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Redemptive Suffering
Question from Meggy Power on 10/27/2000:

Hi Father I have often read passing references to the value of redemptive suffering, and that pain can be a sharing in the Passion of Christ.

This seems to be a bit at odds with the ideas of charity and love for one another. Also with things like the hospice movement, which aims to reduce pain and suffering at the end of life.

Could you explain how these ideas fit together please? Thanks a lot

Answer by Fr.Stephen F. Torraco on 10/28/2000:

The Christian Meaning of Suffering It is important for health care professionals to relate to a patient as a person and to help that person understand and cope with his or her suffering as much as possible. Suffering can take many different forms for a human person who, as such, has dreams, hopes, a past, a possible future, relationships, habits, and many other things that make up his or her life experience. Generally speaking, when any two or more of these things are in conflict, it can cause suffering, either physical or spiritual, or both. Human persons are the only creatures who can suffer on the spiritual level. That is because we are the only creatures who have the ability to ask why, which is the question that communicates the fact that we are suffering. As much as we would rather not suffer, the fact of the matter is that suffering causes the image of God in us to stand out precisely when, by the power of our intellect and will, we ask why. We ask why because, when we suffer, we experience evil, or the absence of good, which, the image of God in us enables us to know, should not be. When we turn to Scripture for enlightenment about suffering, we learn first from the Old Testament that suffering is just punishment for sin. In fact, in the language of the Old Testament, suffering and evil are identified with each other. The presupposition of this Old Testament teaching is that God is all powerful as well as the just judge of our actions. Thus, if we suffer, we do so because we deserve it. We find this teaching in the Torah (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy) as well as the Prophets. This teaching presupposes that suffering is to be understood fundamentally in terms of justice. However, when we turn to the Writings in the Old Testament, the Book of Job in particular, we learn that suffering is not always a consequence of one's own actual transgression of God's commandments. At the end of the Book of Job, God reproves Job's friends who had been telling Job that he must have done something wrong for the suffering that afflicted him. God affirms that Job is not guilty of any transgression, and that Job's suffering is the suffering of someone who is innocent of any actual transgression. The implication is that suffering cannot be understood simply in terms of justice. When we turn to the New Testament for greater light on the subject of suffering, particularly St. Paul's teaching about original sin in his Letter to the Romans, we can say that all suffering, indeed evil of every kind, is rooted in the greatest evil of all, namely, separation from God. This separation from God was caused by the original sin, a sin that we did not actually commit but did inherit. This is a separation that we cannot overcome on our own. Who else could overcome our separation from God other than God himself? Who else other than the one who is closest to the Father? Thus, the Father sent his Son to become a man, Jesus Christ. As the Son of God still, Jesus continued to do what he had done from all eternity, namely, love his Father with the Love whom we call the Holy Spirit. As man, Jesus had to learn to do in a human way what he had done from all eternity in a divine way. Thus, Jesus' mission on earth was to translate the Love (Holy Spirit) for his Father into human language, into a human story, his own. The climax of this translation was in Jesus' own suffering and death. In his suffering, Jesus asked why essentially because he humanly experienced a conflict between his being the eternal Son of God in total unity with the Father and, in his suffering and death, being cut off from, or abandoned by, his Father. "My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me?" (Mark 15:34) Jesus, who is not only innocent but also the Son of God (the One closest to the Father), took our separation from God upon himself out of Love (Holy Spirit) for his Father. In light of this, we must say that no one has ever suffered or ever will suffer more deeply than Jesus Christ. We have no idea what it must have been like for the Son of God to suffer the human experience of being alone. Yet this very suffering and death of Jesus Christ is precisely the perfect translation of the Holy Spirit into human terms. Thus the Holy Spirit, being God, could not be contained, imprisoned, or destroyed by suffering and death. Precisely because Jesus' suffering and death is the perfect translation of Holy Spirit, of Divine Love, Jesus rose from the dead. The Holy Spirit ambushed and destroyed death from within death. As St. Paul explains in his Letter to the Romans, this is the same Holy Spirit that has been poured into our hearts and minds through the death and resurrection of Christ. As a result of this outpouring, and as a result of being baptized into Christ, we have been trinified. Otherwise put, we are caught up in the Love between the Father and Son. Consequently, all human suffering has been transformed by and linked with Holy Spirit. All human suffering has been made an extension of Christ's redemptive suffering. For Christ has overcome the greatest evil, our separation from God. This means that for the Christian, suffering has become an opportunity to love with the Love (Holy Spirit) with which God loves.

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