Monday, June 29, 2020

Is your divine filiation what defines you? If it is, then you are in a most stable state of life.

There are many different ways that people choose to define themselves, especially in these times. Many who aren’t theists commonly define themselves by the work that they do.  This is especially so when they have attained some degree of excellence in their work and career, and have become what many consider as Captains of Industry. 

Evidence of this is when people encounter one another on a social level for the first time, and very often, after the initial introductions of names are exchanged, the next thing is the defining of their person by their jobs and titles, oftentimes printed on business calling cards.  The tendency is to equate the person with what gives them their source of financial stability in life.  

In the arena of the social media world, people are also often defined by their ‘followers’ and this has caused many to create a certain persona that is fabricated, sometimes with the help of creative agencies who are employed to help them relate to the public, hence the term Public Relations.  

This can have devastating effects on those who are so dependent on how others perceive them to be, because those created personas are often as  fragile as porcelain where with one scandal, the Instagram-perfection image is shattered into a million shards, when before it yielded over a hundred thousand “likes” and “followers”.  One particular episode of the dystopian fictional series Black Mirror titled “Nosedive” that can be accessed on Netflix, was a rather interesting depiction of how things can go horribly south if society was to be driven in such a shallow and utilitarian way.

In my encounter with the infirm, especially those who are afflicted by an illness that is particularly debilitating, there is also a strong tendency to let their illness define who they are.  They are often heard saying that they are cancer patients or stroke patients or even cancer survivors, sometimes making it almost like a badge of honour, letting their experience of the illness define who they are.  More to it, I have encountered senior members of the community who only see themselves as “old” and define themselves by the number of candles on their birthday cake.

As well, there are also many who strongly define themselves by their sexual orientation, giving them cause to be strong activists for the LGBTQ and similar movements.  There is a strong tendency for people of such persuasions to define themselves by their sexuality.   I am sure that many have heard of the phrase “you are what you eat”, with people promoting and advocating lifestyles like being vegan, vegetarian or pescatarian.  The ways that people define themselves have really caused society to be more separated and disunited than ever before, and this has proved to be a great stumbling block for harmony, peace and stability, both at the personal level, and at the level of society at large.

There are a whole host of problems that one brings upon oneself when one defines who one is by the things one does, or even what they are afflicted by in life.  If one defines oneself mainly by one’s career or title, the world can fall apart the moment one loses one’s ability to function at that level. No human person should ever define himself or herself by one’s illness, nor should they let themselves be defined by their illness either.  This is because it demeans the human being.  Our deepest selves are far more that what we can achieve, or by our sexuality alone.  However, the shallowness of this isn’t understood by many, especially if they aren’t theists.  

The real issue at hand in this reflection is that unless we discover (or re-discover) what our real and most fundamental identity is, and appreciate it anew, we will always be living with some form of insecurity and uncertainty.  The various kinds of ways of identifying ourselves in the earlier part of this reflection are but a few these examples.  There are countless other ways that people tend to define themselves by.  All of them have their limitations.  It’s not that they are morally bad in and of their own, but if one really ponders deeply about any one of them, they truly are insufficient to give anyone a lasting and totally stable base to find a real footing in life, most especially because each of them can be threatened by one’s fellowman or woman.  

It is for this reason that in order to be a truly secure man or woman in the life that each of us has while on God’s green earth, it is imperative that we find our greatest confidence and security in the fact that we are God’s beloved sons and daughters, which is what “divine filiation” really means.  Because this identification is connected to God, who is not of this world, and who is truly supernatural, this love that we have by God is also not in any way predicated and affected by anything or anyone in this life as we know it.  

This is what Jesus was ultimately alluding to when he said that we need to build on rock, and not on sand. This is also what he meant when he said that true discipleship (of Christ) is seen when we prefer God more than we prefer father, mother, son or daughter.  Even for relationships that are as tightly knit and beautiful in life, if we define ourselves just by them, these too can be taken away once the people in our lives are no longer in existence.  

It is also for this reason that the kindness that we extend to others because they are images of God’s love (made in his image and likeness) can really be acts of kindness that we show to God (like giving a cup of cold water to even little ones).  

