Self Imposed Suffering
It’s not about me. I guess that is what bothers me about the discussion of suffering. It seems to me that whatever suffering I experience is self imposed.
I have only one friend who clearly seems to be suffering because of his faith in Christ. He is a Lutheran pastor in his native minority Christian country with very limited religious freedom and faces severe criticism and restrictions because of the environment in which he serves. He could not, for example, register his children in school with their given Christian names but had to make up new names for them. And he cannot walk down the street with his wife but must walk separately from her. And there is always danger of physical violence. Despite such conditions, he will deny that he is suffering. He will tell you that what he experiences is nothing compared to what Jesus did for him and that he is quite happy and comfortable in his ministry.
As far as “suffering” goes in the USA, it seems to be evenly distributed among unbelievers and believers of various faiths. Of course, we never know for sure what is going on in another person’s life. If it is difficult for us to claim suffering because of our faith, maybe we are not faithful enough.
Suffering seems to be relative. Mild discomfort to some persons may be described by others as suffering. Maybe we need one of those scales like the one for pain, a scale of 1 to 10 for severity of suffering.
And suffering can be mental, physical, or emotional. Most of my self-imposed suffering tends to be mental and is most likely to show up when I get bogged down thinking about myself. The easiest way for me to avoid such suffering is to stay busy in some worthwhile activity. Even simple things such as mopping a floor, scrubbing a shower, or loading a washer or dryer at clean of heart can help shove thoughts of myself out of the picture. Doing a free tax return for somebody at The Cooperative Ministry can cause its own kind of suffering (related to the ridiculous complexity of our federal tax code), but it’s not personal.
Mass readings for Friday, June 1, include this from 1 Peter 4:12-13:
Beloved, do not be surprised that a trial by fire is occurring among you, as if something strange were happening to you. But rejoice to the extent that you share in the sufferings of Christ, so that when his glory is revealed you may also rejoice exultantly.
That kind of suffering, imposed on us, something occurring among us, a trial by fire, a sharing in the sufferings of Christ, is the suffering that is not self imposed and that we cannot control. All we can do with that kind of suffering is “offer it up.”
Self Examination Need Not Lead to Suffering
The unexamined life is not worth living. – Socrates
St. Peter’s Religious Ed leaders just received gift copies of a little book about “EXAMEN,” a prayer of St. Ignatius of Loyola. It is a prayer that includes self-examination and involves five steps:
- Giving thanks
- Asking for the Holy Spirit
- Recognizing failures of the previous day
- Asking for forgiveness and healing,
- Praying about the coming day.
The author of the book summarizes the five steps as Relish, Request, Review, Repent, and Resolve. That seems like a lot of praying, but here is the key: The whole process is only supposed to take fifteen minutes, once a day. That means the practitioner is not going to be wallowing in the Review and Repent sections but is going to move on in faith to plans for the future.
So, it seems we are advised not to get bogged down in self-imposed suffering over our failures. Whatever suffering we face should be from external causes, some “trial by fire,” as for my pastor friend in the hostile environment. I once heard Father Linsky say that forgiving ourselves is sometimes the most difficult part of the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Failure in that can certainly result in self-imposed suffering.
Suffering of Jesus: The “Suffering Servant”
The stories in Sacred Scripture of the suffering of Jesus, none of it self-imposed, are rooted in the Suffering Servant prophesies of Isaiah. A search of the Catechism of the Catholic Church at the Vatican Website shows five references to these prophesies, all in the section on Article 2 (About Jesus) of the Creed:
440 – Jesus accepted Peter’s profession of faith, which acknowledged him to be the Messiah, by announcing the imminent Passion of the Son of Man. He unveiled the authentic content of his messianic kingship both in the transcendent identity of the Son of Man “who came down from heaven”, and in his redemptive mission as the suffering Servant: “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Hence the true meaning of his kingship is revealed only when he is raised high on the cross. Only after his Resurrection will Peter be able to proclaim Jesus’ messianic kingship to the People of God: “Let all the house of Israel therefore know assuredly that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.”
