he does is come into the world and suffer with us.” (Sister Wendy Beckett)
  4. “Why do these things happen? It can’t… It can’t be explained. There are so many things we can’t understand.” (Pope Francis) 
  5. “Jesus doesn’t grant special exemptions to his friends, no more than God granted special exemptions to Jesus…. We have a redeeming, not a rescuing, God.” (Fr Ronald Rolheiser)
  6. “Jesus shares suffering with us, wanting us to have life and to have it in abundance.” (Pope John-Paul II)
  7. “Jesus accepted crucifixion because he saw what would become of it. It would redeem the world because it would offer people a faith that would change their lives.” (Sister Wendy Beckett)
  8. “The disabled person, with all the limitations and suffering that scar him or her, forces us to question ourselves, with respect and wisdom, on the mystery of man.” (Pope John-Paul II)
  9. “The question is not how to avoid loss and make it not happen, but how to choose it as a passage, as an exodus to greater life and freedom.” (Henri Nouwen)
  10. “‘Why suffer?’ asks the unbeliever or the man of little faith. ‘How suffer well?’ is the believer’s question.” (Fr Antonin-Gilbert Sertillanges)
  11. “Most often, real growth and maturity of soul are triggered by deep suffering and pain in our lives. It’s not so much that God doesn’t speak as clearly to us in our joys and successes, but we tend not to be listening in those moments. Suffering gets our attention.” (Fr Ron Rolheiser)
  12. “This is the greatest gift from God: to have the courage to accept everything he gives us and asks of us with a smile.” (Mother Teresa)
  13. “What the suffering person—every person—needs is loving personal concern.” (Pope Benedict XVI)
  14. “The Cross is the symbol of Christianity not because we glorify in the suffering. No. But because we recognise the extent to which God loves us.” (Fr Peter Cryan)
  15. “The cross of Calvary is proof of the lengths to which God was prepared to go to bring us home to him.” (The Irish Redemptorists in their monthly magazine Reality)
  16. “It is not by sidestepping or fleeing from suffering that we are healed, but rather by our capacity for accepting it, maturing through it, and finding meaning through union with Christ.” (Pope Benedict XVI)
  17. “God works with our pain and suffering, both physical and emotional, and crafts something wonderful from them, making us more mellow and compassionante.” (Fr Brian Grogan, S.J.)
  18. “If we truly believed that eternal life with God is God’s gift to us already given it would put all our sufferings in perspective as temporary and transient.
    Jesus saw suffering in this way. He saw that every aspect of his life, including pain, suffering and death, could glorify his Father, the giver of life, by being accepted and embraced.” (Fr Eamonn Conway)
  19. “As Christians we cannot explain the reality of suffering; nor can we take it all away. We can ensure that our eyes are open to it and that our hearts and hands are ready to tackle it. In so doing we believe Christ is in us and we meet Christ in those we embrace.” (Fr Eamonn Conway)

Suffering

“The more we can bear pain, the more we will be able to understand others and open ourselves to them.”

—Pope Benedict XVI in his first book as Pope: ‘Jesus of Nazareth: From the Baptism in the Jordan to the Transfiguration’, 2007, Bloombsbury Publishing, London

“God never sends suffering. Never. It is never ‘God’s will’ that we should suffer. God would like us not to suffer. But, since the world brings suffering, and since God refuses to use his almighty power and treat us as foolish children, he aligns himself with us, goes into Auschwitz with us, is devastated by 9/11 with us, and draws us with him through it all into fulfilment. This is a high price to pay for human freedom, but it is worth it.”

