“The Beatitudes”, from the album “Biscantorat – The Sound Of The Spirit From Glenstal Abbey” – The Monks of Glenstal Abbey – (2009)
(onward from part two) … This does not mean, however, that suffering in the psychological sense is not marked by “activity”. There are, in fact, multiple and subjectively differentiated “activities” of pain, sadness, disappointment, discouragement or even despair, according to the intensity of the suffering subject and his or her specific sensitivity. In the midst of what constitutes the psychological form of suffering there is always an experience of evil, which causes the individual to suffer.
Thus the reality of suffering prompts the question about the essence of evil: what is evil?
Saint John Paul II “The Great”
This questions seems, in a certain sense, inseparable from the theme of suffering. The Christian response to it is different, for example, from the one given by certain cultural and religious traditions which hold that existence is an evil from which one needs to be liberated.
Christianity proclaims the essential good of existence and the good of that which exists, acknowledges the goodness of the Creator and proclaims the good of creatures. Man suffers on account of evil, which is a certain lack, limitation or distortion of good.
We could say that man suffers because of a good in which he does not share, from which in a certain sense he is cut off, or of which he has deprived himself. He particularly suffers when he ought”—in the normal order of things—to have a share in this good and does not have it.
Thus, in the Christian view, the reality of suffering is explained through evil, which always, in some way, refers to a good.
In itself human suffering constitutes as it were a specific “world” which exists together with man, which appears in him and passes, and sometimes does not pass, but which consolidates itself and becomes deeply rooted in him. This world of suffering, divided into many, very many subjects, exists as it were “in dispersion”.
Every individual, through personal suffering, constitutes not only a small part of that a world”, but at the same time” that world” is present in him as a finite and unrepeatable entity. Parallel with this, however, is the interhuman and social dimension. The world of suffering possesses as it were its own solidarity.
Saint Teresa of Calcutta. Mother Teresa – Small of stature, rocklike in faith, Saint Teresa of Calcutta was entrusted with the mission of proclaiming God’s thirsting love for humanity, especially for the poorest of the poor. God still loves the world and He sends you and me to be His love and His compassion to the poor.
People who suffer become similar to one another through the analogy of their situation, the trial of their destiny, or through their need for understanding and care, and perhaps above all through the persistent question of the meaning of suffering.
Thus, although the world of suffering exists “in dispersion”, at the same time it contains within itself a singular challenge to communion and solidarity. We shall also try to follow this appeal in the present reflection.
Considering the world of suffering in its personal and at the same time collective meaning, one cannot fail to notice the fact that this world (of suffering), at some periods of time and in some eras of human existence, as it were becomes particularly concentrated.
This happens, for example, in cases of natural disasters, epidemics, catastrophes, upheavals and various social scourges: one thinks, for example, of a bad harvest and connected with it – or with various other causes – the scourge of famine.
One thinks, finally, of war. I speak of this in a particular way. I speak of the last two World Wars, the second of which brought with it a much greater harvest of death and a much heavier burden of human sufferings.
The second half of our century (The 20th Century) , in its turn, brings with it—as though in proportion to the mistakes and transgressions of our contemporary civilization—such a horrible threat of nuclear war that we cannot think of this period except in terms of an incomparable accumulation of sufferings, even to the possible self-destruction of humanity.
In this way, that world of suffering which in brief has its subject in each human being, seems in our age to be transformed—perhaps more than at any other moment—into a special “world”: the world which as never before has been transformed by progress through man’s work and, at the same time, is as never before in danger because of man’s mistakes and offenses.
APOSTOLIC LETTER, “SALVIFICI DOLORIS“, of the Supreme Pontiff, Saint John Paul II to the Bishops, Priests, Religious Families and to the Faithful of the Catholic Church on the Christian meaning of Human suffering, pp 7-8, February 11,1984.
What about virtue? Virtue (Latin: “virtus”) is moral excellence. A virtue is a trait or quality that is deemed to be morally good and thus is valued as a foundation of principle and good moral being. Personal virtues are characteristics valued as promoting collective and individual greatness.
“Virtue”, then, is the sum of the traits and qualities through which we are enabled to perform our duty. The opposite of virtue is vice. This is the state of life when we do not practice the virtues and do not “do our duty” to the best of our ability.
