Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Pope Benedict XVI on "The Cross"

via CERC:
"Today what people have in view is eliminating suffering from the world. For the individual, that means avoiding pain and suffering in whatever way. Yet we must also see that it is in this very way that the world becomes very hard and very cold. Pain is part of being human. Anyone who really wanted to get rid of suffering would have to get rid of love before anything else, because there can be no love without suffering, because it always demands an element of self-sacrifice, because, given temperamental differences and the drama of situations, it will always bring with it renunciation and pain.

When we know that the way of love — this exodus, this going out of oneself — is the true way by which man becomes human, then we also understand that suffering is the process through which we mature. Anyone who has inwardly accepted suffering becomes more mature and more understanding of others, becomes more human. Anyone who has consistently avoided suffering does not understand other people; he becomes hard and selfish.

Love itself is a passion, something we endure. In love I experience first a happiness, a general feeling of happiness. Yet, on the other hand, I am taken out of my comfortable tranquility and have to let myself be reshaped. If we say that suffering is the inner side of love, we then also understand by it is so important to learn how to suffer — and why, conversely, the avoidance of suffering renders someone unfit to cope with life. He would be left with an existential emptiness, which could then only be combined with bitterness, with rejection, and no longer with any inner acceptance or progress toward maturity."
A protestant minister and good friend once told me that he admired how Catholics address suffering. "We have difficulty with it," he said, "We try to get around it or somehow explain it away. You face it head on!"

That doesn't make it easy. If the experience of pain were easy, there would be nothing heroic about doing so. If suffering were simple, then anyone could do it.

Our culture can't understand suffering. Our medical institutions treat away any health condition that inflicts it. Our psychiatric institutions treat away any psychiatric condition that threatens to inflict it. Our entertainment, commercial and non-profit institutions do their part to alleviate suffering.

And there's nothing wrong with the alleviation of suffering. Especially others' suffering: that is what mercy does, after all.

However, there's definitely something wrong with the desire to avoid unavoidable suffering.

When we experience pain we can't escape from, we must come to accept it. We must live with it. What choice do we have? It's inevitable.

Yet how many sins have we committed in order to deny it? How many offenses have we unintentionally perpetrated in order to escape it? How many times have we hurt the ones closest to us in order to be rid of it?

Too many.

And the truth is we don't have to deny, escape or rid ourselves of unavoidable suffering. We can share it with our savior. We can experience our suffering through his passion. When we join our suffering with his through our prayer and honest experience of our lives as they are, we live our communion with him in a unique and gratuitous way. We may even mysteriously find that our suffering passes. Either that, or our perception of it has been transformed.

We do not live alone. We do not suffer alone. Christ has embraced all of our humanity except our sinfulness. Let us rejoice in his compassion and share our suffering in his! We won't regret it.