"If my people, who are called by My name, humble themselves and pray, and seek My face and turn from their evil ways, I will hear them from heaven and pardon their sins and revive their land." 2 Chronicles 7:14
Lenten Journey Calls Christians To Respond Like Jesus
World Day Of Sick Focuses On Mentally Ill
In Defense of Life: Why Pray?
Listen To St. Joseph, A Man Of Faith In Action
Pain And Suffering: An Enigma Or A Mystery?
Pray the News
March 1, is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent, a time of repentance and conversion leading to Easter. In his message for Lent, dated September 29, Pope Benedict XVI calls Christians to respond to the needs of others, especially the poor and abandoned, with the mind and heart of Christ. His message follows:
"Lent is a privileged time of interior pilgrimage towards Him Who is the fount of mercy. It is a pilgrimage in which He Himself accompanies us through the desert of our poverty, sustaining us on our way towards the intense joy of Easter. Even in the 'valley of darkness' of which the Psalmist speaks (Ps 23:4), while the tempter prompts us to despair or to place a vain hope in the work of our own hands, God is there to guard us and sustain us. Yes, even today the Lord hears the cry of the multitudes longing for joy, peace, and love. As in every age, they feel abandoned. Yet, even in the desolation of misery, loneliness, violence, and hunger that indiscriminately afflict children, adults, and the elderly, God does not allow darkness to prevail. In fact, in the words of my beloved Predecessor, Pope John Paul II, there is a 'divine limit imposed upon evil,' namely, mercy (Memory and Identity, pp. 19ff.). It is with these thoughts in mind that I have chosen as my theme for this Message the Gospel text: 'Jesus, at the sight of the crowds, was moved with pity' (Mt 9:36).
"In this light, I would like to pause and reflect upon an issue much debated today: the question of development. Even now, the compassionate 'gaze' of Christ continues to fall upon individuals and peoples. He watches them, knowing that the divine 'plan' includes their call to salvation. Jesus knows the perils that put this plan at risk, and He is moved with pity for the crowds. He chooses to defend them from the wolves even at the cost of His own life. The gaze of Jesus embraces individuals and multitudes, and He brings them all before the Father, offering Himself as a sacrifice of expiation.
"Enlightened by this Paschal truth, the Church knows that if we are to promote development in its fullness, our own 'gaze'' upon mankind has to be measured against that of Christ. In fact, it is quite impossible to separate the response to people's material and social needs from the fulfillment of the profound desires of their hearts. This has to be emphasized all the more in today's rapidly changing world, in which our responsibility towards the poor emerges with ever greater clarity and urgency. My venerable Predecessor, Pope Paul VI, accurately described the scandal of underdevelopment as an outrage against humanity. In this sense, in the Encyclical Populorum Progressio, he denounced 'the lack of material necessities for those who are without the minimum essential for life, the moral deficiencies of those who are mutilated by selfishness' and 'oppressive social structures, whether due to the abuses of ownership or to the abuses of power, to the exploitation of workers or to unjust transactions' (ibid., 21). As the antidote to such evil, Paul VI suggested not only 'increased esteem for the dignity of others, the turning towards the spirit of poverty, cooperation for the common good, the will and desire for peace,' but also 'the acknowledgement by man of supreme values, and of God, their source and their finality' (ibid.). In this vein, the Pope went on to propose that, finally and above all, there is 'faith, a gift of God accepted by the good will of man, and unity in the charity of Christ' (ibid.). Thus, the 'gaze' of Christ upon the crowd impels us to affirm the true content of this 'complete humanism' that, according to Paul VI, consists in the 'fully-rounded development of the whole man and of all men' (ibid., 42). For this reason, the primary contribution that the Church offers to the development of mankind and peoples does not consist merely in material means or technical solutions. Rather, it involves the proclamation of the truth of Christ, Who educates consciences and teaches the authentic dignity of the person and of work; it means the promotion of a culture that truly responds to all the questions of humanity.