—Sister Wendy Beckett in ‘Sister Wendy On Prayer’

“Just a few days after Christmas, on 28th December, the Church remembers the Holy Innocents…. The babies whom Herod slaughtered were too young to be able to choose martyrdom, or, indeed, to refuse it. They were pure victims; and so were their mothers, agonising not only over the death of their children, but over their helplessness to protect them. This day is not a celebration but a commemoration, and it commemorates human cruelty and human vulnerability, the terrible ubiquity of suffering. (page 27)…. What the Church is determined that we should recognise is the inescapability of human suffering, and the need to come to terms with the full pain of it. Every parent who has lost a child, whether through sickness or accident, or human evil, has entered deeply into the experience that we commemorate as we remember the massacre of the innocents. They will have tasted the bitterness of their own inability to protect and save… bewilderment and even sense of betrayal….

So many who lose faith, or never accept the truth of Jesus, lay the blame on the mystery of evil. Why, they ask, why, why? How can God allow this massacre and all the massacres that darken the pages of history? Jesus gives no answer. What he does is come into the world and suffer with us. Even though he escapes this first massacre, he will nevertheless die an equally terrible death thirty-three years later. The Church wants to remind us that among the very first sounds heard by the newborn Jesus were the cries of other babies and the shrieks of their mothers.” (page 29)

Sr Wendy Beckett, in her book ‘The Art of Christmas’, Redemptorist Publications, Hampshire, England, 2008 (ISBN 978-0-85231-354-1)(quotes are part of a reflection on the painting ‘The Massacre of the Innocents’ by Poussin)

“”Why do these things happen? It can’t… It can’t be explained. There are so many things we can’t understand. In these moments of suffering, don’t shy away from asking ‘Why?’ just, like children. You will attract the eyes of Our Father on your people. You will attract the tenderness of our Heavenly Father on you.” Pope Francis said that when children ask ‘Why?’ to their parents, what they’re really asking for is love. That’s why, he added, adults should be like them during tragedies like the typhoon. “In these moments of suffering, maybe this is the most useful prayer. To ask why in prayer.”

—Pope Francis I, 21st November 2013, speaking to the Filipino community in Rome about the typhoon tragedy that hit the Philippines, as reported by Rome Reports

“‘Before you get serious about Jesus, first consider how good you are going to look on wood!’

That’s a line from Daniel Berrigan that rightly warns us that faith in Jesus and the resurrection won’t save us from humiliation, pain, and death in this life. Faith isn’t meant to do that. Jesus doesn’t grant special exemptions to his friends, no more than God granted special exemptions to Jesus. We see this everywhere in the Gospels, though most clearly in Jesus’ resurrection…. Jesus dies inside the humiliation and pain. God raises him up only after his death.

This is one of the key revelations inside the resurrection: We have a redeeming, not a rescuing, God.

…. It took the early Christians some time to grasp that Jesus doesn’t ordinarily give special exemptions to his friends, no more than God gave special exemptions to Jesus.

That is one of the key revelations inside of the resurrection and is the one we perhaps most misunderstand. We are forever predicating our faith on, and preaching, a rescuing God, a God who promises special exemptions to those of genuine faith: Have a genuine faith in Jesus, and you will be spared from life’s humiliations and pains! Have a genuine faith in Jesus, and prosperity will come your way! Believe in the resurrection, and rainbows will surround your life!

Would it were so! But Jesus never promised us rescue, exemptions, immunity from cancer, or escape from death. He promised rather that, in the end, there will be redemption, vindication, immunity from suffering, and eternal life. But that’s in the end; meantime, in the early and intermediate chapters of our lives, there will be the same kinds of humiliation, pain, and death that everyone else suffers.

The death and resurrection of Jesus reveal a redeeming, not a rescuing, God.

— Fr Ronald Rolheiser, OBM, in his weekly column worldwide, ‘The Resurrection as Revealing God as Redeemer, not as Rescuer’, 24th March 2013

“Christ is very close to all who suffer….

I come as a pilgrim of truth and hope to this Shrine of St Lazarus, as one who experiences in his own flesh the meaning and value which suffering can have when it is accepted by drawing near in trust to God who is “rich in mercy”.

Dear brothers and sisters, in one form or another all human beings experience pain and suffering in their lives and this cannot but lead them to pose a question. Pain is a mystery, often inscrutable to reason. It forms part of the mystery of the human person….