I believe this is what the Trappist mystic and writer Thomas Merton was so graced to realize one day in downtown Louisville, Kentucky.  It was on March 18, 1958 while Merton was running some errands in downtown Louisville when suddenly, he saw every single person in his field of vision as having an inborn brilliance.  He described it this way in his book Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander:

“In Louisville, at the corner of Fourth and Walnut, in the centre of the shopping district, I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all those people, that they were mine, and I was theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers.  It was like waking from a dream of separateness, of spurious self-isolation in a special world, the world of renunciation and supposed holiness… This sense of liberation from an illusory difference was such a relief and such a joy to me that I almost laughed out loud… I have the immense joy of being man, a member of a race in which God himself became incarnate.  As if the sorrows and stupidities of the human condition could overwhelm me, now I realise what we all are.  And if only everybody could realise this!  But it cannot be explained.  There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun.”

What Merton intuited through grace that day is the very same truth that Jesus was imparting to his disciples. Somehow, sin and evil have blinded us to this reality, and the spiritual journey has, as one of its most important tasks, to unveil this truth from our often biased and prejudiced eyes.  

It is when we truly understand how astounding it is that each of us have such a divine potential in the depth of our being, we will always only see ourselves as human doings, and not human beings – humans being loved unconditionally by God, our heavenly Father. 

Saturday, June 27, 2020

Audio homily for 13th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Click the link below to access the audio homily.  Please note that as our Sunday Masses resume in our parish next weekend, this will be the last of the posted audio homilies made during the Circuit Breaker in Singapore.  I hope these audio recordings have been helpful so far.

Monday, June 22, 2020

Can we make a Confession and still not be reconciled?

There appears to be some confusion regarding the end or result of the sacrament of confession in quite a few peoples’ minds.  It has been raised to me as a very sincere question whether it is all right if one goes to confession for a sin, especially where the sin was the cause of a severing off of a relationship, but one still hasn’t reconciled with the person concerned.  In short, does confession necessarily also include reconciliation with parties somehow liking each other, and if there is no reconciliation, is the sin therefore unforgiven?

While this appears to be a legitimate question, it also reveals something that is not quite understood about the sacrament of confession itself.  Perhaps part of the confusion comes from the different names that this sacrament is given.  One of it’s other names is the sacrament of reconciliation, and if the terms ‘confession’ and ‘reconciliation’ are used interchangeably here, it does give the impression that one only really makes a sincere confession if one is also reconciled with the one whom one has sinned against.  

My response to this seeming quandary is to ask whom it is that the penitent is ultimately confessing to, and who is the one who is ultimately offended by the sin.  

When one goes to confession, one is confessing to God.  The priest confessor in the sacrament is acting in persona Christi, meaning ‘in the person of Christ.  Every sin that you and I commit in life is, essentially and ultimately, an offence against God.  God’s commands have been transgressed, and it is toGod that we admit of our fault, accuse ourselves of wrongdoing, and it is fromGod that we are asking pardon of our sins.  The person whom we have wronged is of course also someone whom we have sinned against, but even that is because every man, woman and child is made in the image of God himself.  When we understand this at its core, then we also understand that when we reverence each person in the world, we are also reverencing God himself.  It brings to mind what Jesus said to Paul when Paul encountered him on his way to Damascus, striking him down and asking him “Paul, why are you persecuting me?” 

Having said this, while it is imperative that we ultimately reconcile with God whom we have sinned against, we should, as far as we can, also reconcile with the person whom we have hurt or with whom we had the altercation that led to a sin being committed.  Here is where sometimes things aren’t always as simple as they appear to be, mostly because we are a mixed bag of memories, emotions and sentiments, i.e., human.

Sometimes there are things that happen in our human relationships that do not make it possible to fully reconcile with one another in a total and complete way.  Sometimes partings of friendships are necessary simply because our worldview is stridently different, and the differences between two people have become like chalk and cheese.  This is especially the case between two people, one of whom wants to centre his or her life totally on God, and the other is a strong atheist and only lives for himself or herself.  It’s not so bothersome when it is a platonic friendship, because I do have friends who have no theistic leanings and we disagree on many matters, but we are still friends.

