Some encouraging words and practical advice from the late Cardinal Hume on the theme of pain and suffering. As we enter this Sunday into Passiontide and contemplate the reality of a church-less Holy Week, it will be especially important to draw as close as we can to the Crucified One and so lay before God all that does not make sense, all that seems lost, all that hurts. We can be honest with God about how we feel, but only if we seek, in exchange, to understand truly how God is always honest with us - especially in those difficult and often unwelcome moments of suffering and loss - about the reality of our lives, our loves, our very purpose in this life and the next.
‘Suffering comes to each one of us. We cannot escape it. The list is familiar: illness, mental anguish, old age, loneliness, heartbreak, disappointments, unkindnesses, the loss of a loved one – everyday problems no doubt, but painful experiences which can drain us of energy and take the joy out of living. It is easy to allow ourselves to become bitter and unhappy. We refuse to accept. We do not try to understand, and the pain is then worse. How do we escape from that danger?
It is, I suggest, by realising that every pain and each trial is a call from God to each one personally to become holy, to draw closer to him. God speaks clearly through pain. It is not that we should seek suffering for ourselves, that would be wrong. It is a gift from God rich in blessings and reward, but only if it makes us more Christ-like and greater lovers of our Father.
In times of trial we must never cease to pray… we can pray, as he did on the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” That is a powerful prayer when the trial is very great. Our Lord’s suffering was so intense that he felt that even his Father no longer cared.
There will be times when we shall feel incapable of using words or, even more difficult, of having fine thoughts. It is helpful then just to sit or kneel, gazing at the crucifix. That is an excellent way of praying. You may feel wretched, overcome, sad, bewildered – but go on looking at the crucifix and it will tell you its secret. We shall understand that suffering and pain, and death as well, have now a special dignity and value precisely because Christ, who is God, experienced them’.
Basil, Cardinal Hume OSB, 1923-1999
Fr Lee Kenyon