Over the last few weeks I’ve been trying to read Peter Kreeft’s book “Making Sense Out of Suffering” but the ‘journey’ (as he liked to refer to it I think) was taking too long. I was only on chapter five “Seven Clues from the Artists” when I skipped over to reading, “Heaven, the Heart’s Deepest Longing” instead. The downside of reading three of Peter Kreeft’s books at once is that after a while they all start to sound the same and run together. oops.
Then on Monday during a telephone conversation I heard the words, “Divine Value of Human Suffering” and was immediately drawn to finding out what that was. I devoured the Apostolic Letter “Salvifici Doloris” (On the Christian Meaning of Human Suffering) by Pope John Paul II written back in 1984. Now I’m curious to know if Peter Kreeft comes to the same answer in his book, but finding that out will have to wait for another day.
For now my main focus is on understanding John Paul II’s letter on the Christian meaning of human suffering. It certainly hasn’t been easy. Like Kreeft’s writings, it takes a lot of concentration and rereading and rereading and rereading. Man I wish I was smarter so I could understand this stuff! esh. Or have someone like Christopher West or Katrina Zeno give a talk on it and explain it in layman’s terms. But since that’s not an option, I resorted to rereading it again and again and taking notes so as to sort it out in my mind and understand it.
Reading the Pope’s letter is like shining a million watt light into my darkness. I know this sounds very silly since I was taught very young about the redemptive value of suffering, but this letter explained it in such a way it was like a brand new revelation. Not only a new revelation but I’d go so far as to say it was like discovering “the Pearl of Great Price”. The ironic thing is, this letter was sitting on my bookshelf for heaven knows how long!
I think though, if I’d have read it when I first got it, (I may have even tried), it still wouldn’t have meant as much as it did reading it this time. Maybe because over the last seven months I’ve actually experienced intense suffering, so much so that it literally drives me to search for answers to the question “Why?” like no other ‘sufferings’ I’ve experienced has done. But even more than that, watching Bernadette suffer and praying so hard for her and becoming more aware of God’s love as Father, I could understand like never before the love that drove Him to go to such extremes to save us, and it opened my heart and prepared it to receive the message and the answer, even though it wasn’t the answer I was looking for.
Up to now, I related to Jesus mostly as best friend or brother, even lover, healer, or ‘fixer of problems’. So when Bernadette died, naturally I was hurt, bewildered, and shattered. My understanding of and relationship with God seemed to totally crumble. I didn’t know how it would be rebuilt. All I remember is wanting God to do the rebuilding, not me or other people because I wanted a solid house this time, not a card house that God would knock down too. Well reading this letter on suffering was like rebuilding the house, each page being a brick. It introduced me to the Suffering Jesus and expanded my understanding of the Pascal Mystery. It’s not like I didn’t know Jesus suffered, it’s not that, but it took that minimal understanding to a whole new deeper level. It invited me to connect with Jesus, through suffering, in a similar but much deeper way than I’ve been connecting with other moms who have lost children.
I was looking for an answer to ‘why’ and was given an answer far deeper than I ever imagined. I was also given a new house to live in and an invitation to a new and much deeper relationship with Jesus. A while ago I remember telling God that there was nothing He could give me that could replace Bernadette, except Himself and I was too afraid to ask Him for that for fear He’d say no again. Well, I can say with all confidence that reading “On the Christian Meaning of Human Suffering” was God’s response. And what an amazing response it was.
After I finish rereading the letter and taking my notes, I hope to write again to really sort out what exactly it is that I’ve discovered and why I find it so exciting.
Glad to hear you’ve been inspired during your recent readings.