Everyone wants to be happy. Everyone wants a piece of joy in their lives. But finding happiness or joy seems elusive because of the presence of suffering, which is perceived as the enemy or the obstacle in our pursuit of joy. Suffering is part of human existence from birth until death, and every human person suffers in a variety of ways: physically, psychologically, socially, and spiritually. Suffering in one form or another accompanies each of us every day. It is an inescapable feature of human existence and yet we have made it our goal to free the world from the clutches of suffering and pain. Just look at the ad that promotes a pain-free or stress-free whatsoever: painless dental extraction to painless circumcision; stress-free diet to stress-free loans; painless childbirth to painless embalming. Do you that the electric chair was invented to provide a painless death!
Joy is a pleasant subjective feeling. It belongs to the sentiments. The prevailing tone of joy manifests harmony, that is, a successful bringing together of the various expression of human life. Suffering is a generic term for everything that produces the feeling of pain.
How suffering is a venue to be joyful? Joy and sufferings are two feelings that on the outside seems to really contradict one another. Could there really be joy in suffering? Thus, the experience of suffering naturally leads to questioning. Why do I suffer? Why do others suffer? Is there any meaning to suffering? In our society where sufferings of various forms are inevitable and commonly experienced, only few people find its value and meaning, and for them suffering brings them hope and positive disposition. Happiness is not the absence of suffering, but once it is offered and surrendered to God certainly one can obtain true joy and happiness despite the burden of suffering. However, this process works best in a culture of faith and love. So, how can we find joy and happiness even in the midst of suffering? It is by way of turning to God and offering to Him our suffering and thereby looking at suffering no longer as an enemy or obstacle but a positive reality that would even help us realize true happiness.
What the scripture says about joy in suffering? (a) The Beatitude: Happy are those who suffer persecution because of me. (b) The coming of Jesus brings in a time of joy. So much so that we must not overlooked that the whole NT message as a proclamation of God’s saving work in Christ is a message of Joy in the midst of a world immersed in evil and suffering. (c) Christ’s messianic or salvific mission is to overcome suffering (both temporal and definitive), as well as sin and death. Christ’s healing miracles are therefore part of his messianic activity. But above all Christ fulfilled his mission through his suffering and death and being truly God and truly human, his suffering was therefore truly human suffering. Salvation was accomplished because Christ did not run away from this intense suffering but instead through it all continued to love. Through the passion and death of Christ, human sin and human suffering have “entered into a completely new dimension and a new order. They have been “linked to love… to that love which created good, drawing it out by means of suffering.”
In Salvifici Doloris, Pope John Paul II opens the reality of the Gospel of Suffering. He writes, the Gospel of Suffering “signifies… the revelation of the saving power and salvific significance of suffering in Christ’s messianic mission and subsequently in the mission and vocation of the church.” (#25) This involves firstly “suffering ‘for Christ'” – “persecutions” or “tribulations experienced because of Christ.” But it also involves “all those who suffer together with Christ, uniting their human sufferings to his salvific suffering.” (#26) Further on he also reminds us, like in the parable of the Good Samaritan that suffering “is also present to unleash love in the human person,” and that “the world of human suffering” should summon forth “the world of human love.” (#29). Here the Joy in suffering has become integral to message of gospel. The Gospel of suffering proclaims there is joy in suffering!
Beinert, Wolfgang and Fiorenza, Francis Schussler, Handbook of Catholic Theology, The Crossroad Publishing Company, New York, 1995.
Kaczor, Thomas, A Pope’s Answer to the Problem of Pain, http://www.catholic.com/magazine/articles/a-pope%E2%80%99s-answer-to-the-problem-of-pain. Downloaded Aug. 13, 2014
Mc Govern, Kevin, Finding meaning in serious illness and suffering, Issue 32, November 2010, http://www.nathaniel.org.nz/component/content/article/16-bioethical-issues/bioethics-at-the-end-of-life/216-finding-meaning-in-serious-illness-and-suffering, downloaded Aug. 13, 2014.