Thursday, February 23, 2006

The Redemptive Value of Suffering

My grandmother recently passed away. She'd lived to an advanced age and was fighting her second bought with cancer. Some years earlier she'd fought off a case of lung cancer, but this latest fight was too much for her and she chose to meet her maker with dignity, at home and surrounded by her family.

It's easy to say, "She was ready to go" or "She lived a long life" and harder to accept the loss. While I cling to the faith that tells me I'll see her again in a world without pain, it's still difficult to accept that wasn't some easier way for this faithful servant to go home.

I have relatives (who were, frankly, closer to her than I was) who are beyond just struggling with acceptance and angry with God. I suppose at one time or the other, we all get angry at God and he indulges our arrogance the same way we humor a beloved (but spoiled) child. But leaving aside the conceit that we have some kind of right to tell God his business, what is the complaint? She lived a long life; she didn't live in poverty; she had a full life filled with family, friends and faith - in fact those three words pretty much describe and define Grandma.

The anger I've heard expressed is that she suffered in the end. Despite all our advances in medical science, it's just not possible to eliminate all pain. The doses of pain-killers we use just to control pain often leave the patient so out of it that they pretty much sleep away what's left of their life. And if the alternative is that they suffer pain, then what else is to be done? I think the issue is really that as a culture, a society, we've lost the concept of the redemptive value of suffering.

This is a very Catholic concept, today, but it used to be a very American one. The idea that life was hard and that there was virtue in endurance. The example of Christ's life as one of enduring incredible adversity in order to achieve an eternal reward wasn't just a religious concept, it was nearly a national moré. As we've become more successful, we've replaced this with a more hedonistic idea that not only should not face any suffering, it is our right to live a life that's completely adversity-free.

It's not just that this is unrealistic. In persisting in such a belief, we cheat ourselves by not mining the gold that come from the real experiences of life. The result of such a life used to be called character, but today would probably just be endurance.

I'm probably muddling this up more than I need to - Mother Angelica put it better:

Jesus came as man and, because He accepted the consequences of our fall and suffered as we all suffer, He elevated suffering, transformed it, gave it power, and considers the pain of each member of the human race His pain. So much so that when I alleviate the pain of my brother, or am compassionate with his life, Jesus considers this done to Him.

There was suffering, pain, hunger and thirst, before Redemption, and there is still suffering, pain, hunger and thirst after Redemption. Redemption gave me more than an exemption from pain: it gave me Jesus, grace, the Spirit, love, peace and joy. It raises me above pain.

God does not will that I suffer, just as He did not will that Adam and Eve sin. But since they sinned and I inherit the weaknesses that are a result of that sin, I do and always will have something to endure.

Christ's Redemption merited for me a participation in His Divine Nature as God through grace, and a participation in His sufferings as Man, through the Cross.

He came down from glory to my suffering level that I might rise from my misery to His Glory.

Read the whole article here.

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