November 8, 2017

The Value of Suffering: "A Cult of Entitlement Has Led Us To An Epidemic of Opiates"

St. Thérèse of Lisieux at her death

By Father Thomas Mattison

When thinking about childlessness and celibacy and voluntary renunciations of various sorts, let us take note, too, of those deprivations, hurts, injustices and differences that seem to be visited so unjustly on so many.

Even the most basic human concern asks: Must one suffer these lacks? When so posed, the question begs the answer: One must not so suffer. In an age that worships technology’s – medical, pharmacological, legal – ability to ‘fix’ what is judged to be broken. The clear implication of that response is that one who suffers has a right to be fixed, to be changed, to have others changed, to have the whole culture changed and to have the ‘justice’ system arrange for the costs to be borne by someone else. And if that cannot be arranged, then they right to be helped to die!

There are so many remedies for those who suffer unjustly that we have begun to imagine that suffering itself is wrong. Worse! We begin to think that those who suffer willingly or without complaining must be ‘sick’ or uninformed or, maybe, getting what they asked for when they didn’t take care of themselves at some earlier time. In a fixable world, sufferers lose any right to compassion!

Those of us who are of a certain age learned a different answer: Offer it up! We may want to laugh at that, but it holds a profound spiritual truth. Compared to what others can and have, I may be impoverished. But that impoverishment does not diminish the reality of God’s love for me. Nor does it rob me of the ability to be brave, to be generous, to be patient, to be forgiving, to be compassionate, to be loved, to be grateful. Some impoverishments may even provide me with that ability to inspire others; isn’t that what a support group is about?

Suffering can make me more aware of my need for God and more willing to trust his love. Suffering so that his love can reach others makes me more and more like Jesus, even if I look more and more like the ‘losers’ of the world. Karl Marx lampooned Christianity as ‘the opiate of the masses’. A cult of entitlement has led us to an epidemic of opiates.

There are those who, with greater and greater frequency, are beginning to ask if fixing the different and leveling all disparities is actually a good idea. If all difference is abolished – maybe even made illegal – what will be the fate of the truly exceptional? Will they, too, be banned because they make others feel inadequate?

We know that state-sponsored collectivism produced a loss of incentive, a loss of healthy competition and a precipitous cultural regression. It did not stop greed or repression or persecution or torture or murder – either private or judicial. The tyrannical few and the tyrannical many are all dyed in the same blood.

"Offering it up" may sound quaint or old fashioned when we can make someone else pay for our happiness. On the other hand, the poor in spirit are promised the Kingdom of God and those who mourn are promised comfort and those who make peace are called children of God.
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Fr. Mattison is pastor of Christ Our Savior Parish in Manchester Center, VT.

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