I am referring more to spouses, or maybe even business partners, who have, because of a strong desire for holiness and godliness, necessarily became estranged.  One can become very perturbed if one believes that one can only be reconciled with God if one is also in the same way reconciled with the person with whom one parted ways with.    

Remember that God’s command is that we love one another, and not that we like one another.  Perhaps for most people, this is where things get a bit confused.  Jesus’ command to love is a decision from the heart, whilst liking someone is more often attached to feelings, sentiments and emotions.   Loving as a decision entails much more effort and therefore is more meritorious to the soul than liking.  This is why I can love my enemy but not like what he is doing to me.  If after a disagreement, or even a split in a relationship, I can still truly love my fellow man or woman and even ‘take a bullet’ for him despite my not liking him or her, I would be fulfilling God’s commandment.

While seeking reconciliation at the human level is certainly recommended and promoted, there are instances where it may even be more prudent to not stir up the hornet’s nest and let the land lay fallow, at least for the time being.  Some wounds are best left to heal with time, rather than picking at the scabs resulting in scars that grow deep and even covered with unsightly keloids. 

If we understand that the most important law is to love the Lord with all our heart, mind and soul, then it isn’t hard to understand that the most important thing in confession is that one is reconciled with God first as well.  And if it is possible and expedient, then the first thing that we do after coming out of the confessional is to be reconciled with our brother and sister.  

Monday, June 15, 2020

We should only have one fear in life, and that is the fear of God. All other fears are, as they say, commentary.

There is a certain necessity that is built into our humanity that causes us to feel fear in life.  As much as we may hope, no one is really impervious to fear.  Children at a very young age fear all sorts of things, from monsters hiding under the bed, to just the darkness of night itself.  Later on in life, irrational fears turn into phobias.  Despite the fears that we have, we know that somehow, we will be better versions of ourselves once we deal with and confront the fears that plague our lives.  There is a certain sense of great achievement whenever someone is able to have conquered his or her phobia, oftentimes through some form of therapy.  It’s as if a weight that they had been carrying all the while had finally been lifted off from them.  

But there are some fears that are healthy fears.  Healthy fear is when something that has the potential to be dangerous to one’s life is treated with respect and care.  For example, one should have a respect for the natural currents that are in the ocean and beaches, and not to cast off all fears when swimming in open waters.  One needs wisdom to know when it is not a good time to swim and encounter strong undertows.  Unhealthy fear is when one’s life is controlled and limited, causing one to live with a sense of foreboding and anxiety.  

The issue of fear is often dealt with in the spiritual life as well.  It certainly doesn’t mean that when one has attained some level of spiritual maturity that one doesn’t have any fear in life, because there is one very necessary fear that the spiritual needs to help one to maintain and to a certain extent, cherish.  This fear is the fear of God.

I am sure that I have written about this before in my over ten years of blog writing, but like an old friend, it is always good to revisit it and appreciate anew.  

We see that the writers of the books of the bible intuited fear in the human person, because every time there is an encounter between God and man, whether it is an angel of the Lord, or some personal locution, the first words that are uttered are “be not afraid”, or variants of it.  These tell us, among other things, that it is as if we humans have a certain knee-jerk reaction to God stepping into our lives.  What we also know is that when God created Adam, there was no fear, because God walked with Adam in the Garden freely.  It was when sin entered into the life that God made for Adam that he first felt fear.  It wasn’t so much fear of God, but fear of Adam and Eve’s nakedness.  Prior to the fall, there was no shame, and there was no fear. Concupiscence, the Fathers of the Church tell us, is the root cause of all fears.

Our fears are also often sin-based. Sin has caused sickness and disease to enter into an otherwise flawless world had our first parents not fallen for the tempter’s lies.  As such, the way out of sin, and our fears, is through the person of Jesus Christ.  