"In the face of the terrible challenge of poverty afflicting so much of the world's population, indifference and self-centered isolation stand in stark contrast to the 'gaze' of Christ. Fasting and almsgiving, which, together with prayer, the Church proposes in a special way during the Lenten Season, are suitable means for us to become conformed to this 'gaze.' The examples of the saints and the long history of the Church's missionary activity provide invaluable indications of the most effective ways to support development. Even in this era of global interdependence, it is clear that no economic, social, or political project can replace that gift of self to another through which charity is expressed. Those who act according to the logic of the Gospel live the faith as friendship with God Incarnate and, like Him, bear the burden of the material and spiritual needs of their neighbors. They see it as an inexhaustible mystery, worthy of infinite care and attention. They know that he who does not give God gives too little; as Blessed Teresa of Calcutta frequently observed, the worst poverty is not to know Christ. Therefore, we must help others to find God in the merciful face of Christ. Without this perspective, civilization lacks a solid foundation.
"Thanks to men and women obedient to the Holy Spirit, many forms of charitable work intended to promote development have arisen in the Church: hospitals, universities, professional formation schools, and small businesses. Such initiatives demonstrate the genuine humanitarian concern of those moved by the Gospel message, far in advance of other forms of social welfare. These charitable activities point out the way to achieve a globalization that is focused upon the true good of mankind and, hence, the path towards authentic peace. Moved like Jesus with compassion for the crowds, the Church today considers it her duty to ask political leaders and those with economic and financial power to promote development based on respect for the dignity of every man and woman. An important litmus test for the success of their efforts is religious liberty, understood not simply as the freedom to proclaim and celebrate Christ, but also the opportunity to contribute to the building of a world enlivened by charity. These efforts have to include a recognition of the central role of authentic religious values in responding to man's deepest concerns, and in supplying the ethical motivation for his personal and social responsibilities. These are the criteria by which Christians should assess the political programs of their leaders.
"We cannot ignore the fact that many mistakes have been made in the course of history by those who claimed to be disciples of Jesus. Very often, when having to address grave problems, they have thought that they should first improve this world and only afterwards turn their minds to the next. The temptation was to believe that, in the face of urgent needs, the first imperative was to change external structures. The consequence, for some, was that Christianity became a kind of moralism, 'believing' was replaced with 'doing.' Rightly, therefore, my Predecessor, Pope John Paul II, of blessed memory, observed: 'The temptation today is to reduce Christianity to merely human wisdom, a pseudo-science of well-being. In our heavily secularized world, a "gradual secularization of salvation" has taken place, so that people strive for the good of man, but man who is truncated. . .We know, however, that Jesus came to bring integral salvation' (Redemptoris Missio, 11).
"It is this integral salvation that Lent puts before us, pointing towards the victory of Christ over every evil that oppresses us. In turning to the Divine Master, in being converted to Him, in experiencing His mercy through the Sacrament of Reconciliation, we will discover a 'gaze' that searches us profoundly and gives new life to the crowds and to each one of us. It restores trust to those who do not succumb to skepticism, opening up before them the perspective of eternal beatitude. Throughout history, even when hate seems to prevail, the luminous testimony of His love is never lacking. To Mary, 'the living fount of hope' (Dante Alighieri, Paradiso, XXXIII, 12), we entrust our Lenten journey, so that she may lead us to her Son. I commend to her in particular the multitudes who suffer poverty and cry out for help, support, and understanding. With these sentiments, I cordially impart to all of you a special Apostolic Blessing."
The recent World Day of the Sick called attention to the needs of the mentally ill, their families, and caregivers. Pope Benedict XVI's message for the day was dated December 8, 2005. His message follows:
"The 14th World Day of the Sick will be celebrated on February 11, 2006, the liturgical Memorial of Our Lady of Lourdes. Last year the Day was celebrated at the Marian Shrine of Mvolyé, Yaoundé, and on that occasion the faithful and their Pastors, on behalf of the whole African Continent, reaffirmed their pastoral commitment to the sick.
"The next World Day of the Sick will be celebrated in Adelaide, Australia, and the events will culminate with a Eucharistic Celebration in the Cathedral dedicated to St. Francis Xavier, an unflagging missionary to the peoples of the Orient.
"On this occasion, the Church intends to bow down over those who suffer with special concern, calling the attention of public opinion to the problems connected with mental disturbance that now afflicts one-fifth of humanity and is a real social-health care emergency.
"Recalling the attention that my venerable Predecessor John Paul II devoted to this annual event, I too, dear brothers and sisters, would like to be spiritually present on the World Day of the Sick, to pause in order to reflect, in harmony with those taking part, on the situation of the mentally ill in the world and to call for the commitment of Ecclesial Communities to bear witness to the tender mercy of God towards them.
