Suffering That Saves


“Suffering is not a punishment,” Robert Ingersoll wrote, “it is a result.” Suffering, we learn as we go, is the price we pay to bring life to fullness, both for others and for ourselves. It is not to be desired in a neurotic kind of way, but it is definitely not to be denied. For when we refuse to suffer, we refuse to grow. Suffering requires us to stretch our souls to the boundaries of personal growth. It brings to the surface in us both strengths and weaknesses we could never, in any other way, know we have. It is not about surrendering ourselves to pain left devoid of meaning. It is about finding meaning in the center of the self whatever the stresses around us.

~Joan Chittister, from The Liturgical Year: The Spiraling Adventure of the Spiritual Life—the Ancient Practices Series

In Requiem For A Nun, William Faulkner wrote “The salvation of the world is in man’s suffering.”  A part of us acknowledges the wisdom of this saying as we consider the great sacrifices many have made for the betterment of others, yet we know it isn’t enough.  The noblest efforts of our greatest men cannot begin to reconcile the great gulf between us and God brought about by our rebellion.  In the end, only the suffering of Jesus can save us, and our highest aspiration is to humbly accept the gift of grace and to live a life in grateful service.

The life of Jesus is not a monument to the past; it is an invitation to the fullness of our own futures.



Philippians 3:12–14

Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.


D I G  D E E P E R

Art: The Agony in the Garden of Gethsemane, 1590s, Studio of El Greco

Christ kneels in the centre; at the upper left an angel appears to him with a cup, a reference to his forthcoming Passion. In the background on the left are the sleeping apostlesPeter, James the Greater and John; on the right Judas approaches with soldiers.
The painting is a synthesis of varying accounts of the Agony in the Gospels and is probably a workshop replica of a painting in the Museum of Toledo (Ohio). There are also several authentic vertical versions of this composition.

Literature:  There are two ways of approaching the contemporary models. Concepts such as “sacrifice”, “ransom” and “satisfaction”, that is, aids to understanding employed by biblical and ancient thought that are now no longer intelligible, can be replaced by other concepts that are clearer to modern man. Alternatively, the attempt can be made to bridge the gulf that yawns wider and wider (up to Anselm and his successors) between the person and work of Jesus and the rest of mankind, contrary to the Fathers’ original intuition of the commercium, the union of God and man through the “exchange of places”. If both attempts are taken together, it should be possible to come up with a promising new approach that would present the original theologico-historical plan in a radical (retrospective) form. This would promote the most satisfactory reflection possible on the biblical themes we have enumerated.

Looking at the history of modern times, we are inclined to doubt whether these two new paths, each of which has led to appreciable individual results, can be said to converge automatically on a synthesis (and, in any case, such a synthesis, of its very nature, cannot and must not be a “system”). In fact, the two approaches seem to be essentially opposed. The first model, which aims to provide a new set of aids to understanding centering on the idea of Jesus’ solidarity with mankind, takes its bearings primarily from his humanity and his active ministry. The second model, which wants to follow up the commercium theme in a radical way and insist on full substitution, looks primarily at the Cross as interpreted by Paul: here the full Godhead of the person of Jesus is the decisive factor.

Like the ancient and medieval worlds, the modern world is quite aware, when it comes to contemplating the mystery of Christ, that it is circling around the center of the drama in which God and man are involved. Even in the purely human drama, the two themes concern central, dramatic situations. On the one hand, we have the kind of solidarity that goes the whole way—that is, to death—as at the end of Dostoyevsky’s Idiot or in King Lear; and, on the other hand, there is the representative suffering that is found (both in its religious and in its social aspect) in Euripides, which Faulkner and Camus (Requiem for a Nun) have convincingly portrayed in our own time.

Hans Urs von Balthasar, from Theo-Drama: Theological Dramatic Theory: The Action, trans. Graham Harrison, vol. 4 (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1994), 266–267.


Forever Is Composed Of Nows

Basilica of the Annunciation

Forever – is composed of Nows –
‘Tis not a different time –
Except for Infiniteness –
And Latitude of Home –
From this – experienced Here –
Remove the Dates – to These –
Let Months dissolve in further Months –
And Years – exhale in Years –
Without Debate – or Pause –
Or Celebrated Days –
No different Our Years would be

From Anno Dominies –

~Emily Dickinson

The liturgical year is approaching Lent and its days of introspection which proceed Easter.  Joan Chittister observed that liturgical time is the arc that affixes the layers of life. It binds heaven and earth into one and the same rhythm. Rather than give ourselves totally to life as we know it here and now, liturgical time raises our sights above the dailiness of life to the essence of life.

The liturgical year, with its great traversal from life to death to life again, carries us from one pole of time to the other with a sense of purpose and progress. It makes us aware of the presence of the kind of time that is not time, that is not our understanding of time, that is beyond time.



Ecclesiastes 3:1–15

To everything there is a season, A time for every purpose under heaven: A time to be born, And a time to die; A time to plant, And a time to pluck what is planted; A time to kill, And a time to heal; A time to break down, And a time to build up; A time to weep, And a time to laugh; A time to mourn, And a time to dance; A time to cast away stones, And a time to gather stones; A time to embrace, And a time to refrain from embracing; A time to gain, And a time to lose; A time to keep, And a time to throw away; A time to tear, And a time to sew; A time to keep silence, And a time to speak; A time to love, And a time to hate; A time of war, And a time of peace. What profit has the worker from that in which he labors? I have seen the God-given task with which the sons of men are to be occupied. He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also He has put eternity in their hearts, except that no one can find out the work that God does from beginning to end. I know that nothing is better for them than to rejoice, and to do good in their lives, and also that every man should eat and drink and enjoy the good of all his labor—it is the gift of God. I know that whatever God does, It shall be forever. Nothing can be added to it, And nothing taken from it. God does it, that men should fear before Him. That which is has already been, And what is to be has already been; And God requires an account of what is past.

Dig Deeper

Art: This artistic motif in the Church of the Annunciation in Nazareth depicts the Trinity along with the apostles and all believers in Jesus gathering to spend eternity together.

Literature: Joan Chittister and Phyllis Tickle, The Liturgical Year: The Spiraling Adventure of the Spiritual Life—the Ancient Practices Series (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2010).<!–em