Many people have lost sight of the promises of God because of the tragedy and sorrow they see in the world all around them. They say, if God is love, why does He allow or permit such sufferings, pains and evils to plague His children? In answer, we could draw one of three conclusions. Either God doesn’t care or God doesn’t exist or perhaps we have a misconception of His plans and purposes and we have been attributing blame to the wrong source for all of the suffering.
Saint Paul in describes Satan as the “god of this world,” and it was his influence that contributed to man’s fall (2 Corinthians 4:4). Suffering happens to everyone. It is a part of life. We all experience it in various capacities. Whether our suffering is due to loss, loneliness, depression, persecution or scorn, it is inescapable. Although we may not be able to avoid suffering and pain, we can react to it, and how we react makes all the difference.
John Cardinal O’Connor of New York once told a suffering woman that “Christ could have saved the world by His miracles, but He chose to save the world by His suffering.” This great truth is the basis of our understanding of redemptive suffering. As we see in Isaiah 53:5, “He was pierced for our rebellion, crushed for our sins. He was whipped so we could be healed.”
The relationship between our present life and the life to come is the condition for the meaningfulness of our sufferings in this life. The gospel shows us that suffering is an opportunity given to us to participate in our future blessedness by offering our present sufferings in union with Christ’s suffering to God in self-giving sacrifice. Our suffering then takes on a whole different dimension, transformed from the occasion of a fist-shaking interrogation of God or cause for doubting His goodness or existence into the great opportunity to show Him trust and self-donation without the least futility, knowing that it will be repaid a hundredfold.
In his encyclical, Rerum Novarum, Pope Leo XIII wrote that “Jesus Christ, when He redeemed us with plentiful redemption, took not away the pains and sorrows which in such large proportions are woven together in the web of our mortal life. He transformed them into motives of virtue and occasions of merit; and no man or woman can hope for eternal reward unless he follows in the blood-stained footprints of His Savior. ‘If we suffer with Him, we shall also reign with Him’” (n. 21, quoting 2 Timothy 2:12).
Here are a few tips I shall propose to deal with suffering and pain. Embrace change. Smile even if you don’t feel it. Soften someone else’s suffering. Don’t try to understand the depth of your suffering. Also, understand that there is a reason for your suffering. Accept the suffering and don’t let it consume you. Read your Bible, especially the book of Job. Finally, pray that God sends you the grace to help you overcome suffering. You cannot overcome any form of suffering without God.
--Father Celestine Tyowua, Parochial Vicar
In our current Sunday message series called Spin Doctoring, we are exploring evil in its many forms. We hope to provide some biblical advice about how to work through suffering in a healthy way by turning the negatives in our lives into positives.
The most basic distinction when it comes to evil is between “moral evil,” which is suffering caused by poor human behavior, and “physical evil” such as disease and natural disasters, which we discussed in last week’s article. The Church calls these forms of suffering “evil” because God never intended it.
But there is one who did intend evil, and he is “pure evil.” In today’s secular and material world, there is widespread disbelief in the existence of the Devil. Having been a member of the archdiocese’s exorcism and deliverance team for several years, I can tell you that such incredulity is misplaced. Satan is alive and well, and his work continues to prosper. As Saint John writes, “we know that we belong to God, [but] the whole world is under the power of the evil one” (1 Jn. 5:19). Jesus himself performed many exorcisms and called Satan “the ruler of this world” (Jn. 12:31; 16:8-11).
Last week’s Sunday message explored the problem of evil generally, and the interaction between Peter and Jesus in the gospel story suggested that trusting and obeying God helps us to heal from the suffering and despair that frequently arises from disobedience. However, it was Satan who first rebelled. An angel created good, he alienated himself from God, refused to obey, and encourages us now to follow his example.
Indeed, the word “Devil” in Greek means “one who splits up or breaks or throws away.” As the Chief Vatican Exorcist, Fr. Gabriele Amorth, wrote, “Satan started the rebellion against God and . . . [i]t is his aim to make the whole creation rebel against the Creator” (Vade retro, Satana! St. Paul’s Press 2014, 7-8). He accomplishes this mission through extraordinary means like the rare instances of human possession, but more frequently through the ordinary means of tempting humankind to sin.
