One of the most terrible words in human history, a word which really can drives us crazy, is surely the word “suffering”. In effect, who wants to suffer? Who cherishes suffering? Who, in fact, welcomes suffering?
Suffering is a very challenging experience indeed. We come across it in all sorts of ways and manners. Suffering tells us that the world, although it is beautiful, is not at all rosy. Perhaps it is because our personal lives are not rosy either. Which one of us does not have his or her health issues? Starting from a simple flu and, unfortunately, extending to the most perilous of diseases?
In one way or another, we all suffer. And, in suffering, we start yes asking that million-dollar question: why. Why me? Why my wife? Why my husband? Why my partner? Why my children? And, justly so, we can keep asking and asking this agonizing question all along.
Even Pope Francis asked this tormenting question. And, he kept asking it within a context of an address he gave when he met with a group of ill children and their families, way back in 2015. In this address what strikes is not that the 82-year-old Pontiff has specifically found an answer to this most puzzling question that we still grapple with. In fact, when one delves deeper into this speech one cannot find a hint of a conclusive answer. However, what clearly emerges in his humble address is the consolation he offers through his words.
“There is also a question, whose explanation one does not learn in a catechesis. It is a question I frequently ask myself and many of you, many people ask: ‘Why do children suffer?; And there are no answers. This too is a mystery. I just look to God and ask: ‘But why?’ And looking at the Cross: ‘Why is your Son there? Why?’ It is the mystery of the Cross.
I often think of Our Lady, when they handed down to her the dead body of her Son, covered with wounds, spat on, bloodied and soiled. And what did Our Lady do? ‘Did she carry him away?’ No, she embraced him, she caressed him. Our Lady, too, did not understand. Because she, in that moment, remembered what the Angel had said to her: ‘He will be King, he will be great, he will be a prophet…’; and inside, surely, with that wounded body lying in her arms, that body that suffered so before dying, inside surely she wanted to say to the Angel: ‘Liar! I was deceived.’ She, too, had no answers.
As children grow, there comes a certain age when they don’t quite understand what the world is like, when they are about two years old, more or less. And they begin to ask questions: ‘Papa, why? Mama, why? Why this?’ When the father or mother begins to explain, they do not listen. They have another why this and why that? But they don’t really want to hear the explanation. With this ‘why?’ they are only drawing the attention of their mom and dad. We can ask the Lord: ‘Lord, why? Why do children suffer? Why this child?’
Personally speaking I see with my very own eyes and hear with my very own ears what Pope Francis is talking about occurring at the hospital where I work. What do I say to a parent who has lost her or his child? With what words can I console a son or a daughter who has lost a beloved mum or dad? What catechesis do I need to prepare in order that these people, enveloped as they are in their grief, can ultimately find some peace?
How easy it is to preach and pontificate! And, how easy it is to say how things should be done! But, and now let us be honest, at least with ourselves before the Lord our Father, when things go wrong, and permanently stay wrong because a loved one has passed away, what can one do?
In his great homily of Wednesday, 3 July 2013, at Domus Sanctae Marthae, Pope Francis said: “We must come out of ourselves, we must take human routes if we are to discover that Jesus’ wounds are still visible today on the bodies of all our brothers and sisters who are hungry, thirsty, naked, humiliated or slaves, in prison and hospital. By touching and caressing these wounds ‘we can adore God alive in our midst’. Later in that moving homily the Pope said that mere philanthropic actions do not suffice. He stressed: “We must touch the wounds of Jesus, caress them. We must heal the wounds of Jesus with tenderness. We must literally kiss the wounds of Jesus”. The life of St Francis, he said, changed when he embraced the leper because “he touched the living God and lived in adoration”. The Pope ended that daily reflection by saying: “What Jesus asks us to do with our works of mercy is what Thomas asked: to enter his wounds”.
Being there for someone who is suffering makes the whole difference in that person’s life. A caring presence brings in the essence of God’s love for that person in distress. In other words, it literally means touching the wounds of Jesus.