Tuesday, January 29, 2013

On the Way to Finding Meaning in Suffering - Part I

Two weeks ago, I began facilitating a class entitled, "On the Christian Meaning of Suffering".  We finished our second of nine classes this morning.  We're studying Salvifici Doloris - an apostolic letter written by Pope John Paul II in 1984. 

The Holy Father says we can suffer in two ways.  Physically and morally.  According to our Endow study guide, moral suffering is mental anguish; "it is a pain of the soul, pain of a spiritual nature which can leave invisible wounds deep within our hearts.  Moral suffering may be caused by the effects of poverty or by the suffering and death of loved ones.  It can be the result of addictions, neuroses, or mental illnesses, or emerge due to the impact of sexual abuse, prostitution, or abortion.  It can be the consequence of any sort of suffering of conscience, injustice, or self-esteem."

In his letter, Salvifici Doloris, Pope John Paul II writes, "Man suffers on account of evil, which is a certain lack, limitation, or distortion of good.  We could say that man suffers because of a good in which he does not share, from which in a certain sense he is cut off, or of which he has deprived himself.  He particularly suffers when he "ought" - in the normal order of things - to have a share in this good and does not have it."

Did you know that evil is not something that stands on its own?  It is simply the absence of good.  "As darkness is nothing but the absence of light, and is not produced by creation, so evil is merely the defect of goodness." -St. Augustine

In The Promise,  Fr. Jonathan Morris tells us that "every action - even the most despicable one - is done for the sake of attaining some perceived good."  Can you get there in your mind?  What good could the attackers on 9/11 or the shooter in Newtown, CT have been trying to attain?!  On 9/11 (based on my limited understanding), according to their radical faith, didn't the attackers think they were doing something which was pleasing to Allah?  As for the shooter, perhaps he was seeking acknowledgement, justice, or peace (for himself)?

If evil (as a noun) is the absence of good, and evil (as an action) is always done in the pursuit of some good, can we find it?  I don't know if I should, but I feel better knowing that evil is not a "positive" force of its own.  It can (and eventually will) be abolished with Goodness.

Back to suffering...If we want to imitate one of the greatest Apostles of all time, we should eventually be able to join St. Paul in saying, "Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake".  Col 1:24

Can you say that?  I can't.

"Suffering seems to belong to man's transcendence:  it is one of those points in which man is in a certain sense "destined" to go beyond himself..."  Salvifici Doloris

In a future post, we will continue to explore "the indissoluble connection between suffering, salvation, and joy." (Endow study guide)

Dear Heavenly Father, Thank you for Pope John Paul II and his writings, which reveal the nature and depth of Your love.  Thank you for the women I am privileged to explore these ideas with face-to-face.  It is even hard to write, but, thank you for suffering.  I do not understand it, but trust that when I do, I will fear it less.  And, hopefully, with Your grace, one day I will be able to "rejoice in my sufferings for Your sake."  Amen.


  1. Dearest Heidi,
    What a gift you are to us! Your insight and ability to write so beautifully are so awesome. I am so blessed to call you my friend..this study could not have come at a better time in my life...