Thursday, September 01, 2005

Suffering in New Orleans

Why is it so difficult to see the devastation in New Orleans? Why do we have the natural aversion to seeing the images of one of the biggest human tragedies caused by natural disaster in U.S. history?

The answer lies in proximity. It is because it is too close to home. Not too long ago, the tsunami that hit Asia was a tragedy beyond belief that left most of us stunned. Yet we were far more removed from what was truly happening there. We normally hear of great tragedies that happen in countries halfway across the globe but we are not used to it when it happens in our own backyard. The closer the tragedy strikes in one's home, the greater the pain. And when there is great pain, there is a greater need for consolation. We see this in ourselves and in others. The sooner we saw the rescue efforts on television and the total destruction of the city that meant the enormity of human displacement, the sooner we had to help somehow, whether through prayers or financial means. The pain is certainly real and deep; however, no matter how severe the pain is, it is not in vain - a point to be touched on later.

As we watch our fellow citizens in Louisiana cling to dear life, aside from mourning the great loss of souls, sympathizing with the survivors and praying for them, we are inclined to reflect on our own life asking ourselves the questions of survival and the questions of faith and trust. What would I do and how would I feel if I were in their shoes? How will my faith sustain me? Am I ready to perish? Am I ready to lay down my life for the sake of others? Am I ready to surrender to God all that I have lived for? Together with these, comes the question that most of us ask, "Why did God allow this?" and "What is God telling us?” We all have different answers, of course but let us look at the last two questions. They mainly point toward the question of faith and the concept of suffering.

First of all, what is suffering? We can view suffering in two ways. A person can view suffering as some torment, which brings about the deprivation of immediate human comfort and the loss of material goods. In this way, it can be viewed as an evil and argued against God’s goodness. At this juncture, I must point out that God does not cause evil but He can allow it to happen for His Divine purpose. The other way to view suffering is that it comes as a state of deprivation that brings about a higher calling to imitate the One Who suffered most – Jesus Christ.

The first view is based on the assumption that one lives without the gift of faith. The second view; however, is founded on faith.

How then, can one make of all this suffering in New Orleans? Is it all just useless loss of human lives, which brings about the onslaught of panic, chaos and darkness? For those with faith, the answer is no.

As Christians, we are called to witness the suffering of our fellowmen through the eyes of an apostle – that is to see them as “co-redeemers” in God’s work of redemption. In this way, the just are further sanctified through this redemptive suffering. St. Paul refers to this in his letter to the Colossians (1:24): "Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ's suffering for the sake of His Body, that is, the Church." We are also to see the New Orleans tragedy as an opportunity for mankind to return to God. It is taken as an instrument for conversion. God loves us and in His goodness, He allows opportunities for every soul to seek Him and find Him.

The need to see this in this light cannot be without the gift of faith. While some people believe that things happen by chance, the faithful believe that there is nothing in this world that happens by mere chance as far as God is concerned. Therefore, although we may not know why God allows certain painful situations to happen, our faith tells us that He knows what He is doing and we trust that from it, we gain the merits necessary for the salvation of our souls. Through this trust, we accept God's Will.

Father Paul A. Duffner, O.P. wrote an excellent essay on Divine Providence and suffering, which I must share with you during this period of mourning.

“Not that anything was wanting in the Passion of Christ as to the winning sufficient grace for the salvation of mankind, but He leaves something for us to do (i.e. to suffer), to make up for what is wanting in some of the members of His Mystical Body, that they might be disposed to receive the saving graces won for them by Christ. For those with deep faith, it can be seen as an opportunity of sharing in the redeeming mission of Christ. Only in the light of our Christian faith do we find an adequate answer to the "why" of suffering.

Those who died By His suffering on Calvary, Christ won for each of us the grace to become adopted children of the Father. And as St. Paul points out, the Father disciplines His sons that they might share more fully in His own holiness: "For the Lord disciplines him whom He loves, and chastises every son whom He receives." (Heb. 12:6)

Suffering, therefore, is very much a part of God's providence, of God providing for our spiritual needs. For example, it can be instrumental: a) in the conversion of the sinner; b) in the further sanctification of the just.”

Let us therefore, pray for those who perished and those who are suffering in Louisiana and in other areas affected by Hurricane Katrina, those without a home; those who are physically, emotionally; spiritually and psychologically traumatized; those who mourn the loss of their loved ones; those who have been orphaned. We commend them to Almighty God, that they may receive the consolation necessary to sustain them and that they may receive the graces to endure their sufferings. May Our Lady of Mercy be ever close to each one of them.


Blogger Carmel said...

Thank you for explaining this the way that you have.
Many times I have asked "why does God allow these things?" and "why the suffering?" I asked this a lot when my father became ill
But now I do know the many answers. This post is wonderfully done

7:09 PM  
Blogger Saint Peter's helpers said...

Thank you Carmel. May we all come together as God's family praying for our brothers and sisters in need. I shall remember your father in prayer too.

7:54 PM  

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