However, we are not helpless against the pure evil of Satan. Overcoming the power of evil is not as difficult as it may seem. As Father Amorth writes, “the Bible never says that we have to be afraid of the Devil, because it assures us that we can resist the Devil if we have strong faith” (Id., 55). Mercifully, our faith offers all the tools we need to resist and prevail over evil through the victory of Jesus Christ won for us on the cross. With regular confession and attendance at Mass, along with frequent private prayer, we can stay in the grace of God and be shielded from evil.
Indeed, the “beatitudes” in this week’s gospel passage turn the evil of this world on its head, transforming its negatives into positives by the behavior of Christian disciples. All we must do is follow.
--Father Roger Gustafson, Pastor
In our new four-week message series that begins today called, Spin Doctoring, we’ll be learning how to turn life’s negatives into positives. Mere existence as a human being has a way of inflicting wounds on us through various forms of suffering. How we choose to react to that suffering and how well we heal from the wounds determines how disfiguring the resulting scars will be.
When evil befalls us, betrayal occurs, or loss happens, the most common and obvious question is “why me?” At those times, many question the goodness or even the existence of God. Indeed, the problem of evil, or what theology calls “theodicy,” is perhaps the most pressing and unavoidable issues challenging our faith. If God is all-good, all-loving, and all-just, why does he allow evil to exist in the world? This message series seeks not only to address the problem of evil but also hopes to offer some biblical advice on how to respond to it.
There are many forms of “evil” or suffering. The most basic distinction is between “moral evil” and “natural evil.” The former is the product of human sin. God is simply not the cause. On the other hand, natural or physical evil often is harder to understand because disease, illness, and natural disasters cause pain and suffering but seem not to involve human activity. There is no “non-divine” explanation for these events, so why would God “cause” them?
While asking God for explanations is an important step in struggling with loss arising from physical evil, other coping strategies ultimately can help you move forward. Here are a few possibilities:
1. Trust in the Goodness of God. “With infinite power . . . wisdom and goodness, God freely willed to create a world in a state of journeying towards its ultimate perfection” (Catechism of the Catholic Church (“CCC”) n. 310). Despite the imperfect state of the world where sickness and tragedies seem to happen without good reason, “God in his almighty provience can bring a good fro the consequences of an evil” (CCC n. 312). To the extent we can cling to this truth, loss will take on some meaning.
2. Look for Heroic Opportunities. As confusing as natural evil may be, tragedy nevertheless offers an opportunity for others to step into heroic roles. A debilitating disease for instance, presents the occasion for a spouse to care lovingly and courageously for his or her beloved. The pain still exists and does not subside, but the basic goodness of humankindness is given the opportunity to flourish in these circumstances.
3. Find Solidarity in Christ. Even in the absence of sufficient explanation, we can take solace in the fact that our God enters into our pain through the central act of Christ’s death on the cross. Even before the Crucifixion, the Bible recounts how Jesus wept bitterly at the death of Lazarus and even was outraged at the reality of death itself. In the deepest moments of our loss, we can turn to God who experienced it all himself and find solidarity in his consolation.
--Father Roger Gustafson, Pastor
We come to the final week of our Sunday message series about spiritual life hacks, simple tweaks to improve everyday life and deepen our connection with God in the New Year. So far, we’ve offered four spiritual life hacks for your consideration: Grow in generosity, spend more time in silence, love what makes you different, and know your faith. This week, we suggest one final strategy to grow in your relationship with God: Know and accept your purpose.
In 2002, Christian pastor Rick Warren wrote The Purpose Driven Life, which has sold over 60 million copies and remained on the New York Times Bestseller List for over 90 weeks. Dividing the book into five major parts, Pastor Warren says that in the bible God has set forth five different purposes for human existence on Earth.
We have adopted a variation of these five purposes in our own five-year pastoral plan for Saint Brendan and have been working through them each year. We call these five purposes:
According to Pastor Warren, these five purposes are every Christian’s purposes, but they must be lived out in particular ways according to the unique gifts and life circumstances given to each person. Moreover our entire existence should be a journey to greater self-knowledge and ever-clearer answers to four basic questions that will help us to discover God’s individual plan for our lives.
Listen to our Sunday message this week, in church or online, to learn more about your particular mission in God’s plan of love for the world.
--Father Roger Gustafson, Pastor
Father Roger Gustafson