Don’t be surprised to find that when the angel Gabriel announced to Mary that she was chosen to be the mother of God, his opening words to Mary were not “be not afraid” but “O favoured one, the Lord is with you!” or variants thereof.  There seems to be no hint of fear in Mary, and this is because she has no sin.  It was only after she wondered what this greeting from the angel could mean that the angel put her at ease by following up with “do not be afraid”.  It was not a phobia or a dread that Mary was feeling, but more that she was in a state of awe, and as scripture says, she was “trying to discern what sort of greeting this might me”.  She was expressing puzzlement and not consternation or trepidation.   

Mary’s role, amongst many other roles, is to bring into the world the one who would ultimately confront humanity’s greatest fears and be the means through which sinful humankind can face all of its fears, with the last bastion of fear being the fear of death.

Realizing this will give us deep insight into two things – the first being just how insidious sin is in our lives. It is the root cause of so many of our anxieties and our apparent inability to be at our best selves on so many different fronts of our lives.  Sin’s effects have dulled our wanting to be the best human beings, the best spouses in marriages, the best workers in our jobs, the best citizens of the countries that we live in, the best parents to our children and the best children to our parents.  We have been robbed of our reach toward our highest flourishing.  

The second but more important thing this reflection ought to result in is a new appreciation of the power that Jesus gives us if we live in total union and devotion to him, handing our lives over to him, as it were, and being as pliable and usable for his purposes as Mary was.  Her fearlessness becomes something that we can aspire toward, and we won’t find ourselves fearing about being too generous and too forgiving in life.  If we think about it, what holds us back from being our best giving selves is often how we will face some sort of deficit or lack after we become generous, either with time, material resources or our love.  

In having said all this, even if we are able to strip all our fears away, one fear needs to be still held firmly in place in our hearts.  It is the healthy fear of God.  This fear is not so much one that finds us cowering and quaking in our boots before God. You certainly don’t find that in any paintings or statues depicting our blessed mother.  Yet, even Mary has a fear of God.  This fear is founded on love.  

When we love anyone deeply, we fear betraying this love, and we also fear that we can show a disregard or disrespect toward this love in any casual way.  We will be mindful of our words, gestures and actions especially when we are in the presence of our beloved, and when speaking of our beloved.  This is not neurosis but an ever consciousness of being loved and wanting to return this love.  

At the end of this written reflection, I guess I have an additional fear.  I fear that what I have explored in this piece will not be understood and that you, my reader, will still continue to live with so many unnecessary fears in life.  

Monday, June 8, 2020

Is there a Catholic privilege that we aren’t aware of as Catholics?

Racism has unveiled its ugly head once more in the light of the very unnecessary and cruel death of a Mr. George Floyd in Minnesota, USA.  This has sparked off an avalanche of riots, protests and marches in just about every state in America.  In some places, this has even resulted in looting and property being set on fire, tainting the face of America, supposedly a leader in the free world.

In the wake of this reaction, terms like white privilege or white advantage have been thrown in the fire of the debate, with even the white people saying that they are ashamed of or uncomfortable with the kind of privilege or in-born security they have over their non-white fellow Americans.  Of course, not all white people would feel the same way.

Here in Singapore, halfway round the world, there is undoubtedly and undeniably a racial mix.  Although Singapore’s indigenous people were not Chinese, it has come to pass that now, citizens of Chinese ethnicity make up about 75% of the total population.  Just by numbers alone, it is not wrong therefore to say that there is a certain Chinese security or Chinese privilege that those who are Chinese enjoy in this tiny island republic.   Thankfully, the leaders of this country have always deemed crucial that there is cohesion and harmony as far as living with the other races is concerned.  

All the reaction that the murder of George Floyd has led to set me thinking about those of us who are Catholics, and it has nothing to do with the Chinese being Catholics, or any other races or ethnicities being Catholic, but simply about us Catholics being Catholics. Are we aware that Catholicism gives us certain privileges over those who are not Catholics?  

As Catholics, whether we were baptized as infants or whether we are converts later on life, how aware or sensitive have we been to how our faith actually does give us certain advantages that others do not enjoy?