"In many countries, legislation in this field does not yet exist and in others, there is no definite mental-health policy. It should then be noted that prolonged armed conflicts in various regions of the world, the succession of terrible natural catastrophes, and the spread of terrorism, in addition to causing a shocking number of deaths, has triggered psychological traumas that are sometimes difficult to cure in many survivors.
"In the economically highly-developed countries, experts then recognize that at the origin of new forms of mental disease we may also find the negative impact of the crisis of moral values. This increases the feeling of loneliness, undermining and even breaking up traditional forms of social cohesion, starting with the family institution, and marginalizing the sick, particularly the mentally ill who are all too often considered as a burden on the family and community.
"Here I would like to praise those who in different ways and capacities work so that the spirit of solidarity is not lacking and that people persevere in taking care of these brothers and sisters of ours, finding inspiration in human and Gospel-based ideals and principles.
"I therefore encourage the efforts of those who strive to ensure that all mentally ill people are given access to necessary forms of care and treatment. Unfortunately, in many parts of the world, services for these sick people are lacking, inadequate, or in a state of decay.
"The social context does not always accept the mentally ill with their limitations, and this is another reason difficulties are encountered in securing the human and financial resources that are needed.
"One perceives the need to better integrate the two approaches: appropriate therapy and new sensitivity towards disturbance, so as to enable workers in the sector to deal more effectively with these sick people and their families, who would be unable on their own to care adequately for their relatives in difficulty. The next World Day of the Sick is a suitable occasion to express solidarity to families who have mentally ill persons dependent upon them.
"I would now like to address you, dear brothers and sisters, tried by illness, to invite you to offer your condition of suffering, together with Christ, to the Father, certain that every trial accepted with resignation is meritorious and draws divine goodness upon the whole of humanity.
"I express appreciation to those who help and care for you in residential centers, day hospitals, and wards providing diagnosis and treatment, and I exhort them to strive to ensure that medical, social, and pastoral assistance for those in need is never lacking, respectful of the dignity proper to every human being.
"The Church, particularly through the work of her chaplains, will not fail to offer you her help, well aware that she is called to express Christ's love and concern for those who suffer and for those who look after them.
"I commend pastoral workers and voluntary associations and organizations to support in practical ways and through concrete initiatives, those families who have mentally ill people dependent upon them. I hope that the culture of acceptance and sharing will grow and spread to them, thanks also to suitable laws and health-care programs which provide sufficient resources for their practical application.
"The training and updating of personnel who work in such a delicate sector of society is more urgent than ever. Every Christian, according to his specific duty and responsibility, is called to make his contribution so that the dignity of these brothers and sisters may be recognized, respected, and promoted.
"Duc in altum! This invitation of Christ to Peter and the Apostles I address to the Ecclesial Communities spread throughout the world and in a special way to those who are at the service of the sick, so that, with the help of Mary, Salus infirmorum, they will witness to God's goodness and fatherly concern. May the Holy Virgin comfort those who are afflicted by illness and support those who, like the Good Samaritan, soothe their physical and spiritual wounds. I assure each of you that you will be remembered in my prayer, as I willingly impart my Blessing upon you all."
Fred H. Summe, vice president of Northern Kentucky Right to Life
Pray as though everything depended upon God; work as though everything depended upon you. This teaching of St. Benedict has rung true through the centuries and still remains good advice in the Third Millennium, especially for those who give witness to the sanctity of all innocent human life.
The thoughts of St. Benedict, however, should not be misinterpreted to imply that somehow prayer and work are separate and independent human activities. In fact, they are the same thing, i.e., doing the will of God.
We all know that we do not pray to God so that He may realize our needs, nor do we serve others because God could not accomplish some things without our assistance.
We pray so that we may better understand His will, and we do service in His honor because he has selected us for a particular task. To those involved in the pro-life movement, prayer prepares one to take action. The activities, the giving witness, the reaching out to others, deepen one's prayers.
Spending time in prayer does not relieve one from giving witness to others by human activities, nor does involvement in the pro-life movement to save God's children, draw one away from quiet time spent with Him.