This is the true meaning and value of suffering, of the pain which is physical, moral and spiritual. This is the Good News which I wish to pass on to you. To our human questioning, the Lord responds with a call, with a special vocation which is grounded in love. Christ comes to us not with explanations and reasons which might either anaesthetize or alienate us. Instead, he comes to us saying: “Come with me. Follow me on the way of the Cross. The Cross is suffering”. “Whoever wants to be a follower of mine, let him deny himself, take up his cross and follow me” (Lk 9:29). Jesus Christ has taken the lead on the way of the Cross. He has suffered first. He does not drive us towards suffering but shares it with us, wanting us to have life and to have it in abundance (cf. Jn 10:10).

Suffering is transformed when we experience in ourselves the closeness and solidarity of the living God: “I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last … I shall see God my Saviour” (Job 19:25-26). With this assurance comes inner peace, and from this a spiritual joy, quiet and deep, springing from the “Gospel of suffering” which understands the grandeur and dignity of human beings who suffer with a generous spirit and offer their pain “as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God” (Rom 12:1). This is why those who suffer are no burden to others, but with their suffering contribute to the salvation of all.

Suffering is not only physical. There is also suffering of the soul, such as we see in those who are isolated, persecuted, imprisoned for various offences or for reasons of conscience, for ideas which though dissident are nonetheless peaceful.

…. Pain is a call to love, which means that it ought to engender solidarity, self-giving, generosity in those who suffer and in those called to accompany and aid them in their distress. The parable of the Good Samaritan (cf. Lk 10:29ff.), which puts before us the Gospel of solidarity with our suffering neighbour, “has become one of the essential elements of moral culture and of universally human civilization” (Salvifici doloris, n. 29). In effect, Jesus in this parable teaches us that our neighbour is anyone we meet on our way who is wounded and in need of help. He must be helped in an appropriate way in the evil that has befallen him, and we must care for him until he is fully recovered. Families, schools and other educational institutions, even if only for humanitarian motives, need to work perseveringly to awaken and refine this sensitivity to the suffering neighbour, whom the Samaritan of the Gospel symbolizes. The eloquence of the parable of the Good Samaritan, as of the entire Gospel, is in real terms this: human beings must feel personally called to witness to love in the midst of suffering. “Institutions are very important, indeed indispensable; but no institution can of itself substitute for the human heart, human understanding, human love, human initiative, when it is a question of going to meet the suffering of another” (ibid., n. 29).

This is true of physical suffering, but it is even more true of the many kinds of moral suffering, and when it is primarily the soul that is suffering. This is why when persons suffer in their soul, or when the soul of a nation suffers, the pain must be a summons to solidarity, to justice, to the building of a civilization of truth and love….

Indifference in the face of human suffering, passivity before the causes of pain in the world, cosmetic remedies which lead to no deep healing of persons and peoples: these are grave sins of omission, in the face of which every person of goodwill must be converted and listen to the cry of those who suffer.

Beloved brothers and sisters, in the anguished moments of our personal, family or social life, the words of Jesus help us in our trials: “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want but what you want” (Mt 26:39)…. No suffering is lost, no pain is without significance. God takes it all to himself, just as he accepted the sacrifice of his Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.

At the foot of the Cross, her arms cast wide and her heart pierced through, there stands our Mother, the Virgin Mary, Our Lady of Sorrows and of Hope, who welcomes us in her motherly embrace, spreading grace and compassion. She is the sure way to Christ, who is our peace, our life, our resurrection. Mary, Mother of all who suffer, mercy for the dying, warming embrace for all who are disheartened: look upon your Cuban children who are passing through the difficult test of pain and show them Jesus, the blessed fruit of your womb! Amen.”

—Pope John-Paul II, 24th January 1998, in a Meeting with the Sick and Suffering, at the Shrine of St Lazarus, El Rincon, Cuba

“The God who accepted being crucified—Jesus on the cross—accepted crucifixion because he saw what would become of it. It would redeem the world because it would offer people a faith that would change their lives. But it is we who have to change our lives. God will never do it for us. He showed us that on the cross. He suffers with us. He suffers in us. He makes suffering bearable.

