The Point in Pointless Suffering

By Chris Sparks

I had finished volunteering on a movie being shot at the ArcLight movie theater off Sunset Boulevard in the Hollywood area and was waiting for the shuttle, along with a crowd of extras. For some reason, the bus was seriously delayed, and it was a good hour or so after the time we were supposed to be heading out that we finally all piled in to head for the parking garage. The extras were quietly (and some not–so-quietly) fuming.

"I should have negotiated for more pay," said one middle-aged gentleman in a sport-coat.

The guy sitting next to me in the back agreed. "You only get what you fight for in this life," he said, or words to that effect.

I chimed in. "It's almost as though life is set up to ask everything from you."

There was vehement, albeit unhappy, agreement.

"But if you give everything to the right person or thing, it's all worth it in the end."

The guy next to me looked over with some astonishment and said, "That's quite a philosophy."

I should have said, "That's Christianity," but I didn't.

That shuttle running late was a small suffering for me - I was in the midst of a summer of study and had a fair amount of free time. But for the extras, time was money in the starkest sense. If they weren't paid for time on set, it cut down on their chance to find other work, head to other auditions, tend to other jobs or things at home. It was a starker suffering for them, and all because the shuttle bus ran late.

And there are larger sufferings in the world, more shocking sufferings - starvation, war, disease, disaster, bad things happening to good people all through the ages - why? What's up with the cosmos that so much suffering abounds?

The answer is in the law of the gift.

On March 27, 2013, the New York Times ran a story titled, "Is Giving the Secret to Getting Ahead?" The answer, of course, is yes. But why? Not for purely natural reasons, no matter what medical benefits generosity may have on the blood pressure or love may have on stress levels. No. Giving is the secret to getting ahead because, as Fr. Michael Gaitley, MIC, teaches in his book The 'One Thing' is Three, the dynamic at the heart of the Trinity is utter and absolute self-gift.

The Trinity is the Source of all that is, and set up creation to sacramentally mediate self-gift through time and space between God and creatures, as well as between created beings. This is why life demands everything from us - either we participate in the dynamic of self-donation and receiving gratefully the gifts of others, or we attempt to control others and retain ourselves.

More simply: "For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for Me will save it." (Lk 9:24; Mt 16:25; Lk 17:33; Mk 8:35; Mt 10:39; Jn 12:25)

It's all in John Paul II, all in John Paul II - bless me, what do they teach in schools these days!

The world was made to mediate life and love between persons.

There. I've just told you the meaning of life, the universe, and everything.

But how does that explain the mystery of apparently pointless suffering?

The world was made to mediate total self gift, to become the medium of exchange, the milieu, the environment through which persons would transmit life and love - divine life and love to created persons, and created life and love to the divine persons. As Fr. Michael explains, through Christ's Incarnation, mankind is drawn up into the life and love of the Trinity, and through mankind, all of creation enters into communion with God. We are meant to be cosmic priests, to be worshiping God in the act of love most fitting for a creature to offer to their Creator. In our self-sacrifice, our worship of praise and thanksgiving through Eucharistic covenantal communion with God Almighty, the layers of creaturely being are transfigured and become transparent to divinity. God is all in all in a way that foreshadows what shall exist at the end of the world.

The self-gift facilitated through creation is total. The universe is designed to demand everything from us and be the means of transmitting God's own life and love to us. But we fell, and the communion was disrupted, though not destroyed. All things are still held in existence by a continued creative act of God. But the exchange of life and love between creatures and God was disrupted.

And yet the universe continues to demand everything from us.

Hence the sometimes absolutely crushing burdens of life, the occasional grotesque levels of pain and suffering, the rigors of ordinary existence. Hence the horrors of human existence.

But Christ came to save us from our sins, to redeem us and all of creation (see Rom 8:18-25). He's restored the communion between God and creation, a process that is continued through supernatural faith and the sacramental life, through works of mercy arising out of God's grace and our faithful prayer, the sanctification of time and space by Christians living lives of holiness and mediating the Holy Spirit to the world. And so all suffering may be redeemed, as well. All suffering need never again be pointless, for if we unite our sufferings to Christ's suffering on the Cross, then grace may flow through our self-emptying love as from His.

"Christ Crucified ... dying on Calvary, revealed fully for us the love of God," said Pope Benedict XVI in his 2007 message for Lent.

Think about that for a while. God's love is fully revealed on Calvary, in Jesus Christ's absolute self-gift for the salvation of the world. God's love is revealed most fully when Jesus laid down His life for his sheep (see Jn 10:18) freely. God's love is revealed most fully in a flood of life and love, blood and water, pouring forth from the Sacred Heart of Jesus; in nail marks in His hands, in a pierced side, in a crown of thorns and the stripes of a scourged back. This is the love of God, of a God who is love, whose very life is an infinite outpouring of self-gift.

This is why no suffering need ever be pointless again.

Chris Sparks serves as senior book editor for the Marian Fathers. He is the author of the Marian Press book How Can You Still Be Catholic? 50 Answers to a Good Question.



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