All posts tagged: suffering

Whence Comes the Arresting Sorrow of the Black Madonna of Częstochowa?

At Jasna Góra There is David’s Ladder which Angels ascend and descend Holy envoys, reconciling man, With God.[1] Watching my three daughters during the Christmas season is not exactly a tranquil experience. What begins with an honest and innocent desire to play and re-tell the Christmas story using Playmobil or Fontanini nativity figurines ends up in a squabble over who gets to hold the kitschy statue of Mary and play with her (detachable!) veil, resulting in looks of self-satisfaction in the one who in the end possesses Mary, and tragic resentment on the part of those who are stuck with a dinky shepherd instead. Like my girls, I have been fascinated by this woman since my childhood. She has beckoned and drawn me, and waited for me, wherever it is that she has led me. When I encountered her in her home on Jasna Gora in Częstochowa at the age of nine, I knew she was my queen, my mother, my protectress, my patroness, and my advocate. But I did not know why. I found myself …

Modern Biology’s Contribution to Our Understanding of Christ’s Sufferings

It is common to come across internet articles, television documentaries, or advertisements for books in the days and weeks preceding Easter detailing scientifically the nature and extent of the sufferings experienced by Christ during his Passion. From these you graduate from a notional apprehension of the sufferings of Christ understood abstractly and instead begin to grasp his Passion more realistically and painfully. For example, one might read of the tremendous suffering that Christ endured while his hands and feet were nailed to the Cross, which would have pierced a number of major nerves, sending waves of excruciating pain up and down his limbs. Each and every breath on the Cross would have become more and more difficult and agonizing, since to breathe while nailed to the Cross entailed using the nails in his wrists as leverage against which to lift his body to inhale and exhale. Or, to use another example, some scientists estimate that Christ would have lost anywhere from a quarter to a third of his blood supply by being scourged at the …

Job and the Problem of Evil Versus the Tribunal of History

Introduction: Beyond the Tribunal of History—Beyond Is For some, for many, maybe even most, it is difficult to shower history with the ethical compliments of “good,” “just,” “fair.” Not that the temptation does not exist: our own—often  momentary—well-being and prosperity, or the well-being and prosperity of our little group, often urges us to extrapolate such a contingency onto the face of history itself. We do so almost by reflex, and such an extrapolation probably represents our instinct to keep our life simple, evade the threat we peripherally sense. But even when we have reduced the scope of our vision to ourselves and/or immediate family and close friends one would have to be extremely fortunate not to come up against the shadowside of illness, death, malice, brokenness, incompleteness. Continuing to deny the reality of evil in general, undeserved suffering in particular, in the face of what encroaches in one’s own life betrays a hysteria to keep the world ordered at all cost. If there is trust here in pattern and meaning, this trust is evasive and …

Our Lady of Lourdes and the Pathologizing of Pain

I don’t promise you happiness in this life, but in the next. —Marian apparition at Massabielle to St. Bernadette The meaninglessness of suffering is a self-evident modern axiom. Who wants to suffer from pain? What is there to learn from pain other than learning what medications will treat it? Is it not normal to want to avoid pain and suffering at all costs? It seems perverse and backwards to suggest otherwise. The community of those who insist on pain’s therapeutic worth and intelligibility, who refuse to stop suffering, are pushed into margins of what is acceptable to modern society. Yet, Pope Saint John Paul II made nonetheless the Catholic case for suffering against this tide of incomprehension in the Apostolic Letter, Salvifici Doloris. The pope’s reflections are a commentary on the following passage from Colossians: “I am now happy in the suffering that I endure for you” (1:24). John Paul II grounds his argument (delivered “on the liturgical Memorial of Our Lady of Lourdes, 11 February 1984”) in the foundations of Christian anthropology: The joy …

Holy Saturday: Christianity Is Not a Solution to the Problem of Suffering

Difficulties: First, images that make sense poetically have to be coordinated within a narrative flow; this is something I attempt to do for my poem when I comment on it below. Second, what exactly constitutes healing in the Christian sense is made impossibly complex in light of a Crucified Savior who keeps His wounds after the Resurrection. Holy Saturday Oh beat slow, heart of creation – First light! First love! Revelation! First flesh found in Incarnation, Beat the blood to our salvation! Find so within the vein of God tireless tracks to faith untrod ‘til riven, wrecked, rent kavod of unstrung sinews, strums overawed. Clotted, untinctured, tear-sealed tomb, thrice holy still unholy wound. Once empty chamber – sin consume! Once-pierced heart – rise, beat, assume! Leave not me here, alone and free, a bloodless heart that beats for thee! Heart held in blood eternally – find Heart yet held in Trinity! These lyrics are about the longing for salvation. They are voiced by someone who has faith that the man from Galilee is not lost …

