Matt C. Abbott
On suffering and the Christian faith
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By Matt C. Abbott
January 27, 2021

Below is the foreword to Susan Tassone’s latest book, Praying with Jesus and Faustina during Lent and in Times of Suffering. Thanks to Sophia Institute Press for allowing me to publish this excerpt in my column. The foreword was written by Bishop Joseph Perry of the Archdiocese of Chicago. (Incidentally, Bishop Perry, along with other prelates, was kind enough to respond to a previous article of mine on the Father Alfred Kunz case, writing, “Fellow canon lawyers and I remember our collaboration with Father Kunz over the many years and how upset we were and have been with his unsolved murder.”)

Click here to order a copy of Praying with Jesus and Faustina during Lent and in Times of Suffering through SpiritDaily.com.

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Foreword

Participating in the Sacrifice of the Cross
Bishop Joseph N. Perry
Auxiliary Bishop, Archdiocese of Chicago

In the Liturgy of the Hours, which bishops, priests, deacons, and religious are obliged to pray every day for the welfare of the Church and the Christian people, are found a few lines taken from the book of Job, chapter one. Reading the following passage, found in Wednesday’s Morning Prayer of the Third Week in Ordinary Time, causes one to stop in one’s tracks:

Naked I came forth from my mother’s womb, and naked I shall go back again. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord! We accept good things from God; and should we not accept evil?

Should we not accept evil? These are troublesome words.

In evil’s wake is often found suffering. Suffering as part of the human condition is one way to acquire holiness of life. Most Christians struggle with this prospect. The closer we approach an authentic relationship with Christ, the more we encounter manifestations of trouble and hardship. Why is this so? For reasons we cannot grasp, till perhaps in the Beatific Vision, God requires agony and suffering as a means for our reconciliation with Him, principally through the salvific act on the Cross of His most beloved Son, Jesus Christ.

Some of us will discover this saving way through sickness and physical pain, others by way of mental anguish, emotional upset, loss of loved ones, loss of fortune or the stability associated with employment or material gain, the daily variety of hardships and failures, the irritations suffered in our encounters with others. With these experiences and other akin to them, we are tempted to think we have lost our union with God or that God has abandoned us.

Christian faith teaches us that there is a dignity to be derived from suffering—if only because God chose human suffering as the instrument of our redemption. We live in a world that is convinced that suffering is inconvenient and must be avoided at all costs. But for all our wealth and good times, opportunities and choices, our lives are interrupted by reports of the agonies of countless people here and around the world, to say nothing of those of our relatives, loved ones, and friends. We are genuinely moved to our depths by witnessing or hearing about what people are asked to endure in their lives.

Our own lives are interrupted by anxiety, hurt, and misfortune. When someone asks us how we are doing, we give the knee-jerk response, “Oh, I’m fine!,” when truthfully we are not fine. We are dealing with suffering in various times and in various ways and are embarrassed to mention that something might be less than fine.

But the Catholic Faith teaches us something different and refreshing. Catholic teaching on suffering has its origin in the lived example of Jesus Christ. Christ did not gloss over the reality of suffering. He worked with it and showed that all suffering of whatever sort when united to His sufferings can lead to sharing in His Resurrection.

St. Faustina Kowalska, whose reflections on the Passion and suffering you are about to read, said:

If the angels were capable of envy they would envy us humans for two things: one is the privilege to receive Holy Communion; and the other is, suffering. (1804)

We already know the joy of receiving the Body and Blood of the Lord commingling with our human substance. But why would the angels be jealous of human suffering? The suffering of a Christian is a paradoxical conduit for intimacy with Jesus Christ. Suffering defined the life and ministry of Jesus. We are called to life in Christ no matter what happens on our earthly pilgrimage. With our desire to be close to Christ and to have Christ close to us, our sufferings make it possible for us to exist in solidarity with Him.

Christian life is one long effort to get next to Christ. Jesus bore our sins in His body as He hung upon the Cross. This is our inspiration. It is through our suffering in its various manifestations that we come to know the person of Jesus Christ and companion ourselves with Him through His most loving act on our behalf. If we deny the suffering Jesus, we deny God. As painful as suffering is, if it must come to us, it is a unique opportunity that we possess only in this life.

Saints and mystics tell us, as St. Faustina does in these pages, that if we embrace opportunities for suffering, whether small or great, we will not regret it in the life to come. This is our consolation up front in this life.

Suffering stretches us. It pushes us toward others. It encourages us to pray. It invites us to rely on a number of resources, particularly those from within. We develop character while we handle painful times.

