Darkness comes upon all of us. At times, it lifts early like the morning mist–but there are occasions when it clings to us like a chronic cold, or a lingering doubt, or a nightmare that never ends. It orbits our inner world like a shattered satellite. It threatens the basic threads of our existence. It challenges everything we hold dear. It questions everything we consider precious. It harasses, it provokes, it annoys, and it persists.
Why should I be the unlucky one? What am I? Why am I the way that I am, and not you? Why am I here and not there? Does anything make any difference at all? Can I ever be sure of anything I think I know? What if everything proves ultimately to be a grand illusion? What happens after everything ends?
There were times when you were satisfied with ready-made answers. You even taught others. However, now, you yourself are the victim of life’s harsh realities. You are thrust into the world of questions, and you see no answers.
Pain itself makes people halt for a while, think deeper, and descend into serious self-questioning. For instance, the tragedy of the Twin Towers made millions of people ask themselves serious questions.
Why Do Good People Suffer?
See what Job did in his suffering. The Book of Job is a profound reflection on the human condition, the inexplicable ways of all human reality: why good people suffer, why evil accumulates in unexpected places; the brevity of life, the transitory nature of all human affairs, the rejection even by one’s intimates, the convergence of physical and mental agonies, and experiences of total helplessness.
This is what other good people do when they suffer, if they do not see a deeper meaning. They protest in anger like Job. They justify themselves, and lay claim to their fidelity as though it confers on them some privileged right, as Job did. Some abandon the faith.
Pain does not break Jesus; on the contrary, He finds ‘true fulfilment’ in surrendering to the Father’s will. The self-emptying of Jesus on the Cross with the cry “My God, my God, why have you forgotten me?” (Matthew 27: 46) points to a divine design: our redemption. Submitting to God’s plan is our victory. Jesus had already submitted Himself to the Father’s will in Gethsemane (Luke 22: 42). In fact, His entire mission was to fulfil His will (John 4: 34; 6: 38–39), Who was mightily pleased with Him (Matthew 3: 17).
Jesus was not unused to suffering: His upbringing in poverty, His strenuous effort in ministry, His painful experiences in detention. Jesus was always attentive to people’s suffering: the blind, the deaf, the dumb, and the crippled. He wept at the loss of His friend Lazarus. He shed tears for Jerusalem whose destruction He foresaw.
Simone Weil, a modern mystic in France, saw profound meaning in giving her love to “Jesus the most abandoned.” She translated that spirituality into her daily life by making every pain she witnessed in society her own. For example, she was in agony when she learned of the suffering of innocent Jews in the Nazi camp at Auschwitz. She felt one with every social agony of her times caused by prejudice, injustice, or discrimination.
Working in a factory, Simone felt immensely pained to see the sufferings of her fellow workers. While she believed in the dignity of labour, she thought that many of her co-workers were being reduced to the state of slavery. They were subjected to humiliation, degradation, and deception. When work deadens reflection, it becomes alienating.
While she strove for a better state of things, she knew how to accept reality in her daily life, ‘waiting in expectation’ for God’s timely intervention. Patience in hardships in her daily life became her God-centeredness. Faith turns misfortunes into an occasion of blessing and thanksgiving. Surprisingly, sufferings open our eyes to unnoticed realities, provide new motivations, and supply new energies.
That is what happened to Mother Teresa, who plunged herself into the streets of Calcutta on behalf of the poorest of the poor in radical commitment. Despite the hardships she endured every day, she was a picture of bubbling enthusiasm and unfailing resilience. For her, it was not a loss of time to wait on the blind, the deaf, the dumb, or on lepers, and attending to their basic needs. Whether a person was in rags, covered with dirt, smelling at the sores, or showing an extremely bad mood, that individual was still a human being, in fact Jesus Himself.
This would be Mother Teresa’s advice in such a context, “Keep close to pain, my friend. Listen to the message that human agonies have for you.” You may be surprised to find that pain is an invitation to your generosity too. Then, suddenly, you find that you have an immense stock of it. Only pray, “Be a rock of refuge for me…” (Psalm 31: 3) in the hard days ahead.
We are living in an age when we suffer from the ‘pains of uncertainty’, and more uncertainties are growing in a world that is under heavy pressure from secularizing forces and radically questioning philosophies.
That sets the atmosphere for a search, for the re-discovery and strengthening of our faith. It is time to tell ourselves, “Why are you cast down, my soul; why groan within me? Hope in God, I will praise him still, my saviour and my God.” (Psalm 42: 5)
As Job was not satisfied with his friends’ ready-made explanations, our young people today are not happy with the pedantic and facile answers we give them. They want something more profound, something more convincing. They see lack of authenticity everywhere.
When God challenges our overconfidence and baffles our understanding, and our anxieties mount, He is merely revealing His true identity… which is incomprehensible! John of the Cross called this experience the Dark Night of the Soul. It is only an invitation to deeper spirituality. Then you suddenly perceive, “I trusted, even when I said: ‘I am sorely afflicted.’” (Psalm 116: 11)
Solutions To Problems
Then unexpectedly, the Lord prompts solutions to problems, both personal and social. He has made you creative: it is for you to think up answers. If life gives you rocks, it is up to you to build a bridge or a wall, says Edward Luce. “Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all darkness.” (Archbishop Desmond Tutu)
The suffering you have may be severe; it may be ‘soul-killing,’ as William Styron describes it. Let it not depress you. As the depressed person is self-focused; the co-feeling person is concerned about others. He/she has opted for ‘pro-existence’, a life spent for others.
The Lord calls you to be a “light to the nations” (Acts 13: 47; Isaiah 49: 6) precisely in difficult times. He needs you to keep spiritual dreams alive in human society, to sustain its ideals, to strengthen its ethical consciousness, to build bridges between communities, and to keep vibrant their confidence in their eternal destinies. Accept the challenge even if it involves suffering: to help people to change everything negative like anger, hatred, and greed into constructive energy for the Kingdom of God.
Self-renunciation on behalf of others is not ego-killing as some think; it is self-realization, true self-fulfilment. At such a moment, one wins the same joy as one does when he/she composes a poem or a piece of music, or makes a marvellous discovery or accomplishes an impossible task. Amazingly when a person is lost in his concern for others, he has an intense feeling that he is loved and cared for!
New evangelization is precisely about leading people to profounder goals and a genuine encounter with the Lord. It is time for us to invite people to an exploration of the deeper dimensions of their spiritual being, attending to their hurt psyche, hidden fears, and inner hunger for something more profoundly satisfying.
We are invited to develop the art of helping hesitant individuals and communities to hear these words of Jesus: “Do not be worried and upset. Believe in God and believe also in me.” (John 14: 1) If Jesus seems to leave us for a while in troubled times, He will also return. (John 14: 27–28) For, He says, “I will see you again, and your hearts will be filled with gladness.” (John 16: 22)