Praising God for our Suffering

“To those who love God, all things work unto good.”

This is the last of my series of columns on the will of God, my attempt to try to make sense of the sickness and death around us. I wrote these reflections during a difficult time for my hometown, Cagayan de Oro, Davao City, and several other Mindanao and provincial towns and cities. The coronavirus surge that has hit us has been unforgiving, cruel, and vicious.

The catechesis of the world teaches us to be ahead in everything: To strive in everything to secure our future and that of our family, to attain fulfilment by means of recognition of our greatness, and to acquire material wealth as the ultimate symbol of success. The problem lies when the pursuit of material security and recognition becomes the end-all and be-all of our lives, it now becomes the raison d’etre of our very existence, and we forget that there is a more sublime and eternal reason for being on earth.

St. Alphonsus’ treatise Conformity to the Will of God, which has been my main source for my reflections, redirects our focus from the distractions of the world. While often at odds with our baser instincts and the more mundane and temporal teachings, to St. Alphonsus true happiness can be attained through total surrender to the will of God.

She who acts in this way does not only become a saint, but she enjoys, even in this world, a perpetual peace. To those who love God, all things work unto good.

Those who love God are ever content, because their whole pleasure lies in the accomplishment, even in things that run counter to themselves, of the divine will; and hence even afflictions themselves are converted into their contentment, by the thought that in the acceptance of them they are giving pleasure to their Lord whom they love.

“While we are living here,” as Saint Teresa used to say, “our gain does not consist in any increase of our enjoyment of God, but in the performance of His.

We ought to be resigned in times of spiritual desolation. The Lord is accustomed, when a soul gives itself up to the spiritual life, to heap consolations upon it, in order to wean it from the pleasures of the world; but afterwards, when he sees it more settled in spiritual ways, he draws back his hand, in order to make proof of its love, and to see whether it serves and loves him unrecompensed, while in this world, with spiritual joys.

Rabbi Harold Kushner has written that faith gives us “eyes with which to see the world.” Fr. Matt Malone echoes this, proposing in an article entitled “The Father of Mercies” that: “Our Christian vocation is to see the world in exactly that way. Through the eyes of faith, we can faintly see our fellow human beings, even and especially those who have sinned against us, as God sees them. . . No matter how hurt, afraid or angry we are, no human being is ever a monster. We may find it difficult to love, but through the eyes of faith we can begin to see that every man and woman is always and everywhere loved as much by God as are our greatest saints. That love alone is worthy of our greatest efforts to understand and to forgive.”

Kushner, author of the bestseller book “When Bad Things Happen to Good People,” concludes in that book that God is not the cause of our suffering and misfortunes: “Some are caused by bad luck, some are caused by bad people, and some are simply an inevitable consequence of our being human and being mortal, living in a world of inflexible natural laws.”

According to Kushner, the painful, sad things that happen to us – the suffering for example during this pandemic – are not punishments for our sins nor are they intended by God as part of some grand design: “Because the tragedy is not God’s will, we need not feel hurt or betrayed by God when tragedy strikes. We can turn to Him for help in overcoming it, precisely because we can tell ourselves that God is as outraged by it as we are.”

This is why Saint Francis of Assisi ends his Canticle of Creatures, a song of praise if ever there was one, with praising God for the suffering we experience, including our own deaths:

“Praised be You, my Lord, through those who give pardon for Your love, and bear infirmity and tribulation. Blessed are those who endure in peace for by You, Most High, shall they be crowned.

“Praised be You, my Lord, through our Sister Bodily Death, from whom no one living can escape. Woe to those who die in mortal sin. Blessed are those whom death will find in Your most holy will, for the second death shall do them no harm.

“Praise and bless my Lord and give Him thanks and serve Him with great humility.”

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