Friday, April 20, 2007

Virginia Tech and the Mystery of Suffering

What is the positive value of suffering? How can it add meaning to our lives?

From today's First Reading (Acts 5:34-42):

"After recalling the apostles [the Sanhedrin] had them flogged, ordered them to stop speaking in the name of Jesus, and dismissed them. So they left the presence of the Sanhedrin, rejoicing that they had been found worthy to suffer dishonor for the sake of the Name."

During his homily this morning Father John Gallas mentioned a quote from St. Faustina Kowalska: "If the angels could envy, they would envy humans for two things. First, we receive Communion, and second, we suffer."

Taken together and by themselves these two quotes might lead one to believe that Christians practice some kind of self imposed masochism. Think self-flagellation, ....exaggerated penances,... "offering it up to Jesus.".

However, there is great value in recognizing some meaning in the midst of our personal trials and tribulations.

Psychoanalyst Viktor Frankl noted the secular psychological value of meaning. He observed that those who survived the WW II concentration camps were usually the ones who found meaning in their suffering. Frankl went on to build an entire school of psycho-analytical practice on this foundational truth: people need to find meaning amid the random chaotic events of our lives. The baseline of our lives is not the will to sex or to have power; it is the will to find meaning.

Nowhere is that need more apparent than in this week's renewed sense of tragedy over the lost lives at Virginia Tech.

The great stain on the Twentieth Century was WWII and its aftermath. Viktor Frankl mined that hell pit for the good of all. Among the newest "causes terrible" of our own century are the War on Terrorism and the personal violence in our own society. In the face of these disparate but related violences we confront the mystery of suffering. This mystery not only lends meaning to suffering, it also renders suffering redemptive.

Some suffering, Catholic Christians would say all suffering, can be made useful for our salvation by being offered up to God for others through love. Parents know this instinctively. I would do anything, anything, for my sons. There is no heartache of theirs which is not automatically and irreversibly my own.

That is the mystery of suffering.... love makes all things possible, or at least bearable. Love for another baptizes whatever we all undergo and makes even the most terrible of events a place of refreshing, if not for ourselves, then for some poor, anonymous soul who has an overdraft notice in the Treasury of Merit.

That bank's vault stands on Golgotha. Its primary account was opened there. But the largesse of our Savior is spread abroad wherever there is a deficit of Love and a surplus of sin.

Each of us must stake our own claim to a share of that Love, both for ourselves and for others. When we ARE able to claim it we are changed and, although it may not be readily apparent, so is the world.

That truth is what I am hanging onto during this very long week.

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