For clarity, I think that there is “Virtue”, a virtuous life as it were, as a state of being, and there are virtues which are traits of personality or training which, when efficaciously employed, lead to a “state of virtuous existence”. I don’t know if that is true, or even linguistically correct, but it is how I see things.
Book of Job, “Naked Came I…”
The four classic cardinal virtues (from antiquity) are temperance, prudence, courage, and justice. Christianity adds the three theological virtues of faith, hope and love (charity) from 1 Corinthians or more accurately from God through scripture and revelation. Together these make up the seven virtues of Christianity.
Buddhism’s four brahmavihara (“Divine States”) could be regarded as virtues in the classical European sense. The Japanese Bushidō code is characterized by up to ten virtues, including rectitude, courage, and benevolence.
So we progress through the execution of duty by exercise of virtue and onward to the discovery that this exercise of virtue in our doing of our daily duty engenders suffering in both our own spiritual life (controlling our vices or self discipline) and in our relations with others (who do not espouse the same goals, morality and virtues).
So what of suffering? Even though man knows and is close to the physical sufferings of the animal world, we also use the word “suffering” to express the sense of mental or spiritual suffering which seems to be essential, and unique to the man’s nature.
This mental and spiritual suffering is as deep as man himself, because it manifests in its own way that depth which is proper to man. Suffering seems to belong to man’s transcendence: it is one of those points in which man is in a certain sense “destined” to go beyond himself.
“Hamachidori“, by Ryutaro Hirota, played by Tokyo Kosei Wind Orchestra & Kazumasa Watanabe, from the album “Konomichi―Favorite Japanese Melodies (Japanese Melody Series)” (2004)
I think it might be said that man transcends himself, that is, becomes part of something greater than himself, when suffering enters his life. This happens at different moments in life, and takes place in different ways. Suffering assumes different dimensions, different manifestations, but whatever the form suffering seems to be inseparable from man’s earthly existence. It might not be too much of a stretch to think that man exists to suffer.
Saint John Paul II
Assuming that throughout life man walks on the long path of suffering, it is in this suffering that we meet man (mankind) in a special way on the path of his suffering.
It is probably no surprise that as our Progressive culture moves further and further away from the divine experience of God and more and more towards the worship of self that we more and more reject the experience of suffering and the necessity of suffering.
We, in our Progressive society, exist in the midst of a fantasy that “no one should have to suffer”, or at least we give lip service to the idea while trying our individual best to avoid any personal suffering.
The suffering of others seems to be less important as long as we don’t have to do any suffering ourselves. So, to relieve suffering we turn to antidotes to suffering: drugs, medicines, rituals, sensual pleasures and gratification of appetites, counseling and camaraderie, pursuit of desired “goods”.
Medicine, in our culture, is the science and the art of relieving suffering by “healing”, and presents the best known area of the human struggle to answer the universal condition of suffering, the area identified with precision and counterbalanced by methods of “reaction” to suffering, that is to say therapy.
Unfortunately, this is only one area, the concern with physical suffering. The analysis of symptoms (diagnosis) is less than precise, and, outside of setting bones and sewing up of wounds, the offered treatments or therapies are even less precise, offering in most cases only small percentages of improvement and countless side effects.
In our societal fantasy about not suffering, and in our “Modern Medicine” we completely miss the mark. We seem to be not even conscious of the necessity of suffering and what we lose in chasing a suffering-free existence. For the mass of man the field of human suffering is much wider, more varied, and multi-dimensional.
Man suffers in different ways, ways not always considered by modern medicine, even in its most advanced specializations. Suffering is more than sickness, more complex than injury and deeply rooted in humanity itself. A sense of what we are thinking of here comes from the distinction between physical suffering and moral suffering.
This distinction is based upon the double dimension of the physical and the spiritual nature of the human being, of the body nature and of the soul nature and points to the bodily (physical) and spiritual (soul) aspects as the immediate subject of suffering.
Insofar as the words “suffering” and “pain”, can, up to a certain degree, be used as synonyms, physical suffering is present when “the body is hurting” in some way, whereas moral suffering is “pain of the soul”.
Saint Theresa of Calcutta
Pain of a spiritual nature, not only the “psychological” dimension of pain is a part of both moral and physical suffering.
