May 17, 2012

God's Answer to Suffering

Continuing the third and final part of Verbum Domini, we look at the Holy Father's words on suffering. "It is in times of pain that the ultimate questions about the meaning of one's life make themselves acutely felt." Pope Benedict continues:"...the word of God makes us see that even these moments are mysteriously 'embraced' by God's love."

What an excellent word: embrace.  This comes from the prefix "em-" or "to put into" or "to surround", and "brace" for "arms". In our suffering, God's arms are around us. God's arms are around our sufferings.

Christ took the cross up in his arms. He embraced it. That is God's answer to suffering - neither to flee from it nor to seek it out, but to take it up in your arms when it comes. The cross itself looks like a figure with arms outstretched, ready to take up what comes; it is a reminder of what we're to do with our own crosses.
"We contemplate the culmination of God's closeness to our sufferings in Jesus himself, 'the Word incarnate. He suffered and died for us. By his passion and death he took our weakness upon himself and totally transformed it' [CCC 346]."
We can never say to God, 'you don't understand!' Jesus is with us in our sufferings because He is with us in suffering.

This comes back around. Just as Jesus is with us in our sufferings, we can be part of Jesus' closeness to others who suffer. Among the means to prolonging Jesus' closeness to the suffering throughout the Christian era, the Holy Father includes "men and women of good will, and in charitable intiatives undertaken with fraternal love by communities..." Men and women can "lend their hands, eyes and hearts to Christ, the true physician of body and soul."

Pope Benedict instructs that "(t)hose who suffer should be helped to read the Scriptures and to realize that their condition itself enables them to share in a special way in Christ's redemptive suffering for the salvation of the world." (One such outreach is the Militia Immaculata's Knights at the Foot of the Cross.)

The Holy Father notes, though, that suffering is not a good to be pursued. We are to embrace suffering when it comes, but not look for it masochistically. "In her proclamation of God's word, the Church knows that a 'virtuous circle' must be promoted between the poverty which is to be chosen and the poverty which is to be combated". I suspect this applies in a way, too, to suffering - sometime embraced, sometime combated, especially combated when it is the suffering of others. That is what we see in the of Christ, who was both a healer and a victim.

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