ONE Magazine

The official publication of
Catholic Near East Welfare Association

Celebrating 50 years | God • World • Human Family • Church

Our Souls Suffer Too

Our relationship with Jesus challenges us to know his suffering.

In a recent medical experiment, a man who was totally deaf from an illness had his hearing restored with a “bionic ear.” When the wires were disconnected for an adjustment, the man remarked he was affected more by his hearing being taken away than by receiving it.

The anguish of spiritual suffering is similar to this. Some people are totally deaf, void and empty in the knowledge and love of Jesus Christ. So, they suffer without Him. Others are blessed by hearing Him but His word and love are burdens that seem unbearable. So, they “disconnect.” They have a “shut-off” feeling and their suffering grows intense because of the lack of Him. Still others heed Him, bearing His burdens and those of the world He so loves, and as a result suffer with Him. Thus, we suffer without Jesus. We suffer because of Jesus. We suffer with Jesus, hence, it has been said, “We suffer from a sickness called Jesus which can never be cured.”

As an orphaned child without parents, suffering without Jesus is rootless because His Father’s love is unknown. An acquaintance of mine, Dave, a policeman, is an atheist. Every morning on the way to work I drive past him. One day he mentioned that my license plate, which reads “OH GOD”, disturbed him. “When your car goes by,” he said, “the words ‘OH GOD’ are visible and it bothers me.” Dave chooses not to know God. He has become deaf to Him. Since he refuses to know God’s love and His longing to take on his burdens as well as fill his emptiness, Dave’s confusion and anguish in life appear to have no purpose and so he suffers. He probably will never know the joy of compassion and the fulfillment in realizing that his suffering could have value for others as well as for himself as part of the Divine Plan.

Jesus may be an uncomfortable companion at times. The Apostle Peter was blessed to hear and believe in Jesus. Yet, Jesus became too big a burden for Peter. So, he denied their friendship. Peter suffered because the love of Jesus tore his heart open and he went out and wept bitterly. In a way he suffered because of Jesus.

Our friendship with Jesus challenges us to know Him, to love Him and to acknowledge Him. This is a burden which can cause us sorrow, but only when we fail to carry the burden. Thus, like Peter, we suffer.

Yes, Jesus is an uncomfortable companion at times and who knew this better than His Mother? Who could have suffered more than she? She heard God through the message of an angel and gave her Fiat, “Let it be done to me according to Your Word.” And with this, she became the Mother of Sorrows, the Mother of Suffering. It has been said that God asks the most suffering of those He loves the most. Nowhere do we see this more convincingly than in the life of Mary.

Pain, grief, suffering and tears are all part of the traffic between God and us. These are things which humankind cannot escape. We can run and hide, but not forever, because we suffer from a sickness called “Jesus” which can never be cured.

To suffer with Jesus, to be one in His suffering for all mankind, is the greatest of all suffering. We suffer with Jesus when we can’t lighten the sufferings of others; when we see someone who hasn’t been loved enough; when we meet people who have stopped growing because no one believes in them; when we don’t see enough love. We suffer as we see people hurting the one we love. And we suffer because our grief impels us to love even more.

A type of suffering which is not experienced by all but by certain chosen souls is a mystical suffering. St. Catherine of Sienna, St. Theresa of Avila and St. Francis of Assisi, as well as others all experienced God, sometimes in ecstacy.

When one has come very close to God and, in a sense physically experiences Him, then loses Him or is separated from Him in a “dark night of the soul”, the suffering can be almost unbearable. A void has been created that can only be filled by His return. And His return sometimes is very long in coming. This waiting causes the most poignant spiritual suffering.

This is the final suffering of the soul – that we can never totally grasp God. When we think we have Him, He slips away. When we reach one horizon, there is another. As St. Augustine says, “Our souls can never rest until they rest in Him.”

Kelly McCarthy is a lecturer, author and mother.

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