When we call upon God to end abortion, explains Fr. Frank Pavone, founder and President of Priests For Life, God will respond by calling upon us. "He is going to put conviction in our hearts and words on our lips and command us to speak and to act."
The Purpose of Praying
Fr. Pavone explains how prayer impacts the pro-life activist.
First, prayer enables us to avoid discouragement. Unless we have an understanding of the total picture (i.e., abortion is at this time in the United States part of the continual struggle, which has been going on since the beginning of the human race, between good and evil) a pro-lifer quickly becomes "burnt out." Prayer reminds us that victory has already been obtained, but that, as Jesus promised, we will have to suffer.
Without continual prayer, those involved in the pro-life movement would soon become discouraged by the tedious progress that has been made. Prayer offers hope, from which pro-lifers can draw the strength and endurance necessary to continue, in spite of any and all setbacks, to proclaim the sanctity of all God's children. Along with the temptation to become discouraged, is the tendency to become bitter.
Secondly, "prayer gives us the power to love those who oppose us," teaches Fr. Pavone, writing in Lay Witness, published by Catholics United for the Faith, "because by definition, prayer calls down God's grace upon them – a grace that leads to conversion – and allows us to look at them through the shed blood of Jesus Christ, into the Eucharistic eyes."
Thirdly, through prayer, we become aware of our failures, and in humility, we can view the failures of others without bitterness.
Prayer not only avoids bitterness towards those who promote, enable, or perform abortions, but also against those who, while professing to follow the Judeo-Christian principles of the sanctity of human life, do little or nothing, except to discourage others from becoming involved in the pro-life movement.
It is especially easy to become resentful toward those on whom God has placed a special burden of leading His Church in establishing a culture of life. "The charity we extend to those who oppose us also applies to those who lead us, even when they fall short…A life of prayer includes prayer for our bishops and priests. There is nothing wrong with seeing their shortcomings and being disappointed in their failures. But disappointment does not need to lead to bitterness," teaches Fr. Pavone.
Through prayer and through our witness, those in leadership, upon whom accountability will be heightened, will find encouragement to accept the role to which God is calling them to respond.
Fourthly, we cannot change the hearts and minds of others, unless we first change our hearts and minds. With an increase in holiness will come an increase in the effectiveness of our many tasks of giving witness. "The only thing that will move people to leave the culture of death is to meet real Christians, to meet Christ," preaches Fr. Philip J. Reilly, founder of the Helpers of God's Precious Infants. He continues, "…the purpose of being pro-life is eternal life."
With the encouragement of Fr. Reilly, and following his model, pro-lifers in Northern Kentucky continue their prayer war on the streets of Cincinnati. On the second, third, and fourth Saturday of each month, pro-lifers gather at Holy Name Church on Auburn Avenue (three blocks north of Christ Hospital) for Mass, followed by a Rosary procession to the abortion mill of Planned Parenthood, returning for Benediction.
Why go to the abortion clinic to pray? What's the difference if you attend Saturday morning Mass at your local parish? The abortion mill is Calvary, the place where innocent blood is shed, explains Fr. Reilly.
Mary, the women who accompanied her, and St. John were there, while the other ten always regretted that, even though their presence would not have changed the outcome, they had failed Him by not being there.
Fr. Reilly stresses, however, it does not end with praying at Calvary: "We must be there for her. . .Eternal souls are at risk: mom and dad, the doctor, grandma. Every single child is killed one at a time by the people to whom God entrusted it. Sometimes the mother is the least responsible of the whole bunch."
It is through prayer that pro-lifers find the strength, the encouragement, and the charity to reach out to those in need, with support and assistance.
On the second, third, and fourth Saturday of each month, all are invited to Calvary at 8 a.m. for the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass offered at Holy Name Church – as pro-lifers of all ages join Mary at the foot of the cross.
by Louis Templeman
(Editor's note: Mr. Templeman writes from Florida. He is a student in Presentation Ministries' Guadalupe Bible College. We welcome contributions from prisoners. We would like to hear from a variety of prisoners.)
There once was a man sent by God. His commission was simple: Protect the woman. Protect the child.
He led them on a journey. One night came when he could find no shelters. His money, his strength, his gift of persuasion, all his desperate imagination could find him nothing more than a doghouse, a mule stall, a cow stable.
