Sunday Devotional: On suffering, the human condition

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Hebrews 4:14-16

Brothers and sisters:
Since we have a great high priest
who has passed through the heavens,
Jesus, the Son of God,
let us hold fast to our confession.
For we do not have a high priest
who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses,
but one who has similarly been tested in every way,
yet without sin.
So let us confidently approach the throne of grace
to receive mercy and to find grace for timely help.

To suffer is to be human — suffering is the human condition.

If you find that unacceptable and demand an explanation, it’s right there in Genesis 3 — in the account of our first parents’ deliberate defiance of God’s explicit instruction, imagining in their preening grandiosity that they can become “like gods”.

But the exercise of free will is not free of consequences. As God had forewarned Adam and Eve, the issues of disobedience were dire indeed. By their fall, a door was opened to chaos; henceforth a price must be paid for being human. Where once was joy and ease, there would be suffering, hardship, and pain. The control of the soul’s spiritual faculties over the body is shattered, and humanity becomes vulnerable to the ravages of sickness and disease, and eventual death.

And yet, narcissists that we are, when we are in the throes of suffering, we lament and wail “Why me?,” as if we alone should be spared from the universal human condition.

Millions of Americans suffer from chronic pain. In 2010, a poll by the American Osteopathic Association found that nearly 70% of Americans said they or someone they cared for had experienced pain. The same poll found that, perversely, 34% of Americans found that the side effects of pain medications are worse than the pain itself.

But researchers have found pain reducers that are not opiates or pharmaceuticals. The website Cracked has an article on six things other than drugs which temporarily reduced pain. Beginning with the least, the six are money, eating, music, imagination, touch, and religious faith.

Researchers found that religious, specifically Christian, faith is the most powerful non-pharmaceutical pain reducer.

As reported by Gary L. Wenk, Ph. D., in Psychology Today:

In a recently published study in the journal Pain, scientists (Wiech and colleagues) measured pain perception in two groups of people, devout practicing Catholics and professed atheists and agnostics, while they viewed an image of the Virgin Mary or the painting of Lady with an Ermine by Leonardo da Vinci. Devout Catholics reported feeling more peaceful and compassionate when gazing upon a picture of the Virgin Mother. The devout Catholics also perceived electrical pulses to their hand as being less painful when they looked at Mary than when they looked at the lady in the painting by da Vinci. In contrast, the atheists and agnostics derived no pain relief while viewing either picture.… MRI scans demonstrated that the Catholics’ pain relief was associated with greatly increased brain activity in a small area located on the bottom left of their right prefrontal cortex. In contrasts, the atheists and agnostics demonstrated no response in this brain area. There was already ample evidence to suggest that this brain region is involved in controlling our emotional response to sensory stimuli, such as pain. Perhaps this study has, in fact, now shown us the location of the placebo effect.

Much has been written about the value of the placebo effect in the practice of medicine, but how this effect emerges and whether it can be controlled are issues that not yet understood…. Numerous meta-analyses (which are later analyses of other researchers’ data) have shown that only the perception of pain can be statistically demonstrated to be influenced by our minds, which scientists refer to as the emergent property of our brains. The impressive influence of our thoughts and expectations on how we experience pain is a true placebo effect.

If gazing upon a painting of the mother of Jesus reduces pain, how much more powerful would fixing our eyes and minds on the suffering Christ on the cross. As St. Paul reminds us in Hebrews 4:

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has similarly been tested in every way.

In other words, no one better understands and empathizes with our suffering than Jesus. So, when you are wracked with pain, physical or emotional, look to our Lord on the cross and ask for His help.

He always answers. Really.

I leave you with the very wise words written more than 5 years ago by Joan, a contributor to Fellowship of the Minds who doesn’t write anymore because her body is broken, with constant excruciating pain from hereditary osteoarthritis, notwithstanding spinal and two knee-replacement surgeries:

All of us suffer and in different ways according to our individual situations. That is the human condition….

One of the effects I have experienced is that suffering helps us to become “Little”, and I say this with a capital “L” to emphasize that I have found it has brought me closer to Our Lord in that I come to Him as a little child most dependent upon Him.

One needs only to look at a Crucifix and embrace Jesus completely because of the greatest act of love ever given — His horrible suffering and death upon the Cross to save us from our sins and to open the gates of heaven for everyone. We need not be morbid for each of our individual experiences with suffering, because then our suffering is offered to Jesus with a poor attitude. I have also found that a sense of humor really helps, because sometimes, when it rains, it pours, and we cannot figure out what is happening. The otherwise little things and chores we try to do become trying and monumental….

But really, we simply must say, “Jesus, I Trust In You,” in every juncture of our lives. Remember what Jesus said, “Take up your cross and follow Me.”

It is no secret that I love the angels and the saints, members of the Church Triumphant. Below are some thoughts about suffering from your family in heaven which might assist you in your individual suffering:

“To suffer much, yet badly, is to suffer like reprobates. To suffer much, even bravely, but for a wicked cause, is to suffer as a martyr of the devil. To suffer much or little for the sake of God is to suffer like saints.” – St. Louis-Marie de Montfort

“An unpitied pain wins greater merit beofre God. Never say to God: ‘Enough’; simply say, ‘I am ready!’” -Bl. Sebastian Valfre

“Christ tells us that if we want to join Him, we shall travel the way He took. It is surely not right that the Son of God should go His way on the path of shame while the sons of men walk the way of worldly honor.” – St. John of Avila

“Reason should dominate pain, for our Redeemer has sanctified pain and by so doing has given us Christians a right way of facing it. For us, pain does not come to hurt and destroy but to raise to the heights.” –Bl. Placid Riccardi

“I shall remind myself of the labors He undertook in preaching, of his weariness while traveling, of the temptations He suffered while fasting, of His vigils while praying, and of the tears He shed out of compassion. I will remember, moreover, His sorrows, and the insults, spittle, blows, ridicule, rebukes, nails, and all the rest that rained down upon Him in abundance.” -St. Bernard of Clairvaux

“Say always, ‘My beloved and despised Redeemer, how sweet it is to suffer for you.’” -St. Alphonsus Liguori

Jesus, the Second Person of the Triune Godhead, willingly suffered and died for us as reparation for the terrible sin of our first parents, because sin — every sin — requires atonement to make things right again.

