Consoling Thoughts on Suffering

All men suffer. The poor suffer because they lack the necessities of life. The rich suffer because of the “cares of the world, and the deceitfulness of riches” (Mark 4:19), which provoke thousands of anxieties. The young suffer because they don’t have the freedoms they wish to enjoy, or because they lack the intelligence to enjoy them well, while the old suffer because they have aches, pains, resentments, regrets, and ingratitude from the young.

Suffering is the universal lot of man. This truth has been said so many times and in such a variety of ways that its profundity and veracity risk being lost in a platitude.

What follows in a series of bulleted quotes are some thoughts that are in no way platitudes, because they come to us from God. Some few paragraphs of mine at the end will conclude this brief Ad Rem.

  • “For the Spirit himself giveth testimony to our spirit, that we are the sons of God. And if sons, heirs also; heirs indeed of God, and joint heirs with Christ: yet so, if we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified with him. For I reckon that the sufferings of this time are not worthy to be compared with the glory to come, that shall be revealed in us.” — Romans 8:16-18
  • “Amen, amen I say to you, unless the grain of wheat falling into the ground die, Itself remaineth alone. But if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit. ” — John 12:24-25
  • “And we will not have you ignorant, brethren, concerning them that are asleep, that you be not sorrowful, even as others who have no hope.” — I Thessalonians 4:12
  • “Persevere under discipline. God dealeth with you as with his sons; for what son is there, whom the father doth not correct? But if you be without chastisement, whereof all are made partakers, then are you bastards, and not sons.” — Hebrews 12:7-8
  • “Now all chastisement for the present indeed seemeth not to bring with it joy, but sorrow: but afterwards it will yield, to them that are exercised by it, the most peaceable fruit of justice.” — Hebrews 12:11 (and the entire chapter!)
  • “And who is he that can hurt you, if you be zealous of good? But if also you suffer any thing for justice’ sake, blessed are ye. And be not afraid of their fear, and be not troubled. But sanctify the Lord Christ in your hearts, being ready always to satisfy every one that asketh you a reason of that hope which is in you.” — I Peter 3:13-15
  • “But if doing well you suffer patiently; this is thankworthy before God. For unto this are you called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving you an example that you should follow his steps.” — I Peter 2:20-21
  • “And he said to me: My grace is sufficient for thee; for power is made perfect in infirmity. Gladly therefore will I glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may dwell in me.” — 2 Corinthians 12:9
  • “But if you partake of the sufferings of Christ, rejoice that when his glory shall be revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy.” — 1 Peter 4:13
  • “But the God of all grace, who hath called us into his eternal glory in Christ Jesus, after you have suffered a little, will himself perfect you, and confirm you, and establish you.” — 1 Peter 5:10
  • “I am the true vine; and my Father is the husbandman. Every branch in me, that beareth not fruit, he will take away: and every one that beareth fruit, he will purge it, that it may bring forth more fruit. — John 15:1-2
  • “Who now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up those things that are wanting of the sufferings of Christ, in my flesh, for his body, which is the church.” — Colossians 1:24
  • “Can a woman forget her infant, so as not to have pity on the son of her womb? and if she should forget, yet will not I forget thee.” — Isaias 49:15
  • “My brethren, count it all joy, when you shall fall into divers temptations; Knowing that the trying of your faith worketh patience. And patience hath a perfect work; that you may be perfect and entire, failing in nothing.” — James 1:2-4
  • “And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes: and death shall be no more, nor mourning, nor crying, nor sorrow shall be any more, for the former things are passed away.” — Apocalypse 21:4

The Buddhists know of suffering. The Vedas, the Upanishads, and other sacred texts of the Orient speak of suffering. But, for all its faux Asiatic profundity, none of this esoteric pantheism can actually make sense of suffering. Suffering only makes sense in the light of the Cross. And it is there that it must be contemplated, as we with Mary behold Truth Incarnate, who suffered for us: “Looking on Jesus, the author and finisher of faith, who having joy set before him, endured the cross, despising the shame, and now sitteth on the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2).

In our highly commercial culture, advertisers work to profit from suffering, even as they augment it. They hold up to you your sadness, suffering, anxieties, and cares, and then promise you a product that will make you happy, painless, placid, and carefree, just like the actors in their commercials, whose real lives may well be more empty than your own. In the midst of your self-perceived inferiority to these happy denizens of a Capitalist Paradise, you are directed to find true joys only a click or a toll free number away. This is standard fare in the marketing world.

Consider this: If the guys on Madison Avenue know that this works (and it does!) — if, that is, they know how vulnerable the self-pitying sufferer is to their crass and profiteering commercial manipulations — then do not those far more intelligent beings, the fallen pure spirits we call demons, know at least as much?

Yes, we are vulnerable when we suffer. Perhaps this is what Saint James had in mind when he offered that simple advice, “Is any of you sad? Let him pray” (James 5:13). The childlike but generous abandonment of self to God at such moments — through Mary’s Immaculate Heart — can be very fruitful for the soul. If we become gloomy or morose, we become more vulnerable, as Brother Francis assures us in his brief poem, “On Unholy Gloom.”

Our Lord admonishes us to “become as little children” (Matthew 18:3), who have confidence and trust in their parents. A similar confidence and trust, the result of supernatural faith, hope, and charity, is what God wants of us amid our suffering — and He is ready to give it to us if we ask for it.