This man sent by God had a dream. Believe the woman, he was told. Trust God. As he pitched the filthy straw out of the animal shelter, as he slapped at fleas, as he made a pallet of fresh hay, as he covered the hay with personal pieces of cloth and apparel, he heard the woman. She cried. She labored in birth. The baby was coming soon.
Whose baby? Hers, certainly. God's? He gritted his teeth, silenced his doubts, remembered the dream, wished he had a real room. Or, at least a place where he could make a fire.
He had God's commission, but no shelter. He had God's call, but no help. He was the man God counted on, but he failed to provide. He had a dream, but his wife had no bed.
"How humiliating," he thought. Yet he'd done his best. Tomorrow the news would spread. What kind of man is this? To carry a pregnant wife on such a trip, with so little preparation? When at the focus of public shame, he would recall his private dream.
He stood under the stars that, without the washout caused by modern city lights, pinpricked the black sky with hundreds of thousands of tiny lights burning in vivid intensity. He is as one of those lights, he thought. A child of Abraham whose children are as the stars of heaven and the sand of the sea. He was one small beam in a sea of numberless pinpricks on a vast canopy of lights.
His lack of success on this awful night causes him to feel meaningless, powerless, and ineffective. But the stars reminded him of the promise of Scripture. The promise and his dream helped him see significance in his tiny life. Helped him through this difficult dark night.
The long night continued. Later he would hear of a strange music concert from local shepherds. Weeks later he would hear a mysterious prophecy from a priest in Jerusalem's temple that covered the life of his wife and the baby. Not him. He would watch over them. But he would have no significant impact on the larger issues in their life of promise.
Even later he would receive some strange rich men, scholars, astrologers. They left him with gifts which would finance his seven years as head of a refugee family in Egypt.
He was a silent man. He was faithful. He kept on keeping on in the face of confusion and humiliation and the jarring changes in his plans. We have no record of his words, and only the dream passage reveals his thinking. Scripture mainly depicts his action.
Joseph is therefore known to us as a man of action. A man of integrity. A man who put others first. Was Jesus thinking of him when he preached, "Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of God."
Joseph entertained no dream of big promises for himself. He worked to facilitate big promises for others.
On March 19, Catholics and all Christians who practice liturgical worship will consider Joseph, husband of Mary, foster father of Jesus. It is his feast day. The Eucharist will be in his honor.
On that day I will ask St. Joseph to pray for me that I learn to quiet the voice of complaining and worry and instead practice the articulation of faithful, silent work.
In the prison I live in here in North Florida, I find Joseph particularly brave and helpful. He was caught in his own peculiar prison.
Once he believed the dream, he was apprehended. He was swept into a life he never intended. Joseph was jerked around by circumstances; by God's will. Finding God's fingerprints on his life, he carried on. He knew it was not about him. It was all about the woman and the child. It was about God.
I can see God's fingerprints in my life. It has gotten me through these last four years of trauma. Joseph helps me by his prayers and example.
In what type of prison do you suffer? Might you lift up your suffering to Christ and use it as an opportunity to bless others in prayer and action? Could you use it as an opportunity to act like your life is not all about you? It is all about God and His will. His kingdom come in your life as it is in heaven.
Listen to St. Joseph's wordless sermon. Meditate on his story. He will help you find Christ in the difficult phases of your life.
Cardinal Javier Lozano Barragan, president of the Pontifical Council For Health Pastoral Care, analyzed the subject of "'Pain, an enigma or a mystery?' The thinking and theology of John Paul II; a Christian understanding of pain and suffering" in a 2005 lecture. The Vatican web site published excerpts from the lecture. These excerpts follow:
"I have been asked to expound on John Paul II's incomparable thinking on human pain. I shall first mention briefly several facts about the physiology of human pain. Then, given the Holy Father's openness to all human values, it seems to me that it would be interesting to allude to and discuss certain key thoughts on four solutions from outside the Christian context.
The enigma of suffering
"Pope John Paul II does not conceal the fact that suffering is something complex, enigmatic, and intangible that must be treated with full respect and compassion and even with awe; but this does not justify the attempt to understand it, since only in this way will it be possible to come to terms with it.
"He then briefly outlines the context of suffering, speaking of the vast field of suffering and of the suffering person. He notes from the outset that a misunderstanding of suffering can actually lead to the denial of God.
