By: Paul Murano – March, 2020
There may be no greater difference in the two competing world views today, secular progressivism and Catholicism, than how each views suffering. As a significant part of the human condition, today’s world tends to see no value in suffering. Catholicism sees it differently. This season of Lent is a good time on which to reflect and reevaluate the meaning and purpose of suffering.
Three things to consider of the bat: First, suffering in itself is not good. Second, only humans suffer.
Animals certainly feel pain, but do not suffer, since suffering necessitates possession of self-consciousness and the ability to mentally reflect on one’s pain. And third, no one of sound mind enjoys suffering. It is not fun.
There are also three general ways to react to the reality of suffering – the secular progressive response, the eastern Buddhist response, and the Catholic Christian response.
The secular progressive response is to avoid all suffering at all costs, since to them it has no meaning. This is a cowardly approach since it often effectively passes on the suffering to others.
The eastern Buddhist response is to deny the existence of suffering by denying the existence of self. In other words, kill the patient to anesthetize the pain.
For the Christian, suffering is a consequence of original sin, and now serves as redemptive punishment. Different than the first two responses, the Christian response is neither flight (like the secularist) nor denial (like the Buddhist), but rather one of facing the reality of suffering with courage. When suffering comes our way and no reasonable means of pain-killers can alleviate it, the Christian response is one of acceptance, to face it head on, and to embrace it with honor and dignity. Doing so atones for sin – ours and other people’s.
We all deserve suffering. This is because we all have contributed to the evil and injustice in the world by our sins and selfishness. The Christian knows that if we accept our crosses humbly we can satisfy justice and become better persons in the process. Accepting it without bitterness or complaining serves as expiation to redress the wrongdoing and serves as medicine to combat the imbalance within us that sin has created. It is rehabilitative to an ego that foolishly believes we’re in complete control of our lives. If we respond humbly to suffering we both ‘pay the price’ due to the injustice we perpetrated onto others and we purify our souls in the process.
The progressive and Buddhist responses to suffering short-circuits golden opportunities to change one’s heart and attain salvation. Many people today, with a dearth of spiritual awareness, have no appreciation for this and hold with that euthanasia is a merciful act and should be legalized. Ending suffering, they claim, is worth intentionally ending life.
The Christian, however, understands that life is an unfathomable gift that we have no right to take, regardless of our circumstances. Since intentionally killing an innocent human being is murder, “mercy-killing” is murder. If one chooses self-murder one places oneself in grave danger of losing one’s soul to the kind of suffering that is infinitely worse than what one can experience on earth. Since rejecting the gift means rejecting the gift-Giver, one risks the never-ending deep suffering of despair of hell.
Suffering at the end of one’s life could be a hidden blessing for the one suffering. It is possible such suffering near death could be exactly what a person needs in order to repent and give his or her heart to God. In other words, taking away the opportunity to accept suffering and offer it up to God could mean the difference between an eternity in heaven or in hell for the person.
Life is not lived fully with a Progressive or a Buddhist view of suffering, where physical or psychological death respectively is preferred. Only the Catholic view of suffering, to take up one’s cross for the purposes of expiation and purification, enables us to embrace life fully in this world, and gives us the best opportunity for living in perfect unending happiness with God and the saints in the next.
Paul Murano is talk host of ‘Beneath the Surface’ radio and video podcasts, teaches college philosophy and theology, and is a staff writer/producer. Check out Paul’s website at Paulmurano.com. Email him at PJDM@aol.com.