Now I know that this reflection can go very wrong from here on, and I want to make it clear that it is not in any shape or form meant to be a criticism or attack on those who are not Catholics. Rather, the aim of this reflection is to help Catholics to identify and appreciate, maybe in a new way, why and how being Catholic has its amazing privileges in and of itself, and more importantly, how realizing it anew really has the power to give new zest in your Catholic life, which will then benefit society as well.

The advantage or privilege that I am referring to has nothing to do with things like being able to get your child into a Catholic school, or being able to purchase a niche to place the cremated remains of your loved ones in a Catholic columbarium in a parish church. I would just call these as being somewhat ancillary to the core of what it is to be Catholic.

Rather, I am referring to the following privileges (this list is in no way exhaustive):

1.  It gives us a divine identity.
Every Catholic is more than just a son or daughter of human parents.  Every baptized person has a dignity and self-esteem that way surpasses any human family can give, because one is an adopted and beloved child of God, the creator of the universe and all that it holds.  When we live this to the full, we can become the saints that all of us are ultimately called to be.  As well, this divine identity gives us the greatest validation that we can ever hope to have, and if we live in the awareness of this every day of our lives, we will not have any reason to feel insecure and as a result, seek validation in things, titles and people.  This has often created pathologies in many lives, as many counsellors and therapists will easily tell you.

2.   It gives our lives a goal and aim that is truly out of this world.
With life in heaven as our ultimate goal, it raises the bar for Catholics.  It means that any earthly goals are not ends in themselves, but means through which that heavenly goal can be attained.  It gives us a supernatural reason to be our best selves in every sphere of life, because each time we put in effort to be the best we can be, we are in fact grooming ourselves and readying ourselves for that heavenly self that God wants us to be.

3.   I don’t have to go through life’s challenges alone. 
As a Catholic, I am keenly aware that I have the tremendous privilege of having the intercessory help of the saints who line the halls of the heavenly banquet.  This enables me to face all the trials and turmoil of this life with the knowledge that I don’t do this alone.  I have not only the prayers of the saints, but also the example of their lives to count on.  

4.   I have a heavenly mother who loves me more than my earthly mother.
All Catholics have the great privilege of having Mary as our heavenly mother who loves us in ways that are purer than our earthly mothers.  Having this privilege puts me in a great advantage in life because the time will come when we will outlive our earthly mothers who we know love us, and who we love dearly.  But when death comes to separate us, we will always have the blessed assurance of Mary’s undying and universal motherhood to count on.

5.   God feeds my body with his body.
As a Catholic I have the inestimable privilege of being present at the sacred event of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ whenever I am at Mass, and to be able to receive Holy Communion, which is truly the Body and Blood, soul and divinity, of Jesus Christ, who is God.  Aware of this truth is what gives me the confidence to live in grace and have a true experience of how deeply my God loves me.  St Faustina is quoted as having said that if angels were capable of envy, they would envy us humans for being able to receive Holy Communion.  This privilege has been far too under-appreciated by many, and sadly, this includes many Catholics as well.

6.   I have a unique way to face the problems and sufferings of life.
When faced with trials and troubles in life, most people will find ways to escape from them, or do all they can to solve them.  While they are not wrong, sometimes we are simply unable to deal with them in these two ways.  The Catholic advantage here is that we believe that such afflictions are a valuable resource that can be offered up for the kingdom of God.  We are very comfortable with terms like ‘sacrifice’ and ‘mortification’ because inherent in our doctrines is the belief that we do not live only for ourselves, but that our purpose in life is to glorify God. This glorification of God can take place in so many ways, one of which is when we live altruistic and generous lives. This enables us to undertake the hardships that we have in life with a purpose that is higher than ourselves, so long as we do it with love.  The pains that we bear with an inner joy enable us to become the spiritual benefactors of souls in need of salvation.

7.   I am never alone in life, and I live not just for myself.
There is an instinctive solidarity that I have as a baptized son or daughter of God with another who shares this same dignity.  It is an expansion of what is called the mystical Body of Christ, which isn’t just something that holds true for this moment of time, but the past and the future as well.  As well, because of this truth, I am moved to live with greater compassion and generosity for others because I truly have good reason to believe that those who share my same faith are truly my brother and sister, disregarding completely their ethnic and racial difference.  