"Pope John Paul II states: 'Suffering is something which is still wider than sickness,' because there is a 'distinction between physical suffering and moral suffering' (Salvifici Doloris, n. 5).
"In addition to individual suffering, there is collective suffering due to human errors and transgressions, especially war. There are also times when this collective suffering becomes more acute.
"Suffering has a subject and it is the individual who experiences it; yet it is not imprisoned within the person but gives rise to solidarity with others who are suffering; for the only one who has a special awareness of this is the person, the whole person. Thus, suffering involves solidarity (cf. ibid., n. 8).
"It is far from easy to define the cause of suffering or of the evil connected with it. People put questions to God about its cause and frequently reach the point of denying Him when they are unable to discover the reason for it (cf. ibid., n. 9).
"One first needs to frame the enigma correctly and begin to seek its cause.
"Suffering, the Pope says, consists in feeling cut off from good. Being cut off from good is an evil. Consequently, the cause of suffering is an evil; so, suffering and evil can be identified with each other.
"As for evil, it is a deprivation; it has no positive value in itself and therefore cannot be a positive cause or principle, for its origin is a mere privation. There are as many evils as things that are wanting: an evil, according to its intensity, gives rise to pain, sorrow, depression, disappointment, and even desperation; it exists in dispersion but at the same time entails solidarity. Since it originates in privation, the inevitable question is: 'Why did this deprivation occur, what is its cause?'
"To respond, the Pope leaves the area of enigma and moves on to that of mystery. He does not attempt to do so with the nebulous obscurity of myth but penetrates to the very core of the Christian faith.
"Mystery, in the Christian faith, is not darkness but dazzling brightness. The etymological root of the word helps us understand something about it: 'mystery' derives from the Greek 'muo' or 'muein,' which means closing the eyes, not in the sense of going about blind, but of closing the eyes if they are dazzled, such as occurs, for instance, when we look directly at the sun. It is only the dazzling light, its excessive brightness, that prevents us from seeing anything in front of us, and it is in this that we can make out the mystery of suffering.
"Furthermore, the Christian mystery is not only something contemplated but also experienced. Only by experiencing the mystery can we penetrate it with our minds. Only by living the mystery of Christian suffering can we get an idea of what suffering means and, as the Pope said previously, transcend it and overcome it. Let us now try to describe suffering.
The mystery of suffering
"Three topics, among others, that the Pope addresses in his Apostolic Letter Salvifici Doloris with regard to suffering as a mystery are: 'evil and suffering,' 'Christ takes on suffering,' and 'the value of human suffering.' To enter into the mystery, let us be guided by God Himself. The Pope enables us to penetrate into Revelation in order to move on to ascension in the mystery.
"The Holy Father tells us that in Old Testament biblical language, suffering and evil are at first identified with each other. Thanks to the Greek language, however, a distinction is made particularly in the New Testament between suffering and evil. Suffering is a passive or active attitude to evil, or rather, to the lack of a good that it would be desirable to possess (cf. ibid., n. 7).
"In fact, in the Book of Job and in some other books of the Old Testament, the answer is that the cause of evil is the transgression of the natural order created by God. Suffering and transgression were held to be the same, or at least it was believed that suffering was caused by transgression. This is the opinion of Job's friends (cf. ibid., n. 10).
"However, although God rejects this theory and approves Job's innocence, his suffering remains a mystery: not all suffering is consequential to transgression, which is proof of Job's righteousness. It prefigures the Lord's passion (cf. ibid., n. 11). It further affirms that suffering is a punishment inflicted for self-correction, since good follows evil, leading to conversion and to rebuilding goodness (cf. ibid., n. 12).
"The Pope now goes a step further and reaches the heart of the mystery: in His mortal life, Christ put an end to pain by His miracles. He took upon Himself the suffering of all and bore it with full consciousness on the Cross (cf. ibid., n. 16).
"The only answer (to the 'why' of suffering) can come from the love of God in the Cross (cf. ibid., n. 13). It is God the Father Who provides the answer to the problem of suffering: it consists in the fact that He 'gives' His Son to the world. Evil is sin and suffering, death. With the Cross, He overcomes sin, and with His Resurrection, death (Jn 3:16; cf. ibid., n. 14).
