Monday, May 12, 2014

Carrying our sufferings with class that is Christian in character

I have been toying with writing about this topic for quite a while now, and it has been interspersed with some fears, especially with the reader thinking that I am classifying myself as a living example.  From the ‘get go’, let me stress that in no way am I saying that I exemplify everything that I write in this entry, but there are certain theories, reference points and principles that will help all of us who suffer in one way or another.  It is not an anti-dote to suffering, and is not meant to be.  But it may well help the suffering one to do this with what a dear friend calls “dignity and class”.

1.   Our faith gives us good reason to hope
What is the main essence (or mystery) of faith?  We say it every time we celebrate Mass – We proclaim your death, O Lord, and profess your Resurrection until you come again.  With variations of the same message, but in different words, the Liturgy offers the celebrant a choice of these responses.  In a nutshell, the mystery of faith gives us all great hope that not only will Jesus come again, but that when he does, there will be a new heaven and a new earth, and life will be glorious, because He will come in glory. 

When we ponder and stay with this phrase in our deep suffering, it enables us to face our pains and sufferings in the company of Christ.  We are never alone in our pain.  Our faith brings companionship and promise. 

2.   Suffering has an often hidden salvific purpose
1 Peter 4:13 reminds the faithful that it is possible and almost necessary that we rejoice when we are called to be partakers in Christ’s suffering.  There are many parts in Peter’s first letter which speak not only of suffering being an inclusive part of God’s unfathomable plan, but that there is a glory in endurance that God’s grace engenders. 

3.   Our suffering continues something sacred – the suffering of Christ
1 Col. 24 may be contentious to some.  Wasn’t the Easter event something that conquered death, and a such, given us the power to overcome any suffering?  Yes and no.  It did conquer for us that supposedly last bastion called ‘death’, but as St Paul wrote to the Colossian Christians, the suffering is ‘incomplete’ and that there are still many trials and tests for the Christian to go through, for the sake of his body, the Church.  In other words, we are called to think and to live large with our various crosses.  The sufferings that you and I go through must never be seen in isolated individualism.  We are part of this ‘body’ called the Church, and especially when our sufferings are innocent and not brought on by evils that we may have participated in, we are called to believe in their salvific character.  Think of all the sins that have been caused by the Church to the faithful and even to priests and religious, and offer your sufferings for their healing and compassion.

4.   Learn to be silent in suffering, except for a few trusted friends
This is not a call to bottle up one’s emotions, or to take up some form of Dutch courage when facing suffering and pain.  But as Isaiah 53:7 tells us that “though he was oppressed and he was afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before his shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.”

There are so many different forms of being ‘led to the slaughter, and being sheep before our shearers’.  Think of personal betrayals, infidelities, having been cheated out of what is rightly ours, being wrongly judged and sidelined because of that.  These are just some life examples.  The ego that is so prone to thrusting itself in the spotlight will always want that last word in, demand to have our rights, and to be seen as innocent (sometimes even when we really are not!).  But the words of the prophet Isaiah give a value to silence.  It is difficult to achieve when one is in physical pain, but I have since found out that Tramadol with Panadol is a powerful mix that helps to manage pain.  We have to tell our doctors to provide sufficient pain medicine to help us to overcome or live with the physical pains that we may have, but we also need to be selective about to whom we share that we are indeed in pain.  If we only talk about our sufferings whenever others ask about us, they will easily tire and be exhausted from our incessant complaints.  But if we are of good cheer, and manage to look on the bright side of things, we can become bearers of what I would call “Christian classiness” when dealing with pain and suffering in our lives.  By all means, have those close friends who you can be freely expressive of the pains you are in, but know that they too, are human and can suffer from ‘compassion fatigue’ if their faith is not aligned with yours in Christ.

5.   Do something that broadens your horizons
When we are convalescing at home, or in a hospital, we have plenty of time on our hands.  After all, what are we doing apart from resting and recuperating?  But there will be times when we are faced with long periods of being alone and it is not ‘visiting hours’ yet.  This is where point 5 comes in – take up a hobby or learn something new so that you are always increasing your horizons.  Physically, it takes our minds off our suffering when we put our concentration fully on something other than our suffering.  The other plus point is that we become creative when we are active, and learned when we dispose ourselves to learning new things.  Instead of filling our minds with negative thought, replace it with a positivity that often is a gateway to a healing from the inside.

Are these 5 points easy to adopt when our life is fraught with pain and suffering?  Certainly not.  It takes more than mere will power to want this to happen.  It takes the grace of God.  That is why we pray.  The reader will be wondering why I didn’t mention ‘prayer’ as one of the ways.  Be not mistaken.  If we do not pray, we will not be able to any of the points well. 

And if we pray, and ‘embrace’ our sufferings in these Christ-like ways, it will be easily said that we are suffering with dignity and class – a Christ-like dignity and class.


  1. Hi Fr. Luke,
    Just my opinion.
    For the longest time now I've had the strong belief that all suffering, when humbly and willingly borne, is somehow linked to the redemption of souls.

    It is simply inconceivable to me that our Great God, who is Love itself, would allow suffering for suffering's sake alone. Just as our Lord Jesus willingly suffered and died for the redemption of all humanity, somehow our own (suffering) HAS to have a purpose, quite possibly an eternal one. This (I believe) is especially true when the afflicted person has led a good and faithful life.

    Therefore the faithful person, upon embracing his heavy cross, is participating in some way in his own, and possibly another's redemption. Perhaps a brother or sister (of the sufferer) is in dire need of repentance and desperately needs the push (actual grace) to go to confession. I do believe it could work this way. After all, It is said that the church is built on the blood of the martyrs. Praise God for them.

  2. Thank you for the words of encouragement Fr Fong, Yes, suffering enables us to be drawn closer to a suffering God so we can share with Him the Cup. And so there is a difference between Love and Kindness. C.S. Lewis wrote: "Kindness cares not whether its object becomes good or bad, provided only that it escapes suffering", while Love "would rather see [the loved ones] suffer much than be happy in contemptible and estranging modes".

    When one sees God beyond a source of relief for suffering, we get a Christian class epitomized by the writing found in the concentration camp: “I believe in the sun when it isn’t shining, I believe in love even when I don’t feel it. I believe in God even when He's silent.”
    – Found scratched on a wall in a concentration camp.

  3. Fr., I will remember your 5 POINTS and continue to pray.

    Take care c',)

  4. something tough to fathom..but as rightly said ...suffering being an inclusive part of God’s unfathomable is very difficult to understand why this God with me in this suffering or am I alone? Sometimes these questins tear u apart sapping the little energy that is left to handle suffering. That is when the "God's grace" part comes and even without our knowledge slowly opens windows and helps us to eventually wiggle out. Until then I pray for the grace and fortitude to silently go through the seemingly painful phase.."seemingly" because many a times when I look back at events in my life , I realise the painful episodes were only only the struggle a butterfly goes through to come out of its pupa to fly and soar high.