We are not alone in our pain

It is not easy to block out the multiple cries of pain and suffering that permeate the world. It is almost deafening. All one has to do is turn on the radio, read the newspaper, watch television or go online.

We are bombarded with news of pain and suffering, almost to the saturation point. I think of the people in Libya, Haiti, Japan and others affected by war and natural disasters. It gives me an overwhelming feeling.

A couple of years ago I attended several lectures on the martyrs of El Salvador who were killed during a civil war that took place in the 1970s and ’80s. Archbishop Oscar Romero, four women missionaries, and several Jesuits — only to name a few of hundreds of people — were brutally murdered because they spoke out against the intense suffering of the Salvadoran people and a system of government that perpetuated it.

The poor still suffer there and around the world, including in our own country. However, suffering is not limited to the poor. Who of us cannot look around and find suffering in our own life or in the lives of those who touch ours? No one is spared.

Everyday we hear of people diagnosed with fatal illnesses that change their lives or people who are out of work for a long time and become desperate to support their families. We know of families broken by divorce and those who experience the sudden death of loved ones. So many are bearing difficult crosses.

In the light of all this pain the question is often asked that if God really loves us, why does he allow all these people to suffer? It reminds me of the book I read several years ago called “When Bad Things Happen to Good People,” written by Rabbi Harold S. Kushner. At first I wondered why he didn’t call his book “Why bad things happen to good people.”

I have since come to the conclusion that we don’t know the reasons why. All we know is that God allows suffering to exist in the world. He permits it but he doesn’t make it happen — and he doesn’t use it to punish us.

Suffering is a deep mystery of life. Although we may not feel it at the time, what our faith tells us about suffering is that God never abandons us in it, or leaves us to face it alone.

With all suffering, there eventually comes a resurrection. That is the paschal mystery, a central doctrine of our faith. Jesus suffered, died and rose. We live that mystery in our own lives in big and small ways. To suffer is part of being a Christian, but God is with us just as He was with Jesus during His life on this earth.

As Catholic Christians we believe that suffering is redemptive. We are called to unite our suffering with Christ’s. Suffering can embitter us or it can transform us. There are people who have undergone great difficulty who are very holy, caring, compassionate people and then there are others whose pain has turned them into bitter, resentful people.

We have little power over most suffering, our own and others, but we do have control over how we allow it to affect our lives. Experiencing a hurt or loss can enable us to be more compassionate and loving to others in similar circumstances.

The only suffering we can control is the kind we inflict on others. A good habit to develop is to reflect on whether we have caused anyone pain. Or, if we are suffering, we should unite our anguish with Christ’s, then ask Him to help us be more sensitive and loving through our pain.

As Jesus lived the paschal mystery, we, His followers, are called to do the same.

Holy Cross Sister Margie Lavonis lives in Notre Dame, Ind. Contact her at mlavonis@scsisters.org.