Thursday, 2 June 2011

Suffering part 4

From the book ‘The GreatRedeemer’ by The Very Rev. Thamer Toth Professor, University of Budapest Translated by V.G. Agotai Edited by Rev. Newton Thomas S.T.D.
A) For the final answer to the problem of suffering, an answer which will disperse all obscurity, we must turn to our Lord Jesus Christ. The final answer is given by the words that He spoke to Jairus. Jairus, a ruler of the synagogue, had a twelve-year-old daughter who was lying seriously ill. Her father, falling on his knees, implored our Lord to come to his house and heal the child. While the Savior was on the way to the house, news was brought: It is too late. The girl is already dead. And what does our Lord say to the despairing man? "Fear not, believe only" (Luke 8: 50).
a) We often hear how much misery there is in the world, how many suffering, unemployed men in great privation, how many misunderstood persons, how many hundreds of thousands lying sick in hospitals and at home. But how many of these sufferers do what Jairus did in his anxiety for his little daughter? "He fell down at the feet of Jesus, beseeching Him that He would come into his house" (Luke 8:41). Let us reply in our own hearts to the question: When some trouble comes to us, do we indeed seek God with it, do we fall at His feet? Is our first thought God, without whose knowledge not a hair of our head falls? "But why should my first thought in trouble be God?" you ask perhaps. "Shall I not try to help myself? Shall I not look for work? I am ill; shall I not call a doctor? Yes indeed. Look for work. Call a doctor. But believe in God, too. Believe that in trouble your heavenly Father is with you. Believe that man's exertions are useless if God's blessing is not added to them. Believe that the doctor's knowledge remains of no effect if God does not help. Believe what St. Paul teaches: "All things are yours ... the world, or life, or death, or things present, or things to come. For all are yours. And you are Christ's. And Christ is God's" (I Con 3: 22, 23). With this unconditional surrender believe in God. Two little children were carrying wood with their father. One of them stretched out his feeble arms, and his father laid the cut wood upon them for him to carry it into the house. His brother stood looking on. When he thought there was enough wood on his little brother's arms, he said: "That will be enough, brother. You won't be able to carry more than that" The little brother, however, replied with a smile: "My father knows how much I can bear, and he will pile only that much on my arms." Whoever believes thus in God, can be overtaken by suffering, he may also be shaken by it, upset by it, but he cannot be crushed by it. He cannot be crushed by it, for such a man is always able to say: "My Father knows how much I can bear."
B) Such faith takes us nearer to God even in suffering. A philosophy which does not know Christ, teaches that we must bear affliction with compressed lips in a manly way. It is easy to advise that suffering should be borne in a manly way; but if we do not know what object there is in our suffering? But the pain is assuaged at once if we can connect it with God's plans. In Germany on the wall of a forest refuge lodge, some tourist, driven there by the storm, wrote an embittered poem against the bad weather. A later traveler, however, wrote under the complaining lines: "It is God's will; therefore be still." Those two lines are a power in the stormy days of life. "Thy will be done." Suffering received in this spirit can take us close to Christ's cross, it can bind us firmly to the divine Sufferer. Even in moments of the greatest pain, it can beguile St. Paul's enthusiastic cry from the lips of a sick person: "I am filled with comfort; I exceedingly abound with joy in all our tribulation" (II Cor. 7:4). Coppee, the famous French author, sought happiness apart from God. And when he had searched everywhere in vain and had been disappointed in everything, lying on his bed suffering from a painful illness, he again found the lost faith of his childhood and with it true happiness. We can believe him, who had tasted all the deceptive joys of life, when he says: "Life is an onion; when we cut it open, we begin to weep." Was it not this that the great composer, Chopin, also felt when, on his death-bed, he pressed the crucifix to his pale lips and said: "Now I am at the source of happiness." The hour of illness may be a time of aimless complaining and worry; and with these the trouble is not mitigated. Or it may be an earnest and sacred hour, the recognition of God's visitation and of His plan, the hearing of God's knock asking for admittance. Whoever looks upon suffering in this way will find that often he can more easily bear bodily pain, and in every case the soul becomes more beautiful and noble. In the retirement of the sick bed we find time for ourselves at last. In the rush of modern life we seem to have time only for bread-winning, for pleasure, and for amusement; on a sick bed, at last there is time for the poor, neglected soul. "Be you humbled therefore under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in the time of visitation" (I Pet. 5:6). Thus the sickroom will become