The vastness and the many forms of moral suffering are probably greater than the forms of physical suffering, and at the same time, seem to be less identified and less reachable by any recognized therapy.
Let us, for just a moment, look into Sacred Scripture for some universal examples of situations which bear the mark of suffering, especially moral suffering. This story of suffering exists in every sacred tradition, on every continent, in every culture in history, from ancient times right up to the present.
It is significant that the physical aspect of suffering is simply assumed and unremarked in Sacred Tradition. What gets the lions share of the focus is the aspect of moral suffering.
Moral sufferings, the danger of death, the death of one’s own children and, especially, the death of the firstborn and only son; the lack of offspring, nostalgia for the homeland, persecution and hostility of the environment, mockery and scorn of the one who suffers, loneliness and abandonment; the remorse of conscience, the difficulty of understanding why the wicked prosper and the just suffer, the unfaithfulness and ingratitude of friends and neighbours; and the misfortunes of one’s own nation.
In treating the human person as a psychological and physical “whole”, Sacred Scripture often links “moral” sufferings with the pain of specific parts of the body: the bones, kidneys, liver, viscera, heart, and so on. In fact one cannot deny that moral sufferings have a “physical” or somatic element, and that they are often reflected in the state of the entire organism. As we see from these examples, we find in Sacred Scripture an extensive list of variously painful situations for man.
This varied list does not exhaust all that has been said and repeated on the theme of suffering in the “book of suffering” of the history of man (this is an “unwritten book”), as read through the history of every human individual, in every time and place. It can be said that man suffers whenever he experiences any kind of evil.
In the vocabulary of Sacred Scripture, suffering and evil are identified with each other. In fact, that vocabulary did not have a specific word to indicate “suffering”. Thus it defined as ” evil” everything that was suffering. Only the Greek language, and together with it the New Testament (and the Greek translations of the Old Testament), use the verb “I am affected by …. I experience a feeling, I suffer”
Thanks to this verb, suffering is no longer directly identifiable with objective evil, but expresses a situation in which man experiences evil and in doing so becomes the subject of suffering. Suffering has indeed both a subjective and a passive character. Even when man brings suffering on himself, when he is its own cause, this suffering remains something passive.
This does not mean, however, that suffering in the psychological sense is not marked by “activity”. There are, in fact, multiple and subjectively differentiated “activities” of pain, sadness, disappointment, discouragement or even despair, according to the intensity of the suffering subject and his or her specific sensitivity. In the midst of what constitutes the psychological form of suffering there is always an experience of evil, which causes the individual to suffer.
Parts of the portion of this post on suffering are paraphrased from: APOSTOLIC LETTER, “SALVIFICI DOLORIS“, OF THE SUPREME PONTIFF, JOHN PAUL II TO THE BISHOPS, TO THE PRIESTS, TO THE RELIGIOUS FAMILIES AND TO THE FAITHFUL OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH ON THE CHRISTIAN MEANING OF HUMAN SUFFERING, 1984.
More thinking and more to follow I think but enough for now …
“Inner Thoughts” Rodrigo Rodriguez, from the album “Inner Thoughts” (2006)
Marcus Aurelius – was Roman emperor from AD161 to AD180,
When searching for answers about “what constitutes right living?”, and “how does one know when one is following the right path?” one is really asking oneself “How do I know with certainty what is the will of God?” Understanding the perfection of love, that is “love of another besides myself” consists in striving towards the perfect conformity of my will with the divine will.
I think it is sitting right in front of our face and residing in our soul of we are honest with ourselves. It is expressed simply in a concrete and detailed way in the duties of my state and the various circumstances of my life. The “duties of my state” determine particularly how I must act on a daily basis so as to be always in conformity with the divine will.
Those duties are expressed in the commandments of God, known in “natural law” to all men, in all times, in rules and customs, commands of superiors, and tasks imposed by obedience, my duties are those required by my family life, my profession or occupation, my social activities, and by good citizenship.
And so, as is known in “natural law” to all men, in all times, Marcus Aurelius reflects on Duty: Our duty is to “Begin the morning by saying to thyself, I shall meet with the busy-body, the ungrateful, arrogant, deceitful, envious, unsocial. All these things happen to them by reason of their ignorance of what is good and evil.