Good Friday: Creation Always Exists in Darkness

The predominant Christological concept governing William Congdon’s 1960 painting “Crucifix no. 2” is that of kenosis. The painting conveys a sense of abject abandonment, leaving no doubt that Christ’s self-sacrificial act of obedience, “to the point of death—even death on a cross” (Phil. 2:8), is indeed an ultimate form of self-emptying, and especially so, not in spite of, because of his being the God-Man. Beyond this immediate kenotic impression conveyed by the work, the Christological insights of Hans Urs von Balthasar can flesh out further the significance of this particular representation of Christ. How we understand Christ’s relationship to his mission and the significance of this relationship in Congdon’s image will be our focus. Then we will consider what it means to involve ourselves in the viewing of Christ’s mission–as Congdon’s representation does—especially in light of the fact that Christ is the ultimate form of revelation, the image that in fact structures all revelation. We shall ultimately see that theological reflection and artistic representation inform and draw out the deepest meanings of one another so …

A Suffering Silence

The other day a friend asked I could go with her for her chemotherapy treatment. I had no idea what a lesson it would be for me in how to bear the Cross. She is in her late seventies, distinguished and “full of wisdom” as the Scriptures say, full of that astonishing capacity to quietly accept deep suffering which I often find in my older friends. When I arrived to her house, she was weak and short of breath so we didn’t say much on the ride over to the clinic. The nurse who welcomed us was kind and patient, explaining every step of the procedure and bringing warm blankets for my friend. At first, I didn’t know if she wanted me to chat with her or not, and she seemed so tired, that finally I realized she just wanted to rest as much as possible. There wasn’t much I could do to make her comfortable, nor much she asked for—it was simply a matter of me being attentive to her and waiting. She didn’t …

Beauty from the Brokenness

As the flickering candles and dim lights fought off the dark Texan night pouring in from outside, the chapel danced between silence and sound. The silence was palpable—as thick as the bonds of the seventy young men huddled attentively as they leaned forward to listen to their fellow senior standing behind the ambo. He began to break open his life, allowing others to listen to the symphony of his rugged voice: crescendos of moments we never expected, slurred words in between tears fought back, staccatos of the surprising levity, and pauses to gather his soul to spoken notes—his young life sung to the tune of the Paschal Mystery. I remember my astonished gaze ascending upwards from the student’s face, aglow with fire light in the dark, towards the gnarled figure of Christ on the suspended crucifix. . . Crucifixion—Why? I found myself in the chapel before the whirlwind events of yet another retreat, drawn to the silent gaze of that same crucifix. Memories flooded the silence and past retreat experiences reverberated into this crossroad in …

The Cruciform Shape of the Family

Embarking on the journey of marriage and family life is filled with many joyful moments but also with moments of suffering. This suffering is inherently relational, meaning that by entering into commitments such as marriage and parenthood, we open ourselves up to the possibility of being wounded by such commitment. For example, think of the newlyweds who ache with overwhelming love for one another, a mother who labors to meet her child, the infertile couple who longs to conceive, the parents who suffer with and for a sick child, or the elderly man who sits at his dying wife’s bedside after a lifetime shared together. As we can see, suffering takes a unique, relational shape in the context of marriage and family life. This shape reflects Christ’s suffering in the sense that he entered into relationship with mankind, therefore opening himself up to such relational wounds—wounds of love. When we gaze upon Christ crucified, we see not only the horrific suffering of his Passion but also a sign of hope in his Resurrection. However, it …

And the Nominees Are . . . Arrival

Editors’ Note: In anticipation of the 89th Academy Awards on February 26, we present a series exploring the philosophical and theological elements in each of the nine films nominated for Best Picture. Caveat: this review contains spoilers. The film Arrival, starring Amy Adams as Dr. Louise Banks, linguistics scholar, takes the science fiction trope of first contact and explores it from an astonishingly intimate perspective: through the memories and experiences of Adams’ character as she, and the rest of the world, come to know humanity’s new extraterrestrial visitors. Louise, whose life, we see, has involved terrible heartache, is chosen by the government for her linguistics expertise and tasked with finding a means of communication with the visitors: unraveling their language, teaching them our own, and, most importantly, finding out what they want. She is paired with a physicist, Ian Donelly (Jeremy Renner), who is supposed to make sense of the alien technology and scientific knowledge. Instead, he comes to serve as mostly a partner and visual aid for Louise’s communication work. And as they work against the clock to comprehend the alien language …