a church, the sick bed will become an altar on which we offer our pain as a propitiatory sacrifice, and our souls as a complete sacrifice to God. C) But who can thus cleave to God in trouble and in suffering, believe thus in Him, and pray thus to Him? He who is also accustomed in peaceful and happy days to converse with God. I hardly know a more tormenting moment than when a man who has forgotten God, is forced by life's fearful events to turn to God. The poor soul does not know what to say to Him, because it has never been accustomed to speaking to God. Let us suppose some purse-proud father, who has been forgetful of his soul, has an only son lying seriously ill, his breathing becoming quicker and quicker and ever weaker, his hands limp and cold, his forehead bedewed with perspiration. Outside the anxious father questions the departing physician, but receives only an evasive answer. In those dreadful moments, many proud atheists have fallen to their knees, wringing their hands, and crying out in their misery to that great Someone, to that great Unknown. But they have been unable to speak to Him, because they have never developed the practice of doing so. Brethren, let us accustom ourselves in calm and quiet days to conversing with God, to praying to Him with fervent souls, that in the suffering which befalls us we may know what to say to our heavenly Father, and among the flashes of pain we may also hear His encouraging reply: "Fear not, believe only."
I feel, however, that I must offer a more exact explanation of this encouragement which our blessed Lord gives us. "Fear not, believe only," does not mean that our Lord will grant all our petitions at once and in the very manner we have requested. For example, I am without employment, and I pray to find work immediately; I am ill, and I pray to become well promptly; something hurts, and I beg that the pain cease. This is not the manner in which our Lord promises to answer our prayers. He means that He hears all our prayers, but in the way He sees to be best; that is, we must believe in His final administration of justice, in His final distribution of rewards: in His eternal realm. Particularly when confronted by the mystery of suffering, we must say with St. Paul: "How incomprehensible are His judgments and how unsearchable His ways" (Rom. 11: 33). For I do not want to keep from you the fact that even after every explanation and all arguments, many incomprehensible features remain on suffering's face, to which no satisfactory explanation can be offered except the great thought of the world to come, the thought of eternity.
A) When Dante was in Verona during the last years of his exile, he overheard a very interesting conversation. Two women were passing him in the street, and one of them said to the other with a sigh: "Look, that is the man who went to hell and came back from there." At which the other added: "Well, that is certainly true. That is why his beard is bristly and his face dark. They became so from the devil's smoke." Truly, anyone who has peered deeply into eternity finds — not that his face becomes dark from the smoke — but that in his soul, like some earnest strength, the breath of eternity becomes apparent. People jostle one another around him, widows weep, young people amuse themselves, good people suffer, wicked people carouse, but his eyes have looked into eternity, and he sees that everything is hurrying toward the grave, toward eternity. And then? What will be then? Seeing day by day the numerous and grave injustices in life, one is prompted to exclaim with the afflicted Job: "Why then do the wicked live, are they advanced and strengthened with riches? . . . Their children dance and play. . . . They spend their days in wealth. Who have said to God: Depart from us, we desire not the knowledge of Thy ways. Who is the Almighty, that we should serve him? And what doth it profit us if we pray to Him?" (Job. 21: 7-15.) Where is the final answer to these questions? The answer is to be found in the doctrine of our holy faith concerning eternity. Here on earth we are but travelers; some of us enjoying the luxury and comforts of a Pullman chair-car, others traveling in a crowded day coach. But, after reaching the last station, we are all on the same platform. What will happen there, what will happen then, at the end of our journey? That last hour, when our whole earthly lives pass before our spiritual eyes, will not be easy if our lives have been sheer enjoyment, well-being, and extravagance. If, on the other hand, we have borne life's crosses with eyes lifted to Christ, then in that last hour the words of Holy Writ will burst from our lips: "It is good for me that Thou hast humbled me" (Ps. 118:71). To those who choose an upright and honorable life in poverty rather than a dishonorable life in wealth, I should like to send a message in the words of our Lord: "Wide is the gate and broad is the way that leadeth to destruction" (Matt. 7: 13), but "narrow is the gate and strait is the way that leadeth to life" (Matt. 7: 14 ). And I should like to send them a consoling message of our faith: It is difficult to live as a Christian, but easy to die as one; death is difficult for them whose life has been easy.
