In Response to Wesley Hill on Suffering

Over at the Spiritual Friendship Blog, Wesley Hill, author of Washed And Waiting, has what I think is an excellent post on how our suffering can be united with Christ.  It seems to me to be a very Catholic view of suffering that Wesley Hill has stumbled on, particularly with the line of his I quote below.  For some reason, the powers that be there at Spiritual Friendship have chosen not to post my response, so I’ve posted it here instead, for my blog readers’ consideration.  Check out his post first–it’s quite good, and very exciting to hear such things from a Protestant.  It reminds of the way Elisabeth Elliott views suffering.

I appreciate your post. It seems very much in line with a quote of Thomas Merton that changed my view of living with same sex attraction. I think it resonates with what you wrote above, when you wrote about St. Paul, saying that “he gives his suffering a Christian shape. It becomes his sharing in the passion of Christ. Living out the condition of death is itself for Paul also a sharing in the risen life of Jesus. He dies not because he is “in Adam,” but because he is “in Christ.””

This quote from Thomas Merton says much the same thing:

“Suffering, therefore, must make sense to us not as a vague universal necessity, but as something demanded by our own personal destiny. When I see my trials not as the collision of my life with a blind machine called fate, but as the sacramental gift of Christ’s love, given to me by God the Father along with my identity and my very name, then I can consecrate them and myself with them to God. For then I realize that my suffering is not my own. It is the Passion of Christ, stretching out its tendrils into my life in order to bear rich clusters of grapes, making my soul dizzy with the wine of Christ’s love, and pouring that wine as strong as fire upon the whole world.”

I have found great comfort in Colossians 1:24 as well, in which St. Paul says, “I complete what is lacking in Christ’s affliction.” Of course, that’s not to say that in the Catholic view of suffering that Christ’s death on the Cross was somehow incomplete, but rather that God allows us to participate in his death on the Cross–in a very real sense–in which we actually participate with his redemption of the world (only possible because Christ is in us). For me, it gives a deeper meaning and purpose to suffering than merely being the means by which God strengthens our character.

Something St. Ireneaus wrote long ago has helped me think about this aspect of “joining in Christ’s suffering.” He wrote that in heaven, there “dwell powers and angels and angels and archangels, doing service to God, the Almighty and Maker of all things: not as though He was in need, but that they may not be idle and unprofitable and ineffectual.” Christ’s death certainly is sufficient–but I think, like the angels, God does not need us to join our suffering to His, but He allows that in our loves, out of love for our good. God wants us to willingly choose to join our sufferings with his, which I’m convinced is what it means to become literal “living sacrifices.”

C. S. Lewis’s thoughts on prayer from his poem “Sonnet” also have helped me think about how living with the pain associated with SSA can be joined with Christ’s suffering.

“…if His action lingers
Till men have prayer, and suffers their weak prayers indeed
To move as very muscles His delaying fingers,
Who, in His longanimity and love for our
Small dignities, enfeebles, for a time, His power.”

I have reflected often over the years on what Lewis wrote here, thinking that out of His love for our “small dignities” God might “enfeeble” His power, to allow us to participate in His Will. It seems to be, in some sense, what St. Paul is saying in Colossians 1:24.

Thanks for this post. I think you’ve hit the nail on the head. Great post!

By the way, I gave a talk on that Merton quote, and how I view it as related to homosexuality, for what it’s worth. If you’re curious, you can view it here:

Also, you may find this letter on suffering by John Paul II fascinating, in light of what you wrote in this post. This too has shaped my view of the redemption of homosexuality in our lives.

http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/john_paul_ii/apost_letters/documents/hf_jp-ii_apl_11021984_salvifici-doloris_en.html

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3 thoughts on “In Response to Wesley Hill on Suffering

  1. Just want to say that this was a fantastic talk. I am wondering, though, how and where the concept of “vocation” fits in. But I plan to view this more. Thank you for this very, very necessary work.

    • Thanks for your comment. When I think about “vocation” and living with same sex attraction, I think primarily on the universal vocation that we’re all called to follow: to pursue becoming more like Christ–the universal call to holiness. Beyond this, I personally don’t think there is a “single vocation” in the Church, at least recognized as a specific vocation (other than consecrated virgins). That being said, about SSA I like what Pope Pius XII said, about discovering “an impossibility of marriage”:

      “• When one thinks upon the maidens and the women who voluntarily renounce marriage in order to consecrate themselves to a higher life of contemplation, of sacrifice, and of charity, a luminous word comes immediately to the lips: vocation!… This vocation, this call of love, makes itself felt in very diverse manners… But also the young Christian woman, remaining unmarried in spite of herself, who nevertheless trusts in the providence of the heavenly Father, recognizes in the vicissitudes of life the voice of the Master: “Magister adest et vocat te” (John 11:28); It is the master, and he is calling you! She responds, she renounces the beloved dream of her adolescence and her youth: to have a faithful companion in life, to form a family! And in the impossibility of marriage she recognizes her vocation; then, with a broken but submissive heart, she also gives her whole self to more noble and diverse good works.”

      I think for those with SSA, we are called to “give our whole self to more noble and diverse good works.” That’s how I’ve come to view my particular vocation.

      At least those are my thoughts today. God bless!

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