"In the Fourth Song of the Suffering Servant in the Book of Isaiah, the meaning of Christ's suffering in the passion is portrayed even more vividly than it is in the Gospels. His suffering is redemptive; its depth can be measured by the depth of the evil in the history of the world, especially since the person who suffers it is God (cf. ibid., n. 17).
"Christ provides an answer to the problem of suffering by offering His unreserved availability and compassion; His presence is effective: He gives help and gives Himself (cf. ibid., n. 28).
"Through suffering, human beings are incorporated into the pain of Christ. Suffering gives rise to love for those who suffer, a disinterested love to help them by relieving it. This is now official and organized through health-care institutions and the professionals who work in them, and also through volunteers. It is a matter of a real vocation, especially when one is united to the Church with a Christian profession.
"The assistance that families give their sick relatives is important in this area. Moreover, those who not only act to help the sick but also to drive away a whole series of evils, those who fight hatred, violence, cruelty, and every type of physical and spiritual suffering, belong to the same category as the Good Samaritan.
"Every man and every woman should feel personally called to bear witness to love in suffering and must not leave those who are suffering to be cared for solely by official institutions (ibid., n. 29). The Parable of the Good Samaritan corroborates what Christ said about the Last Judgment: 'I was sick and you visited Me.' Christ Himself is the One Who was cared for, and the one who fell into the hands of bandits is cared for and helped. The meaning of suffering is to do good by one's suffering and to do good to those who suffer (cf. ibid., n. 30).
"The Pope ends by saying that the mystery of man is revealed in Christ, and the mystery of man is very specially connected to suffering. In Christ the enigma of pain and death is revealed. Only in love is it possible to find the saving response to pain. May the suffering of Mary and the saints help us discover this response. May pain and suffering be transformed into a source of strength for all humanity.
"I think that the development of the Pope's thought climbs six steps towards the fullness of the mystery of suffering and pain; we can sum them up as follows:
"Suffering is not in itself evil but is the effect of a negative cause. Evil is not a positive entity but a privation. Deprivation does not demand a positive cause but the search for its origin.
"The origin of the privation is sin. The sin committed by a person spreads by joint human liability. Sin can be eliminated through suffering itself in a very special context of solidarity.
"Only God can bestow this solidarity upon us. This gift of solidarity is the meaning of the Incarnation and the meaning of Jesus Christ. For this solidarity, Christ brought the elimination of sin to completion through His suffering in His life, passion, death, and Resurrection.
"This divine action is an act of the Most Holy Trinity since the Eternal Father gave His Son to humanity so that He might redeem it through the work of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the Love of the Father and of the Son, and it is only through the Love of the Spirit that we can glimpse this mysterious, redeeming solidarity.
"Through Christ's solidarity with all humanity the human pain of all times was suffered by Christ in His passion and His redeeming death. Thus, human pain and suffering are transformed from something negative into something positive, into a source of life, as it were, because they become redemptive.
"Each person in his or her suffering is united with the suffering of Christ, and thus this suffering mysteriously becomes a source of life and resurrection. Pain and suffering are the door to the encounter with Christ and in Him to the experience of His presence as life and resurrection, through the work of the Spirit of Love, Who is the Holy Spirit. This is what Our Lady, the Virgin Mary, was the first to do, and with her, all the saints.
"This definitive destruction of suffering through suffering leads us to destroy our actual suffering with the whole panoply of means at our disposal, as in the case of the Good Samaritan.
"The Pope thus situates us in the heart of the mystery whose light dazzles us. For we find ourselves in intimacy with the Blessed Trinity, in the loving reality of the unity of the Triune God and in the depths of this mystery. This is the central mystery of the entire Christian religion, not in the abstract nor in an immensely remote way, but in a closeness present in human history into whose temporal dimensions eternity bursts, through the historical Incarnation of the Word with His birth, life, passion, death, and Resurrection.
"This is a Trinitarian and Christological solidarity in which the absolute fullness of life is attained through death. It is called 'cross' and 'resurrection.' We find ourselves at the heart of the Christian mystery, inaccessible except through an experience of it: no one who does not know it can prove its efficacy or find its solution.
"The solution to the mystery of evil is not only discovered through theological exposition but also by experiencing that something which, if steadily gazed at, darkens because of its excessive brightness yet is very real – we can say the most real reality – for it is the only way to happiness.