536 – The baptism of Jesus is on his part the acceptance and inauguration of his mission as God’s suffering Servant. He allows himself to be numbered among sinners; he is already “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” Already he is anticipating the “baptism” of his bloody death. Already he is coming to “fulfil all righteousness”, that is, he is submitting himself entirely to his Father’s will: out of love he consents to this baptism of death for the remission of our sins. The Father’s voice responds to the Son’s acceptance, proclaiming his entire delight in his Son. The Spirit whom Jesus possessed in fullness from his conception comes to “rest on him”. Jesus will be the source of the Spirit for all mankind. At his baptism “the heavens were opened” – the heavens that Adam’s sin had closed – and the waters were sanctified by the descent of Jesus and the Spirit, a prelude to the new creation.
601 – The Scriptures had foretold this divine plan of salvation through the putting to death of “the righteous one, my Servant” as a mystery of universal redemption, that is, as the ransom that would free men from the slavery of sin. Citing a confession of faith that he himself had “received”, St. Paul professes that “Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures.” In particular Jesus’ redemptive death fulfils Isaiah’s prophecy of the suffering Servant. Indeed Jesus himself explained the meaning of his life and death in the light of God’s suffering Servant. After his Resurrection he gave this interpretation of the Scriptures to the disciples at Emmaus, and then to the apostles.
608 – After agreeing to baptize him along with the sinners, John the Baptist looked at Jesus and pointed him out as the “Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world”. By doing so, he reveals that Jesus is at the same time the suffering Servant who silently allows himself to be led to the slaughter and who bears the sin of the multitudes, and also the Paschal Lamb, the symbol of Israel’s redemption at the first Passover. Christ’s whole life expresses his mission: “to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
Suffering may be somewhat subjective, but there is no doubt about the intensity of suffering experienced by Jesus. Just for easy reference, here are links to those Suffering Servant passages from Isaiah, footnotes included and worth reading:
As pointed out in this essay on Catholic Exchange, the Church has always understood these “Suffering Servant” prophesies to be about Jesus, and they are used prominently in our readings at Mass throughout the year.
I mentioned during the discussion that some of the Psalms seem to be all about the writer with lots of use of first person singular pronouns, are inwardly focused, and indicate suffering. Here are some examples of a suffering psalmist, King David in a “tear drenched” bed and carrying “sorrow in my soul” and “grief in my heart day after day.”
Psalm 6 For the leader; with stringed instruments, “upon the eighth.” A psalm of David. Do not reprove me in your anger, LORD, nor punish me in your wrath. Have pity on me, LORD, for I am weak; heal me, LORD, for my bones are trembling. In utter terror is my soul– and you, LORD, how long…? Turn, LORD, save my life; in your mercy rescue me. For who among the dead remembers you? Who praises you in Sheol? I am wearied with sighing; all night long tears drench my bed; my couch is soaked with weeping. My eyes are dimmed with sorrow, worn out because of all my foes. Away from me, all who do evil! The LORD has heard my weeping. The LORD has heard my prayer; the LORD takes up my plea. My foes will be terrified and disgraced; all will fall back in sudden shame.
Psalm 13 For the leader. A psalm of David. How long, LORD? Will you utterly forget me? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I carry sorrow in my soul, grief in my heart day after day? How long will my enemy triumph over me? Look upon me, answer me, LORD, my God! Give light to my eyes lest I sleep in death, Lest my enemy say, “I have prevailed,” lest my foes rejoice at my downfall. I trust in your faithfulness. Grant my heart joy in your help, That I may sing of the LORD, “How good our God has been to me!”
Psalm 43 Grant me justice, God; defend me from a faithless people; from the deceitful and unjust rescue me. You, God, are my strength. Why then do you spurn me? Why must I go about mourning, with the enemy oppressing me? Send your light and fidelity, that they may be my guide And bring me to your holy mountain, to the place of your dwelling, That I may come to the altar of God, to God, my joy, my delight. Then I will praise you with the harp, O God, my God. Why are you downcast, my soul? Why do you groan within me? Wait for God, whom I shall praise again, my savior and my God.
Too bad St. Ignatius wasn’t around to advise David!