8.   Catholics who marry Catholics have a joint mission for the world and for each other.
When Catholics have Catholic spouses, their marriage is a sacrament.  Essentially, this means that they have a unique ability to be a living sign of God’s love to the world around them (their joint mission).  They are able to do this because of the special grace that a sacramental marriage provides them with.

They are also the benefactors to each other because their marriage is to be the workshop where they shape and mould each other to become their best selves in this world, readying each other for heaven.  Each spouse becomes a saint-maker for each other in their marriage.  They do this by putting in effort to live out the many challenges of ordinary married life – being faithful, honouring one another, putting the other first in life, being forgiving when wronged, becoming humbled and holy each slow day by each slow day, practicing all the virtues that make for a harmonious and life-giving marriage and family life.  

9.   Catholic privilege is enjoyed whenever a sacrament is celebrated in the life of the Catholic.
All of the seven sacraments bestow on the Catholic unmerited graces that come from the bounty of God’s goodness, but of particular need in the spiritual life is the sacramental grace of forgiveness that comes whenever the Catholic goes for confession.  He has the blessed assurance that his sins that he confesses with a contrite heart are truly forgiven by God, and is reinstated to a state of grace.  There is no peace that the world can give that even comes close to this, because there is an inner healing that takes place as well.  

I am certain that there are many other ways that a Catholic enjoys “Catholic privilege”.  And here is where this privilege is distinctively different from “white privilege”, "black privilege", "Chinese privilege", "Indian, Malay, Eurasian privilege" or whatever other privilege that is based on ethnicity or race .  

Though there are ways in which those who have such privileges can and should do something good for society by fighting for justice and equality, one still cannot share or give this away, simply because it is quite literally attached to the colour of one’s skin that one was born with.  So it somehow still remains a “colour-related or race-related privilege”.  But this doesn’t apply to the Catholic privilege in anyway whatsoever.

St Paul makes it clear in Gal.3:28 that for all who are baptized into Christ, there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

The aim of the Catholic privilege is to let others know that all this can be theirs as well, and that is what mission is all about.  The word privilege itself means that it is not something earned, but inherited.  We have been given an inheritance of inestimable value to be baptized Catholics, and it is our task to bring others to share in this inheritance as well.  

Inheritances are only as valuable as they are recognized and held as valuable.  Stories abound where there have been families who had treasures worth millions of dollars in their dusty storerooms all the while, but this was simply unknown to them because they hadn’t bothered to find out what they had. We must not let this happen to our rich inheritance as Catholics.  

Perhaps one reason why Catholics are notoriously slow and reticent in being missionary in their faith is because they have only a modicum of what riches they have been given by God and by the Church.

Monday, June 1, 2020

The search for quick fixes permeates into our spiritual lives as well.

Marketers of products have always known that one of the easiest ways to sell anything is to tout it as a magic pill that will do something that usually takes a lot of effort with the use of whatever is being sold.  From instant cake mixes to gadgets that claim to ‘melt away the inches from your hips and thighs’ without the need for diet and exercise, there will always be people who will believe that there can be great results without putting in effort. 

However, this mentality isn’t confined to the world of commerce and marketing.  Sadly, it has also made its way into the spiritual life as well. Over three nights last week, I was invited to give a three-part talk on the topic of suffering and pain, and toward the last ten minutes of our time on air, we tried to answer some questions that came in from the viewers.  After the sessions, I did an overview and analysis of the questions, and I began to see that it is not uncommon for Catholics, or anyone for that matter, to want a quick-fix to their experiences of suffering and pain.

I can understand why this is so. The human person is somehow hardwired to want to end something that seems like a disruption in life, and the quicker it is, the better.  This could be seen in the way some of the questions were asked.  “What prayers can I say to end my suffering?”, “is there any devotion that I can pray to take away the pain I am experiencing in life?” or “Why isn’t God removing my suffering in life?”

These are just a few of the examples that give me the impression that for many people, the first thing that enters their minds when suffering is at hand, is to find some way to have it removed.  It’s instinctive, and it’s not wrong in and of itself.  However, this is not how the Christian is invited to broach the matter of suffering and pain.  