On Virtue: But I who have seen the nature of the good that it is beautiful, and of the bad that it is ugly, and the nature of him who does wrong, that it is akin to me, not only of the same blood or seed, but that it participates in the same intelligence and the same portion of the divinity, I can neither be injured by any of them, for no one can fix on me what is ugly, nor can I be angry with my kinsman, nor hate him,
On Suffering, : For we are made for co-operation, like feet, like hands, like eyelids, like the rows of the upper and lower teeth. To act against one another then is contrary to nature; and it is acting against one another to be vexed and to turn away.” going forward in duty by virtue regardless of the consequences and violence we might suffer whenever the all too human tendency to refuse co-operation, to insist on doing things our own way, to work against each other and to experience the suffering inherent in human relations whenever the reality of selfishness and self worship impact the smooth exchanges of daily relations.
Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, Book Two.
We understand, from reading the “ancients”, from reading the “classics”, that “natural law” is knowable and known, to all men, in all times, since man began. And God’s will, as discerned in natural law, is also marked out for me by the circumstances of my life, whether it is important or not, down to the very smallest detail, in health or sickness, wealth or poverty, interior joy or aridity and emptiness, success or failure, struggles, misfortunes and losses.
From time to time I am presented with tasks – special tasks – of patience, generous activity, love, or renouncement, detachment, submission, and sacrifice. These tasks may come to me through the actions of my superiors, governing bodies, professional organizations, family members, or some combination of the actions and consequent fallout of such actions involving some or all of the above groups.
But everything is permitted by God, “To them that love God, all things work together unto good” (Rom 8, 28), so it remains to me to discover what the divine will may be in each task with which I am presented. Sanctity does not consist in doing extraordinary things … sanctity is reduced to simply the fulfillment of duty … therefore it is most definitely possible for me to attain to sanctity regardless of how insignificant I may view my role in the tapestry of life.
Therefore I must be persevering and punctual in the fulfillment of my duties, diligent, being careful in my actions, accustoming myself to see the expression of God’s will in every one of my duties, no matter how trivial. I must fulfill my duties not only when I feel great fervor but also when I am sad, tired, frustrated, or in a state of spiritual aridity. I must express constancy with generosity.
It may feel small and insignificant but it takes uncommon virtue to fulfill all one’s duties without carelessness, negligence, or laziness, to avoid the pitfall of giving everything a “lick and a promise” or just going through the motions in order to “get it done”. It takes uncommon virtue to put the effort into attention, piety, and spiritual fervor, to pay attention to the details, for the whole combination of ordinary duties which make up my daily life. The details matter.
I must not be discouraged by failure, either resulting from outside forces or from my own failure of attention or lack of competence – my mistakes and forgetfulness and so on and so forth. Always acknowledge faults and failures, take ownership of them and begin again with renewed commitment.
What else is there to say about “duty”? It seems something of a truism that in our great self-regard we find it easier and more attractive to identify the duties of others than our own, and inversely, there will always be a plenitude of folks more than willing to tell us what our duty may be should we find ourselves momentarily unfocused and apparently idle.
Well, I suppose that might just be enough for one post – I will continue next post with thoughts a about virtue and how one employs virtue to carry out one’s duty and perhaps then into how this persevering way of life, constantly doing one’s duty by exercising virtue results in suffering …
“Inner Thoughts” Rodrigo Rodriguez, from the album “Inner Thoughts” (2006)
Fr. Gabriel of Saint Mary Magdalen
“… God generally purifies souls through the ordinary circumstances of life. In the life of every Christian, every apostle, every religious, there is always a measure of suffering sufficient to effect the purification of the spirit.
These are the sufferings which God Himself chooses and disposes in the way best suited to the different needs of souls; but, unfortunately, few profit by them because few know how to recognize in the sorrows of life the hand of God who wishes to purify them.
Illness, bereavement, estrangement, separation from dear ones, misunderstandings, struggles, difficulties proceeding sometimes from the very ones who should have been able to give help and support, failure of works that were cherished and sustained at the price of great labor, abandonment by friends, physical and spiritual solitude — these are some of the sufferings which are met with more or less in the life of every man (and woman), and which, we will find in ours.
We must understand that all such things are positively willed or at least permitted by God precisely to purify us even to the very inmost fibers of our being.
