Suffering in Christianity
Why do Saints always want to suffer? Does love and suffering always go together?
Letter from H. on November, 11, 1999
I would like to receive a bibliography about suffering in Christianity.
Why do the Saints always want to suffer? Do love and suffering always go together? I don't accept the answer that to suffer “is to imitate Jesus Christ.” Thank you.
Response from Orlando Fedeli
Praise our Lord Jesus Christ.
Our religion has the Cross as its sign, which we trace over ourselves as a sign of our Faith in one God in three persons, Father, Son and Holy Ghost.
We draw this sign of the Cross on us to signify that we accept the Cross, that is, the suffering that God wants to send us in our lives.
Saint Louis de Montfort shows that, on Calvary, there were three crosses: that of Christ and those of thieves, to teach us that all men suffer.
The innocent suffer, like Christ.
Repentant sinners suffer, like the good thief.
Hardened and rebellious sinners suffer, like the bad thief.
Everyone suffers. We all suffer.
In fact, it is impossible in this life not to suffer, because if our life is a great good, and it is very good, we suffer because we know that we can lose it at any moment, and that we will undoubtedly lose it one day.
In order to be complete, happiness requires absolute security, which does not exist in this world.
Defining the happiness of heaven in sublime verses, Dante Alighieri — who has a lot of bad stuff — wrote:
Oh gioia! Oh ineffabile allegrezza!
Oh joy! Oh ineffable happiness!
Oh vita integra d'amore e di pace!
Oh whole life of love and peace!
Oh sanza brama sicura ricchezza!
Oh, without desires, secure wealth!
Note the last verse: absolute happiness requires the possession of the absolute good — which takes away all new desire from us — and the possession of this absolute good must be with perfect and impregnable security.
Now, in this life we cannot have that. Therefore, happiness without Cross, in this life is impossible.
And so let's get to the heart of your question: why suffering?
God created man in a state of innocence and holiness, and placed him in the earthly paradise, in the Eden of which Holy Scripture speaks, for a test.
Obeying, he would have absolute happiness "sanza brama, sicura ricchezza" as Dante says.
Adam sinned, and with sin came suffering as a punishment. The first, and hardest, is death. Then all the other evils: disease, ignorance, poverty, contradictions, etc.
But God kindly wanted to give back to man what he had lost. So he promised a Savior who could pay man's debt.
What was this debt? By disobeying God, Adam and Eve had committed a great evil.
Every offense is proportionate to the dignity of the offended person. If I slap a baby in the face, he just cries out of pain, but doesn't understand the offense. If I slap an adult in the same way, he suffers more from the injustice and insult than from the physical pain of the blow received. If I slap a girl, because she is usually weaker, (intending) to avoid counter reaction, I add malice to my act.
If the woman I hit is an old woman, the guilt is greater. If this old woman is my own mother, the guilt grows even more. Therefore, guilt grows in proportion to the offended person.
Adam's guilt was then proportionate to Whom he had offended. Now the offended was the infinite God himself. Hence Adam's guilt was infinite and deserved infinite punishment. The only thing we can do infinitely is sin.
All the sins we commit deserve infinite punishment. That's why whoever dies in serious sin goes to eternal hell, which is like an infinite in a time.
You will tell me that the sin of Adam, eating the forbidden fruit, seems to be a childish thing.
If you said so, you would be totally deceiving yourself.
If you examine Adam's sin more closely, you will see how serious it was, because it was full of malice.
First, Adam knowingly disobeyed, not as a child. He knew that he owed his being to God, his life and everything, and yet, how ungrateful and rebellious he disobeyed.
Second, it is necessary to analyze his reason for disobeying. And the reason is that he believed the demon who had told him that God was a liar, and that by eating the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, he would become like God, self-sufficient. Therefore, in accepting what the devil said to him in the form of a serpent, Adam called God a liar, committing blasphemy. Wanting to become like God — in a way like God — Adam sinned out of almost infinite pride.
Furthermore, Adam knew that by eating that fruit he would only digest it. How then could he hope to obtain an infinite effect — to become like God — just by eating a fruit? Adam knew that every effect must be inferior to its cause.
How then did he hope to achieve an infinite effect from a cause — the forbidden fruit — that is finite? Adam therefore committed an act of magic, which consists precisely in wanting to achieve a greater effect from a lesser cause. Now, Adam knew that this was impossible. He then trusted that the devil would make him God, by giving him the sign that he accepted his help, and the sign was to eat the forbidden fruit.
Therefore, Adam's sin was Satanism, for asking and begging Lucifer for a thing, instead of asking God, Our Lord.
It would still have to be explained that Adam's sin was to practice Gnosis, but this would take the explanation too far and I don't know if it would be useful to you.