Pain is a source of wisdom. It prepares us to help others whose experiences echo ours. Pain shared offers stories that help others who are lost and need our guidance.

When we reflect on our past, we can recall the pain we felt last month or last year: the pain of a lost love or the anxiety associated with losing a job and facing many bills in the wake, perhaps the pain of the death of a child or the pain of children launching out away from home or the death of a spouse or a dear friend. It might have seemed to us that we wouldn’t be able to cope. But we did somehow. Coping strengthened us, especially with the power of prayer that held us up.

What we forget even now is that we need never experience a painful time alone. The agony that accompanies a wrenching situation is dissipated as quickly and as silently as the entrance of the higher power—our God when called upon.

We long for contentment, and we deserve such times. But somehow without the interruption brought by life’s pain, we would fail to recognize the value of contentment.

God is the Holy One par excellence. We become holy by virtue of our relationship with God. All holiness is a reflection and extension of God’s holiness. We can become holy when we try to remain faithful in the face of the suffering that may come into our lives.

We live in a broken world. And our individual lives are microcosms of this brokenness. Having walked this earthly path, Jesus promises that if we carry our crosses, He will meet us on the other side at Easter.

Here is a prayer from an Orthodox church prayer book:

    The dark clouds of trouble gather above us, O Lord, and the grief of torments terrify us. Though we find ourselves in a state of suffering we do not complain against you, O Good One, for you are our support and the unshaken rock upon which we place our hope.

    You know, O God, the cause of our wretchedness and sorrow, and you continue to look after us. Even in our suffering we know that you love us, and it is this very knowledge that strengthens us. Thus, hoping in your love and goodness we shall not allow these assaults to overcome us; rather we will fight with courage and confident in your help we shall be victorious.

    It is you who guides the world and the fate of mortals; thus direct the ship of our lives which is assailed by the waves of temptation, so that it may reach the calm harbor. Alone we fight in vain against the tempests of life, for without you we can do nothing. We therefore fly to you, O Good One, and we pray: come to our aid and save us by your might, just as you once saved Peter, who came to you on the water. Stretch out your hand to us as you did to him, O Lord of mercy, and do not delay. Amen.

St. Paul reminds us in his letter to the Romans (8:5–27) that we are the children of God and therefore are heirs as well—heirs of God, heirs with Christ if only we suffer with Him so as to be glorified with Him. St. Paul says further, “I consider the sufferings of the present to be as nothing compared with the glory to be revealed in us.”

In the words of Cardinal Robert Sarah, Prefect of the Vatican Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments:

    We cannot live as Christians without participating in the Sacrifice of the Cross in which the Lord Jesus gives himself unreservedly to save, by his death, humanity which had died because of sin. The Redeemer associates humanity with himself and leads it back to the Father. In the embrace of the Crucified One all human suffering finds light and comfort.

Interestingly enough, when Jesus rose from the dead with a glorified body, notice that He kept His wounds: the marks of pain and suffering did not disappear. When we rise to meet Him at the end, our glorified bodies may be allowed to bear marks that serve as reminders of the suffering we endured in life. The season of Lent followed by Holy Week and Easter affords us the opportunity to contemplate the mystery of the risen Jesus and His glorified wounds, with hope!

So, believers that we are, let us walk with Christ, who has taken upon Himself our sufferings and carried our sorrows to lead us by means of His cross to the joy of the Resurrection.

© Matt C. Abbott

 

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Matt C. Abbott

Matt C. Abbott is a Catholic commentator with a Bachelor of Arts degree in communication, media and theatre from Northeastern Illinois University. He also has an Associate in Applied Science degree in business management from Triton College. Abbott has been interviewed on MSNBC, Bill Martinez Live, WOSU Radio in Ohio, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's 2019 "Unsolved" podcast about the unsolved murder of Father Alfred Kunz, WLS-TV (ABC) in Chicago, WMTV (NBC) and WISC-TV (CBS) in Madison, Wis., and has been quoted in The New York Times, the Chicago Tribune and other media outlets. He is mentioned in the 2020 Report on the Holy See's Institutional Knowledge and Decision-Making Related to Former Cardinal Theodore Edgar McCarrick (1930 to 2017), which can be found on the Vatican's website. He can be reached at mattcabbott@gmail.com.

(Note: I welcome and appreciate thoughtful feedback. Insults will be ignored. Only in very select cases will I honor a request to have a telephone conversation about a topic in my column. Email is much preferred. God bless you and please keep me in your prayers!)

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