"In this way we are within the nucleus of salvation. This is the heart of Christianity. Tertullian said: 'Credo quia ineptum.' By experiencing relief from evil through suffering, and through that cruelest form of suffering which sums up all imaginable forms of suffering, the Cross, this 'ineptum,' becomes 'aptum,' the most just and rational that we can imagine, for it is the only way to experience happiness.
"This is why the mystery of pain shifts from pain in itself to the mystery of solidarity. Solidarity, as the foundation of the whole of existence, is not only sympathy with all, a way of being socially committed and aware that we all belong to the same race, culture, nationality, etc., but is also the experiencing of a bond with all other human beings so deeply within ourselves that it is not a qualification that comes to us as soon as we exist but constitutes our existence itself.
"Solidarity belongs to divinized human life as a gift received which takes part in the mystery itself of God's very life. The life of God is infinitely perfect in each one of the divine Persons through the internal solidarity between the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. This infinite solidarity is infinite Love, which is the Holy Spirit Who has been poured out into our hearts, an infinite Love that is God Himself. The mystery of suffering is contained in the mystery of Love, in the mystery of the Spirit.
"In this way, the mystery of suffering-love enters into the very constitution of God incarnate, the Son made flesh through the work of the Holy Spirit. Since Christ is the most intimate model for every person, the Holy Spirit, the Love of God and redemptive suffering enter into the actual objective, and we might say ontological, constitution of humanity.
"In contrast to cold objectivity, however, it is something that indeed belongs to the objectivity of our being, but with the maximum loving subjectivity, since it is and depends upon our free will in such a way that we can accept or reject it. In accepting it we become totally human through suffering-love; in rejecting it, on the contrary, we destroy ourselves as human beings through suffering and hatred.
"The Pope is aware of the difficulty of reasoning in this way and therefore tells us that the reality of suffering in solidarity should only be understood through the Resurrection. From our solidarity with the essence of life which is the Risen Christ, we can understand our loving solidarity with Christ suffering on the Cross; just as the Risen Christ includes in His Resurrection the resurrection of humanity, of each and every one of us, so too the suffering of Christ contains the suffering and pain of each and every one of us. There is no separation between the Resurrection and the Cross but convergence, both in Christ and in us; the Pope says, therefore, that Christ contains the signs of His wounds in His glorified Body.
"One can thus realize and understand what would otherwise be an untenable paradox, scandal, and folly: the Cross is glorious; having been the evil most feared as total death, it becomes the glorious beginning of the whole of the second creation. The nothing from which this new world of happiness or the definitive Paradise flows is not an innocent nothingness but a guilty nothingness that is the greatest evil – sin – which leads definitively to the Cross. And from the Cross, not by virtue of the Cross but by virtue of the Father's omnipotence and the Spirit's solidarity and Love, the Incarnate Word recreates within us the authentic Adam, the man of truth, the model planned by God from all eternity so that we might be authentically human.
"Love is the only key to deciphering the enigma of pain and suffering: love that can transform nothingness into full reality. The lack of meaning, the lack of direction, the radical anticulture, contradiction, death: in a fullness of meaning, of orientation, in an ascendant culture, in joyous affirmation, in life; folly and stupidity, in what is wisest and most sensible. It is the intimate solidarity of love triumphant that raises, in loving solidarity with the most atrocious suffering that kills. It is victory over death.
"Thus, John Paul II leads us to scrutinize the meaning of human suffering in a mysterious and dazzling way, and which is also the only valid perspective; at last, the enigma becomes mystery. It is a joyful, shining mystery and full of happiness. It is the paradox that returns to being logical through the Omnipotent Love of God the Father Who is His Spirit, and whose effectiveness is to be found in the culmination of human history when He grants to us the close solidarity of all peoples in the Pasch of the Incarnate Word."
Because we are sons and daughters of God, saved by Jesus and empowered by the Holy Spirit, we do not merely read the news but make the news. We direct the course of world events by faith expressed in action and intercession. Please pray for the stories covered in this paper. Clip out this intercessory list and make it part of your daily prayer.
Published by: Presentation Ministries, 3230 McHenry Ave., Cincinnati, OH 45211, (513) 662-5378, www.presentationministries.com