—Sister Wendy Beckett in her book ‘Sister Wendy On Prayer

“The disabled person, with all the limitations and suffering that scar him or her, forces us to question ourselves, with respect and wisdom, on the mystery of man.

In fact, the more we move about in the dark and unknown areas of human reality, the better we understand that it is in the more difficult and disturbing situations that the dignity and grandeur of the human being emerges.

The wounded humanity of the disabled challenges us to recognize, accept and promote in each one of these brothers and sisters of ours the incomparable value of the human being created by God to be a son in the Son.”

—Pope John-Paul II, 8 January 2004, at a time when he himself was severely incapacitated physically, in his “Message to the participants in the International Symposium on The Dignity and Rights of the Mentally Disabled Person”

“You choose to live your losses as passages to anger, blame, hatred, depression, and resentment, or you choose to let these losses be passages to something new, something wider, and deeper. The question is not how to avoid loss and make it not happen, but how to choose it as a passage, as an exodus to greater life and freedom.”

—Henri Nouwen

“Suffering without Christ is hell pure and simple. With Christ it is the sign and secret of heaven…. ‘Why suffer?’ asks the unbeliever or the man of little faith. ‘How suffer well?’ is the believer’s question…. Nothing is more depressing than the prospect of my weakness when looked upon by itself. But my heart united to God is a thrilling thought;… Suffering is a diminution of life—this present life. But when accepted and loved, it is an increase of life—eternal life.”

—Father Antonin-Gilbert Sertillanges, OP, (died 1948, a renowned Dominican preacher, apologist, and philosopher), as quoted on page 125 of the July 2012 Magnificat booklet

 “Any good psychologist, spiritual director, or mentor of soul, will tell you that, most often, real growth and maturity of soul are triggered by deep suffering and pain in our lives. It’s not so much that God doesn’t speak as clearly to us in our joys and successes, but we tend not to be listening in those moments. Suffering gets our attention. As C.S. Lewis once said, pain is God’s microphone to a deaf world. There is, undeniably, a connection between suffering and depth of soul.

But we must be careful not to read too much into this. When we look at Jesus, and many other wonderfully healthy people, we see that depth of soul is also connected to the joyous and celebratory moments of life. Jesus scandalized people equally in both his capacity to enter into suffering and renounce worldly joys and in his capacity to thoroughly enjoy the moment, as is evident in the incident where a woman anoints his feet with a very expensive perfume. His depth of soul arose both from his suffering and from his joy. And his gratitude, I suspect, arose more out of the latter than the former.”

—Fr Ron Rolheiser (http://www.ronrolheiser.com/columnarchive/?id=723), 2012

“Peace begins with a smile…. When suffering comes into our lives, we should accept it with a smile. This is the greatest gift from God: to have the courage to accept everything he gives us and asks of us with a smile.”

—Mother Teresa

“Although you rightly look forward to the full recovery of your health, I would like however to invite you, dear sick people, not to undervalue the period you are going through right now. It too forms part of the design of Providence. We all know through direct experience, that suffering and illness belong to the condition of human beings, fragile and limited creatures that they are. It happens quite often that those who are afflicted by these things yield to the temptation of viewing them as a “chastisement” of God and, in consequence, begin to doubt the goodness of God whom Jesus has revealed to us as a “father” who always and in spite of everything loves his children.”

—Pope John-Paul II, in an Address to the Sick and Staff in a Hospital in Rome (April 1 1990), in ‘Pope John-Paul II: A Reader’ edited by O’Collins SJ, published by Paulist Press: Mahwah, New Jersey, 2007. (The reference in the book is to “OREnglish, 18 (April 30, 1990), 8”–OR likely to mean L’Osservatore Romano.)

