Making sense of suffering

Making sense of suffering

“A punch in the stomach followed by a kick in the teeth” – that’s how a priest described his reaction to the death of Fr John Cummins. A priest of the Kildare and Leighlin Diocese, 52-year-old Fr John died in an accident last week.

Speaking at the requiem Mass for Fr John, Bishop Denis Nulty recalled how “John loved being a priest.

“He gave his life to the Church as a priest. At a time when the Church needs more good priests on the pitch, it feels as if God scored an own goal last Wednesday evening,” Bishop Denis said.

Quite apart from the overwhelming sadness felt at the tragic loss of Fr John, the Church in Ireland can ill afford to lose a youngish priest in the prime of his ministry.

It brings to mind the phrase attributed to St Teresa of Avila in a likely apocryphal exchange with God after the nun experienced a particular run of bad luck: “If this is how you treat your friends, it is no wonder you have so few!”

It’s the same sentiment felt by the apostles after the death of Christ on the road to Emmaus when they addressed their questioner: “Our own hope had been…”

Religion is not magic and the friendship with God that is of the essence of Catholicism doesn’t remove pain, suffering, injustice and crushing disappointment.

Those whom we love will often suffer and die. Our hearts will be broken precisely because we have loved and been loved. It’s a painful truth, but the alternative – a life without love – is too unbearable to contemplate.

CS Lewis summed up the paradox in The Four Loves when he wrote that “to love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness.

“But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable,” he wrote.

Vulnerability is at the heart of the Christian vocation. We worship a God who did not come to rule the Earth in power and majesty but as a defenceless little baby. God contrasts the noisy and ostentatious power of the world with the power of love in an infant.

Quo vadis Domine? The only antidote to pain and suffering is hope – hope that God is there in the midst of the darkness. Christianity is nothing if it is not the assurance that God is with us always, and that our suffering has meaning – even if we can’t see or understand that suffering.

Our Faith teaches that if we unite our suffering to Christ’s, our suffering will be redemptive.

This is our hope.

Read ‘Questions of Faith’ here.

Michael Kelly is co-author of a new book with Austen Ivereigh How to Defend the Faith – Without Raising Your Voice – it is available from Columba Books.