When good people suffer

Why does God allow suffering to happen? Does God even care? If God is so good and holy, then why doesn't He put an end to all suffering and pain? Over the past few days, I have been very aware that some people suffer so much in silence and in surrender. I have seen how good people have been able to identify God’s footprints with them in the journey of death, bereavement, sickness and tragedy. There is so much suffering in our world and it extends from deeply personal and hidden domains through social patterns and global realities.

In our ministry in our Liturgical Centre and day to day service with the people, we come to know people’s personal stories of sufferings. It’s the grandmother who comes to offer Mass for a stillborn child and through her tears seeks an answer ‘why?’. It’s the father who comes to the Chapel and kneels for hours, begging the Lord for a job so he can support his family. It’s the young man who searches for meaning to his life, when the voices of the most inner depths of his being and the world around him tell him that he is worthless and useless. It’s the young woman who ‘tried’ a few lines of cocaine for a laugh and now she is addicted, struggling to pay back loan after loan.

During this month of September we celebrated two feastdays, the Exaltation of the Most Holy Cross and then the following day, Our Lady of Sorrows. The cross is the greatest symbol of the Christian faith and is the point where two stories meet: the long story of God’s never-changing love for human beings and the sad story of the human rejection of God, of the inability to cope with goodness and the drive to divide and destroy.

Isn’t it strange that we would ‘celebrate’ something which is so sad, painful and sorrowful? It is easy for those who do not believe to point at us when tragedies and disasters happen, asking ‘where is your God now?’ It is in the wounds of Jesus that we realise that the Wounded One is also our Healer. Jesus on the Cross is the powerful proof that God literally loved us to death. Julian of Norwich once said that” we do not really look on the wounds of Jesus as honourable scars, but as tokens of victory and love.” Indeed each one of us bear these tokens from the journey of life.

We all experience sadness through our own suffering, and have witnessed the suffering of those close to us. We wish we could do more, yet often we cannot cure the illness or remove the injustice that causes the suffering. During the times when our suffering is most intense, we can remember Mary our Mother. She teaches us that through our love for others, rooted in our love for God, and faith in the resurrection and power of God's grace, we have the strength and courage to persevere through any suffering the world presents. Mary's surrender is a surrender to God.

The many forms of communications technology enables us to become better informed of the suffering of people throughout the world. At times the vastness of the world's problems may seem overwhelming, and it is a natural tendency to become desensitized. We find it hard to look suffering in the eye. We don’t know what to do. However, more than often, we are called not to ‘do anything’. We are called to be, to have an active and engaged presence which includes knowing, understanding, accepting and loving. When "nothing can be done" medically, socially, psycho-therapeutically, or whatever way, then the core needs of people emerge. They are being known, being understood, being accepted, being loved. We may become disillusioned because we might feel that our presence or our action is merely a drop in the ocean to alleviate the huge wave of suffering in our world.

However, we should not lose heart. Yesterday with our community we went to see the movie ‘Noble’. It is the inspirational true story of an Irish woman called Christina Noble (affectionately known as 'Mama Tina') who believed that it only takes one person to make a difference. And what a difference she made! She changed the lives of hundreds of thousands of children in Vietnam and Mongolia by setting up children’s Foundations to get them off the streets. Although her own life was very tough and she suffered, she always believed that God had something special in store for her. She never saw herself as a victim. She trusted Him even in the darkest moments. This is what we are called to do. Even when it doesn’t make sense, even when we ache to our core with the pain of loss, of betrayal, of disappointment, He is there. We just need to stretch out our hand and put it into His.