“The greatest suffering is to feel alone, unwanted, unloved. The greatest suffering is also having no one, forgetting what an intimate, truly human relationship is, not knowing what it means to be loved, not having a family or friends.”

—Mother Teresa

“There is no ordering of the State so just that it can eliminate the need for a service of love… the State which would provide everything, absorbing everything into itself, would ultimately become a mere bureaucracy incapable of guaranteeing the very thing which the suffering person——every person——needs; namely, loving personal concern.

—Pope Benedict XVI, in his first encyclical letter, God is Love

“The eloquence of the parable of the Good Samaritan, as of the entire Gospel, is in real terms this:

Human beings must feel personally called to witness to love in the midst of suffering.”

—Pope John-Paul II in a “Meeting with the Sick and Suffering, 1998” as quoted in “Pope John Paul II: In My Own Words”, Hodder & Stoughton, London, 1998

“It is very possible that you will find human beings, surely very near you, needing affection and love. Do not deny them these. Show them, above all, that you sincerely recognise that they are human beings, that they are important to you. Who is that someone? That person is Jesus himself: Jesus who is hidden under the guise of suffering!”

—Mother Teresa

“The Cross is the symbol of Christianity not because we glorify in the suffering. No. But because we recognise the extent to which God loves us.”

—Fr Peter Cryan, OCD, a Carmelite priest in St. Joseph’s, Berkeley Road, Dublin, 18 March 2012

“Matthew portrays Jesus as the suffering servant who, even though he is in complete control of his situation, chooses to suffer out of obedience and out of love. Not only does Jesus suffer terrible physical pain, Matthew also depicts his final hours as a time when Jesus is utterly abandoned and humiliated….
In the course of his passion, Jesus confronts all manner of sin — betrayal, desertion, violence, lies, abuse of power, cruelty. And he takes away this sin precisely by his obedience and his love….

Why did God’s only Son have to meet such a terrible death? Why did Calvary take place? St John gives us the answer in one short sentence that sums up the whole of his Gospel: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not die but have eternal life” (Jn 3:16).
God’s only son died for us out of love. The cross of Calvary is proof of the lengths to which God was prepared to go to bring us home to him.”

—”God’s Word This Month” page of the Redemptorists’ Reality magazine, April 2011

“We can try to limit suffering, to fight against it, but we cannot eliminate it. It is when we attempt to avoid suffering by withdrawing from anything that might involve hurt, when we try to spare ourselves the effort and pain of pursuing truth, love, and goodness, that we drift into a life of emptiness, in which there may be almost no pain, but the dark sensation of meaninglessness and abandonment is all the greater.

It is not by sidestepping or fleeing from suffering that we are healed, but rather by our capacity for accepting it, maturing through it and finding meaning through union with Christ, who suffered with infinite love.”

—Pope Benedict XVI in ‘Spe Salvi’, 2007

“God works with our pain and suffering, both physical and emotional, and crafts something wonderful from them, making us more mellow and compassionante.”

—Fr Brian Grogan, S.J., in the September 2014 printed edition of ‘The Sacred Heart Messenger’ magazine in an article ‘Where To From Here (21): Remedial Education in Loving’, one of a series of articles adapted from his book ‘Where To From Here? The Christian Vision of Life After Death’ (Dublin, Veritas, 2011)
“Christ responds neither directly nor abstractly to human questioning about the meaning of suffering…. Christ does not explain in the abstract the reasons for suffering, but before all else he says: “Follow me!” Come! Take part through your suffering in this work of saving the world, a salvation achieved through my suffering! Through my Cross.”

—Pope John-Paul II, in his ‘Salvifici Doloris’ Apostolic Letter, February 1984, which was subtitled “On the Christian Meaning of Human Suffering.”

“Suffering and The Eucharist:…. If we truly believed that eternal life with God is God’s gift to us already given it would put all our sufferings in perspective as temporary and transient. Jesus saw suffering in this way. He saw that every aspect of his life, including pain, suffering and death, could glorify his Father, the giver of life, by being accepted and embraced.