In the face of these trials, we must never blame the malice of men, or stop to examine whether or not they are just; we must see only the blessed hand of God who offers us these bitter remedies to bring perfect health to our (eternal) soul. …”
from “Divine Intimacy“, by Fr. Gabriel of Saint Mary Magdalene, O.C.D. , Copyright 1953 Monastero S. Guiseppe – Carmelitane Scalze, (Discalced Carmelite Monastery in Rome), 2014 edition. Passive Purification, pp 1026 -1027.
As mentioned previously, I can’t say enough good about “Divine Intimacy“.
“It greatly behooves the soul, then, to have patience and constancy in all the tribulations and trials which God sends it, whether they come from without or from within, and are spiritual or corporal, great or small. It must take them all as from His hand for its healing and its good, and not flee from them, since they are health to it.” St. John of the Cross, (Living Flame of Love, 2, 30).
few profit by (suffering) because few know how to recognize in the sorrows of life the hand of God who wishes to purify them
“River Flows In You”, Yiruma, from the album “Yiruma Piano Collection” , (2001)
Looking out from my library windows over the windswept chilly world around me after a night of violent storm and a lot of rain. Trees down, roofs stripped of shingles, walls bare of siding, across a wide swath of our fair land.
Today I am ruminating about “suffering” and the source of same. It seems that suffering would be significantly reduced if only we focused more on improving ourselves instead of focusing on correcting the perceived faults of those around us.
Focusing on ourselves and our own faults we would not be so disturbed by the resistance of others to our opinions and desires. But, often something inside or something outside draws us along and we secretly seek ourselves in everything we do. And yet we are mostly oblivious to that.
We continue peacefully along when everything unfolds and is done according to OUR will and as WE judge, but if things turn out against OUR will, we move quickly, almost reflexively, to dissension, strife and unhappiness.
Differences of opinion and thought are the most common source of all dissension, strife, unhappiness and, frankly, suffering, arising out of disputes between family and friends and groups of otherwise sincere and well meaning folks.
Old habits of thought are difficult to put aside and much suffering arises from our clinging to old narratives, and old modes of reacting to perceived wrongs. No one is willing to go further than they see or are happy with. Any dissenting voice gives rise to “suffering”.
But, If one relies only on one’s own reason, thought, and work one seems unlikely to achieve peace, falling rather into self-justification and recrimination. Enlightenment and happiness appear further away than ever.
Dragon of Self
It seems, simply, that if one cannot put aside the “self”, then, inevitably, much suffering will be one’s lot in life. The fatal trap is “self”.
The death of “self” is freedom and the gate to peace, but Oh what a monster is “Self” and so difficult to slay, rather like performing surgery on oneself without benefit of anesthetic.
It proves insidiously difficult to tell the dragon of Self: “You Shall Not Pass!”
The commonest reaction to this suffering of dissent seems to be to get upset, excited and angry or annoyed and to fight against the suffering and the dissent, to assert the rightness of one’s own position and necessarily the wrongness of the positions of others. In other words, we focus on the suffering and struggle against it in any way we can.
The effect is that the dissent and the suffering dominates our every waking moment and that, added to self pity, increases our suffering hundreds of times. Fighting against the suffering makes it a LOT worse. What really makes suffering difficult to bear is our own exceeding impatience, our refusal to accept it. This irritation with dissent increases our suffering tremendously and robs us of our peace, and our energy, and of our ability to focus on and to get on with life.
Over a year ago I posted about embracing suffering as a way of overcoming suffering in the same way one can embrace fear as a way of overcoming the fear. I find, after a year of trying, that the techniques I learned for overcoming fear don’t work quite as well when applied to suffering.
It seems that it is relatively easy to identify the locus of fear, the germinating grain from which the fear arises within oneself and thus come to grips with fear as an aspect of self, and self control.
Suffering, however seems another beast entirely, less reflexively identifiable as originating within the self and more easily experienced as originating from without, the fault of something or someone outside our self, and therefore outside our self control.
I begin to believe that a more “granular” approach is required to “deal” with suffering, that in fact it is not the fact of suffering one has to deal with but rather how the self reacts to that suffering that is problematic.
This journey doesn’t get easier as one goes along. It is not that it gets harder exactly but rather that things always seem to be more complicated than one first assumed when first confronting the windmills.
Always remember, “be charitable in your judgements, and never take yourself too seriously”