B) Of course, that we may understand these thoughts and gain this frame of mind, we have need of X-ray eyes, of next- world faith which shines through all pain and disappointment, through all anxiety and earthly separation, and judges everything by the standards of eternal life. As the dark night becomes brilliant if illumined by arc lights, so every unsuccessful earthly life becomes bearable if illumined by the light of eternal life. Whoever possesses this living faith will pave the way leading to eternal life with suffering's granite blocks. Whoever knows that for his soul in this life, besides earthly labor, there awaits him a task for the next world to which the earthly must be subordinated, to such a person all suffering will become a means of assistance toward the great goal. Among all sufferings and afflictions life can be bearable, can be worth while. The only person unable to bear it is he who has no faith, he who has no God. Hear what some modern unbelievers say, how they bear the ills of life. Says one of these pessimists: "To live means to suffer; the whole world is one vast hospital, and the physician in it is death" (Heine). Another says: "What eternal life is, I do not know; but I know that this earthly life is a malicious jest" (Voltaire). According to still another, "That person is the happiest, who dies in childhood" (Lenau). The backbone, the pillar, the support slips from life, if faith is lost. On the other hand, whoever bears firmly in mind the thought of final divine justice and projects the light of life eternal upon the obscure paths of earthly life, will not be uncertain as to the way. Modern light-houses function in this manner in cloudy weather. They do not project their light forward, out onto the open sea, but upward, onto the dark clouds. And the clouds, which otherwise would envelop the horizon in darkness, thus reflect the lighthouse gleam for more than a hundred miles. Our faith, too, projects the glow of eternal life upon the clouds of our earthly paths, because it knows that otherwise suffering cannot be endured. It cannot be endured, except with the consolation given by the knowledge that this is not the final word in our lives. Man was not created by God for affliction; he was created for happiness. Every particle of us longs for happiness. Mary Magdalen was great when she wept repentant tears at our Lord's feet, but this was not the final part of her journey, not the final word in her life. That moment of supreme bliss was when the risen Christ said to her: "Mary." The Blessed Virgin was great when, with grief-stricken soul, she stood under the cross of her divine Son. But the final halting-place of her journey could not be the Stabat Mater; it is the Regina coeli, laetare, "Rejoice, Queen of Heaven." Dear brethren, I conclude with the edifying story of a certain count. For more than a year he had been sorely afflicted by some baffling illness. Eminent physicians had failed to ascertain the cause of the trouble. They nursed him, operated upon him again and again, whittled his bones. After eighteen months of suffering, he was still lying on his sick bed with his leg in a plaster cast. To a priest who came to see him, he said: "See, father, there on the wall facing me is the crucifix. Before, when I was healthy at home, the crucifix was over the head of my bed. Now I have had it placed there, opposite me. Suffering is easier if the crucifix is opposite so that we can look upon the suffering Christ." These words suggest the strength and balm that suffering man gains from the suffering Christ. Whenever suffering, our common human fate, overtakes me, O Lord, I beg Thee not to let me suffer complainingly. Do not send greater suffering upon me than I, clinging fast to Thy holy cross, can endure. I beg Thee, if it is right in Thy sight, to mitigate and shorten the days of pain. I beg Thee, if it is possible, to let this chalice pass from me: nevertheless let it not be as I wish, but as Thou wilt. Always, my Lord, in everything, may Thy blessed, holy will be done. Amen.

Nihil Obstat:
Sti. Ludovici
die 18 Oct. 1937
F.I. Holweek
Censor Librorum.
Imprimatur: Sti. Ludovici
die 21. Oct. 1937, Joannes I. Glennon