But the sin of Adam and Eve must have been so monumentally catastrophic that it tore the very fabric of the Universe. No man (human) can atone for this monumental sin. Only God can — and did.

We, too, can make our suffering redemptive for our sins and those of others. Offer it to Jesus — join your suffering to Him. And don’t compare your suffering to others because each person has a Cross to bear. But if we join our suffering to Jesus in sincerity, with a contrite heart, our suffering will become sanctity and joy.

Isaiah 53:11

Because of his affliction
he shall see the light in fullness of days;
through his suffering, my servant shall justify many,
and their guilt he shall bear.

May the peace and love of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you,

~Eowyn

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8 responses to “Sunday Devotional: On suffering, the human condition

  1. And with Your spirit. It has been through deep suffering that I learnt the meaning of humility

     
    • True dat!
      As I wrote in a poem 25 years ago, “…compassion is life’s last lesson”, for we must go through a great deal of life experience until our egos break down enough to put ourselves in right relation to God, family, and country. It’s the most difficult of life’s lessons because we want to make ourselves the center of all existence, when we are but a small part of the Creation. Yes, we are worthwhile, but we are not worth the entirety!

       
    • Wow! That speaks so well of you, Alma.
      For some people, it’s the opposite: in deep suffering, they become bitter and even more self-involved and self-obsessed.

       
  2. Dr Eowyn . . . You have once again blessed us with a wonderful and true teaching for this Sabbath Day. Thank you for your time and attention to our spiritual needs.

     
  3. We do not have the full answer to the problem of suffering, but this post has stated the basics—sin brought suffering and death into the world, and the Price to atone for that sin could be paid but by God Alone.
    I really like St. Louis-Marie de Montfort’s answer, because it reminds me of the Cartesian graphs we learned in high school. The horizontal axis = X and the vertical is Y, and from the center of the graph where X and Y intersect, we see four quadrants. It is the upper quadrant that is (+,+), in which we win: We all suffer, but FOR WHOM are we suffering? If we are suffering for God—or offer our sufferings up for God, then we are in the (+,+) quadrant of the graph. In other words, God Wins and WE win.
    But look at but a few of the poor sufferers in life who lost their battles or wars. Look at Sylvia Plath or Ernest Hemingway who, in the end, suffered for themselves only. Or, if you prefer, behold Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, who suffered for the Devil!

    As I reported before, on October 5th of this year, I was arrested for a misdemeanor assault for something I DID NOT COMMIT. Upon hearing this, I was flabberghasted (although I composed myself). I have been suffering economically, for now. (And I thank again everyone who donated to my Go Fund Me campaign).
    I’ve heard it so many times, but it actually took Alex Jones, in some commentary back in August or September when he said that God means for us “to be overcomers.” Now I understand a little of what T.S. Eliot may have meant when he pined to “see it again for the first time.” In other words, life is kind of like a drowning pool: We can tread water for only so long, and that “brave philosophy” wherein each man plays God or pretends to be his own god can last a lifetime but: it ends at death.

    We are in a War that MUST be won AT ALL COSTS: We MUST do whatever it is we can do to save our souls (realizing, of course, that God stimulates this desire and Does the Final Act of forgiving our sins). de Montfort understood that things must be endured with the right Motive, regardless of who or what started the suffering. And this means, necessarily, that the Catholic Faith IS NOT for sissies! We are born for battle and endurance, and we are commanded to persevere unto Victory!

    When I was younger, my mother always used to say, “Bad things happen to everyone, Steven, but you DWELL in them.” Now I understand something (and not everything) of what she meant. We all stumble—I have. But we have GOT to get UP.
    I went to Mass this evening (I am not looking for a medal or a chest to pin it on!) and I contemplated a crucifix on top of a tabernacle. I hoped and I prayed that whatever happens in my case, that I will become a stronger and better person for it. (Certainly my landlord has been non-plussed, after only being late for ONE WEEK after a year and a half!) And I remember this crazy lady in my car—for only a minute and a half—and I detest her thoroughly. But she has youth on her side: Perhaps she shall overcome. I certainly hope so for her sake.
    But in the meantime, I cannot make Nov. 7th come any faster. In the meantime, I have been taking consistent actions every day. And I realize I will lose a lot: The first livery car I have ever owned, repossessed. It is what it is. But, as I said or implied: I do not understand completely what I am going through—not by a long shot. But God Does. THIS is what matters.
    It is precisely this Christian attitude toward suffering that is lacking in the World, and Civilization itself is paying a very heavy price for the loss.

     
  4. For me Our Savior showed us the true meaning and depth of sacrifice. Any pain I may experience pales into insignificance to His. How can I feel sorry for myself in light of all He did for us?

    When I feel overwhelmed, I offer it up. We have SO much to be thankful for. What an insulting thing it must be to God to complain about our lot in life. It is so much better to just say “thank you”.

     

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