…. God can take away sin, the fundamental attitude of stubborn resistance to God, which is the cause of our deepest suffering… While the success of Christ’s redemptive activity is guaranteed by the Cross and Resurrection, it remains a work in progress, work which is entrusted to the Church, as the body of Christ. Because we are members of Christ’s body we share in that redemptive work and our sufferings can play a privileged part. By surrendering our sufferings as a gift to God we embrace redemption as our ultimate destiny and we witness to the redeemed state of the world. Our sacrifice becomes united with that of Christ, who, through his sufferings, ‘takes away the sins of the world’….
When we celebrate the Eucharist, we are united as much as is possible this side of eternity with Christ and one another. While the Eucharist cannot take away the pain of our sufferings, it transforms them from a sense of foreboding about death into the promise of eternal life….

Through the Eucharist, it is Christ who lives in us. His sufferings and ours become one, but so also the outcomes of his sufferings, which is eternal life with God.”

—Fr Eamonn Conway, University of Limerick in his article ‘Suffering and the Eucharist’ in the Irish Catholic, Feb 16, 2012

“I see God in everyone, and especially in those who suffer.”

—Mother Teresa

“Here’s what Christians have come to believe about suffering. God does not need or want us to suffer; God wants us to have life and to live it to the full. We bring much suffering and evil into the world by the abuse of our freedom, but at the end of the day God created a world in which this is possible, and we must reckon with this when we speak of God as all-powerful and all-loving.

A world in which people are free to love and therefore also to abuse their freedom, we believe, is better than a world in which no freedom exists. But human freedom comes with a huge price tag, often with the innocent suffering most.

There is also suffering that cannot be accounted for by the abuse of human freedom. Ultimately, the existence of suffering and evil remain incomprehensible mysteries, and accepting this fact is connected with accepting that God is an incomprehensible mystery.

The only answer we Christians have to the mystery of suffering is Jesus Christ. Through him we come to realise that suffering is not part of God’s plan for creation, and that the God is as repulsed by human suffering as we are. Jesus spent his life, and ultimately gave his life, to alleviate suffering, whether caused by sickness or by sinfulness. As his disciples, we are required to “touch the suffering flesh of Christ in others” and to heal it as best we can (The Joy of the Gospel, 24, 270).

Faced, however, with unavoidable suffering, what can we do? Suffering is easier to deal with if our general attitude is one of accepting that our lives are in God’s caring hands, and, that anyway, we are finite and dependent creatures.

Ultimately, our lives belong to God who cares passionately about us. If surrender to God generally characterises our attitude to life, then trusting God in times of suffering will be easier, as it was for Jesus.

His daily prayer, which he taught us, was “thy will be done”, and this made it easier to pray in Gethsemane “Yet not what I will, but what you will” (Mk 14:33). We can also see our sufferings as a participation in Christ’s redemptive activity, which, although its success is guaranteed, remains a “work in progress”.

All very well, but does this really help as we look in to the eyes of a suffering child, as Stephen Fry has challenged us to do, and still profess belief in a loving God?

This is exactly what Pope Francis did in the Philippines when Glyzelle Palomar, a 12-year-old girl who had been rescued from the streets, broke down, as she asked him why God allows children to suffer and be victims of horrific crimes. Pope Francis replied: “Only when we too can cry about the things that you said are we able to come close to replying to that question: ‘Why do children suffer so much?’”

He continued: “Certain realities in life we only see through eyes that are cleansed through our tears.” Then he embraced Glyzelle.

As Christians we cannot explain the reality of suffering; nor can we take it all away.

We can ensure that our eyes are open to it and that our hearts and hands are ready to tackle it. In so doing we believe Christ is in us and we meet Christ in those we embrace and are held in the mystery of his love.

—Fr Eamonn Conway, Head of Theology at the University of Limerick, writing in the Irish Catholic newspaper in February 2015 with the heading ‘The mystery of suffering’, seen online the 26th of February 2015

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