In any case, Adam deserved an infinite punishment that he could not pay, because man's merit, unlike guilt, is always finite, since it depends only on us who are finite.
To pay Adam's debt required an infinite merit that only God can have.
Therefore, man could never save himself and could never regain the absolute happiness he had lost.
God, then, in his infinite goodness, solved the problem. He determined that his Son, the Word of God, should become man. This was Jesus Christ, Son of God, Wisdom of God incarnate. Jesus is God and man. He has two natures in one Person, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, the Son.
Being God, He has divine Intelligence and Will. Being a perfect man, He has body and soul like us. His human soul has human intelligence (hence he learned to speak), human will, and sensitivity. He also has a body like ours. And there is only one Person in two natures.
Being God, everything He did had infinite value. Being a man, taking the blame for all our sins, He paid our guilt. That is why God became incarnate, to suffer the punishment that was to fall on us. He took responsibility for my sins and your sins, my dear H. When we are baptized, we accept that His sufferings and His blood pay for our guilt. He thus gave us the example of an infinite love, which we must imitate.
If we understand how bad we are, and how much we deserve to be punished, we accept all the suffering that God gives us. If we understand how God loves us, wanting to suffer in our place, we will want to imitate him, also suffering in the place of others, so that God forgives them.
In fact, all the good that we receive, we only receive it because someone suffers for our sins
So is our God. So must your children be.
Happiness, more than the enjoyment of goods, consists in loving others so much that we accept to suffer so that they may be happy.
If you have children, you will understand this perfectly. If you still have your parents, you will understand that your happiness will be greater when you give them happiness, even — and especially — with your suffering.
On top of that. The goods that we can have in this world are of three types:
Material goods: wealth, pleasures;
Intangible goods, as a reward for our valuable actions and our work, such as honors, prestige and consideration;
Intellectual goods, such as knowledge.
Now, none of these goods give us perfect happiness, because they all pass away.
Money and wealth do not give us complete happiness, but only anxieties, because they are goods that intoxicate like wine, and a coffin, my dear H., has no drawer or safe.
(I once heard a song that said that two very poor people were so happy that they made toasts with glasses full of water! The "wine" of happiness is in the cup of our heart. Surely, you are not the richest person in the world, and have had moments of happiness. Those, did not come from wealth).
Pleasures are fleeting and frustrating for those who put the end of their lives in them. You see, so many movie stars, stars of any modern nonsense, full of money and pleasure, who kill themselves with despair and unhappiness (Marilyn Monroe and Elvis Presley are two well-known examples).
Honor, glory and prestige are of little value in this world. When Napoleon — a man who has received honor, prestige and glory like no one else in the world — was once cheered by the crowd in a parade, the ambassador of Denmark — a place that never had much prestige — commented to the French Emperor: "Majesty, that's glory!"
To which Napoleon replied: "Your Excellency, men take revenge for the applause they give us." And Napoleon died in exile, on a lost island in the Atlantic...
Knowledge, although it remains in us until we become sclerotic and cachectic, is only valid if it is transmitted to others. Knowledge is like a song: it is only valid if it is given to others, if it is sung to others. What good is it for us to know much, if we do not practice what we know to be right, and if we live, therefore, in contradiction, condemned by our own knowledge? Knowledge is only valid with charity, with love for God and neighbor. Happiness consists in giving and not receiving.
That's why, at the moment I write to you, I'm happy because I'm sharing the little I know and the little I have.
Greater would be my happiness if, to do good for you, I had to make some sacrifice. For then I would be like Christ, who suffered so much for our own sake.
All earthly goods are little — what am I saying — (All earthly goods) are nothing when compared with the infinite good that is the possession of God. We only have happiness in the task accomplished, and accomplished with sacrifice.
The letter goes long, and I think it sounds like a sermon. And there would be so much more to tell you about it. But to tell you more, it would be necessary to know you and your sufferings. This would require a trust that only direct and personal knowledge would allow and that the Internet does not provide.
Who knows, maybe one day we'll meet and talk.
In the meantime, I recommend that you read an excellent work on this subject: "The Circular Letter to the Friends of the Cross", by Saint Louis de Montfort.
To close, I quote some beautiful verses from Camões:
Tu, que descanso buscas com cuidado,
Thou, who rest seekest with care,
no mar desta vida, tempestuoso,
in the sea of this stormy life,
não esperes achar nenhum repouso,
don't expect to find any rest,
senão em Cristo Jesus crucificado
but in Christ Jesus crucified
As you can see, it was impossible to talk about the cross and suffering without talking about the crucified one, "Gesu dolce, Gesu amore..." (sweet Jesus, Jesus love) as Saint Catherine of Siena used to say.
And più non dicco...
In Corde Jesu, semper,
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