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.  

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