Of course, I am not at all advocating that if there is a physical pain that is the matter at hand, that the Christian should never seek the use of pain medication.  There are many instances when such medications are truly beneficial for the healing of the body wrecked with a debilitating illness. There have been times in my journey with leukemia that I was on some form of pain medication myself.  

But oftentimes, pain medications don’t really take away the pain.  The pain is still there, but it is masked, numbed, or blocked off.  Besides, medication will always have side effects which in themselves may bring about other forms of suffering and pain.  What is the Christian to do then?
I tried to make it as clear as possible in my talks to say that the Christian, and more particularly, the Catholic approach isn’t one of a removal, but of a ‘living with’.   

Now let’s be clear about one thing here.  Saying that the Catholic approach toward pain and suffering is more of one that is ‘living with’, I am not inferring that Catholics should be masochists.  To deliberately want pain in life for the sake of pain is not something a healthy individual should ever do.

The Catholic mentality needs to somehow embrace the fact that for the most part, pain and suffering is a reality that we live with in life as sinful human beings, and though the idea of getting rid of the pain is tempting and attractive, when the pain is chronic, or when the pain isn’t one that is treatable, when one has to face the fact that the pain and the suffering associated with the pain is going to be long-term, the Catholic tradition really does give one a positive outlookand good reason to carry this cross.  After all, Jesus did say that if one wants to be his disciple, one needs to carry his cross and follow him.  

The great challenge when speaking about an issue as wide-ranging as pain, is that it has a spectrum that is very broad.  Pain is encountered and experienced in many forms.  A person who is in a state of suffering because her teenage son ended his life tragically is suffering pain in a different way that a spouse is suffering the pain of betrayal and infidelity.  A 4thstage cancer patient has a different experience of pain as compared to someone who just found out that he just got the sack from his employers.  Some pains can be treated with pain meds but there are pains that no meds can block. 

Faced with such a broad spectrum of something that touches every human soul in different ways, there really is no “one-size fits all” solution, partly because the response isn’t in a solution, but rather a way to face and handle the pain at hand, and to not only look for a way to have it removed from our lives.  After all, every person who has attained depth of character and developed some degree of resilience and tenacity have become so because they had stayed the course of the hard task of things like training, perseverance and experienced longsuffering instead of escaping from it or finding a way to circumvent what requires effort.  

Pain and suffering have values that teach and train us to be stronger, and this is not something many people understand nor welcome easily. 

This is why the Catholic response, which is to live with the pain with a new consciousness, is so radically different.  Instead of giving a way for one to circumvent and get around the pain, it gives reason for the sufferer to enter into it with a purpose that is higher than the self, but only if one does this with a heart that loves God.

This brave Catholic response only makes sense if one loves God in a very real way.  If the rejection of God’s love by our first parents was the result of sin entering into God’s perfect plan of creation, which caused pain and suffering in its wake, it is only right that the way to address pain and suffering is to face it with love, and bring back love to where there was no love previously.

When we show resilience in still loving God despite our pain and suffering, it is a sign to God, and to the world, that our love for God isn’t predicated only on good things happening to us. When we accept what we can’t change, and can do unimaginable things like thanking God for our afflictions because we believe that we are instruments for him to make his kingdom come, our faith is put on display for all to see.  When we show such humility, we are doing what our first parents were not willing to do in Eden, which was to believe that in all that God does, he really does want the best for us.

Ultimately, embracing the suffering and pain in life in a positive way only can be appreciated by those who see how Jesus was able to attain our salvation through his own suffering and pain on the Cross.  We need to appreciate what it was that gave him the utter conviction that there as a goodness in the pain he was going through for not to have him abort his mission at the point.  If we don’t see that it was love that caused him to stay on the Cross, then it will be extremely hard for anyone who is suffering now to see that there can be a good that comes out of a suffering in one’s life, but only if we have love in our hearts as we live with our hurts, pains and afflictions.

If there is one thing that needs a quick fix, perhaps it is the lack of love and trust that we have in God.