Why are Catholics so into suffering? Isn't Jesus about healing?
Many Evangelicals have a hard time understanding why Catholics put so much value in suffering. Some of these good Christians think that faithful Christians should always be physically healed if they pray hard enough. They say "if you had enough faith you would be healed." These are often the same people who believe in the "Prosperity Gospel." Evangelicals such as Kenneth Copeland who hold to the "prosperity gospel" claim that authentically turning our lives over to Jesus immediately results in abundant health and financial prosperity. The idea seems to be that faithful Christians should never be poor or experience sickness.
Catholics believe God heals
Most certainly Jesus heals. Catholics are totally into being healed - if it is God's will. I (Hugh) have been healed and delivered of many problems including alcoholism, bulimia, a voice that I couldn't use for three years, etc. (see my testimony) I know a Catholic man who was healed of cancer in his neck and esophagus through the prayers of his sisters who were nuns. Catholics hold healing masses and pray and anoint the sick and we rejoice when we are healed. There are thousands of reports of Catholics being healed in the waters at Lourdes and other sites of pilgrimages. On my radio show, I recently interviewed "Gé La," a Spanish Catholic singer who was completely healed of a 5.9 cm cancerous tumor in her throat. Her voice returned and she has become one of the best known and loved singers in Latin America. Download the interview here.
The Apostle Paul and suffering
The Apostle Paul was one of the greatest Christians of all time. He had turned his life over to Jesus in a very real way. Although Jesus restored his vision, Paul nevertheless had a very painful number of years. (2 Cor 24-30). Catholics don't think it was because he was lacking in faith.
The thief on the Cross suffered after Jesus said he would be with him in paradise
The thief on the Cross beside Jesus received freedom from eternal punishment. "Today you will be with me in Paradise" (Lk 23:43) but he still experienced much suffering after he surrendered his life to Jesus. He hung on the cross for a several hours longer and had his legs broken. Jesus could have easily had him taken down from the cross to remove his suffering the moment the thief surrendered to Jesus.
Everyone experiences suffering
All Christians struggle with suffering. We have never met a proponent of the Prosperity Gospel that has absolutely no suffering in life. Suffering is a fact of life. I heard an advertisement from www.LifelinePro.com Evangelical ministries that said "sometimes we suffer, we don't know why but we trust that God is in control and he knows what he is doing."
In his book, "The Purpose Driven Life," the famous Evangelical pastor, Rick Warren says:
The deepest level of worship is praising God in spite of pain, thanking God during a trial, surrendering while suffering, and loving him when he seems distant... the most common mistake Christians make in worship today is seeking an experience rather than seeking God. They look for feeling, and if it happens, they conclude that they have worshiped. Wrong! In fact, God often removes our feelings so we won't depend on them. Seeking a feeling, even the feeling of closeness to Christ, is not worship. When you are a baby Christian, God gives you a lot of confirming emotions ...but as you grow in faith, he will wean you off these dependencies. (The Purpose Driven Life, Pg 107-109)
Catholics don't chase suffering
Catholics of today don't chase after suffering. We are not "into" suffering. We don't like suffering any more than our Evangelical brothers and sisters. We are not masochists. However, Catholics think it is OK to suffer too and that suffering is not a sign of weak or shallow faith.
...we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character and character produces hope and hope does not disappoint us. (Rom 5:1)
Shouldn't we just claim our healing?
Some Evangelicals have phrases like "claim your healing." They cite Mathew 17:14-20 where Jesus chastises the disciples after they fail to deliver the epileptic. Some Evangelicals use this passage to say that those who are not healed don't have enough faith. But if we look at this passage a bit closer, we see that it has nothing whatever to do with the weak faith of the Epileptic. Jesus is saying that the disciples didn't have enough faith to cure the epileptic. The disciples ask Jesus "Why could we not cast it out?" Jesus said to them, "Because of your little faith." Jesus was speaking to the disciple performing the healing, not the person who needs to be healed. So if you are ever at a healing service and the pastor says "You were not healed because you don't have enough faith" you can respond with Mathew 17:23 and say "No, Mr. Pastor, actually I'm not healed because you do not have enough faith!"
We might also note that this passage refers to someone who was sick as a result of a demon, Catholics don't think all sickness is caused by being possessed by demons (Jn 9).
The value of suffering
Billy Graham's daughter, Ann Graham Lotts said:
Suffering helps us... Jesus makes suffering understandable… Lazarus was sick but Jesus loved him… Not that you lack his blessing… precious sweetness in having him walk through suffering… (Interview on Focus on the Family, 2007)
Looking up the word "pain" or "suffering" in a Bible concordance will reveal many instances in the New Testament where we are invited to share in suffering. Sometimes people come to a deeper faith in Jesus during sickness and sorrow than they do in the happy and healthy times. I'm sure many Evangelical friends reading this will agree that there were times in their lives where they have suffered and are better Christians today because of it.
Therefore, to keep me from being too elated, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me, to keep me from being too elated. Three times I appealed to the Lord about this, that it would leave me, but he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness" (2 Cor 12:7)
". . .be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. " (Rom 12:12)
What happens if we don't get healed after asking Jesus to heal us?
Father Bob Bedard explains that Catholics earnestly pray for healing when they are sick then he invites us into a mystery. He says:
"but what happens if we pray for healing but are not healed? ...well that's the Cross."
Catholics are not afraid of the Cross. We love the Cross. Catholics feel that if we prayerfully offer up their sufferings to God, they can benefit those in the world who are suffering but who do not know Christ. This is called "redemptive suffering." We don't go chasing after suffering but if it is persistently there even though we pray, then we don't waste the opportunity to use it for good. This is what Catholics mean when they say "I am offering it up."
" it is for your consolation, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings, that we are also suffering." (2 Col 1:6)
Father Bob Bedard says "Suffering is an essential component of human life. We can't avoid it. The Lord can accomplish much through our crosses if we join them to the Cross of Jesus, If we don't they may go for nothing...let's not waste the pain" (Companions Newsletter Fall 2001)
"For he has graciously granted you the privilege not only of believing in Christ, but of suffering for him as well." (Phil 1:29)
"Take up your cross daily and follow me" (Lk 9:23)
Suffering and sorrow can "make up what is lacking in Christ's suffering"
Catholics also think that our sorrow can be used for the purposes of making up for was lacking in Christ's afflictions.
"I am now rejoicing in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am completing what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of his body that is the church" (1 Col 24)
But isn't it NEVER God's will that we suffer?
Some Evangelicals say that it is never God's will that we suffer but Catholics believe Peter acknowledged that there are cases when it may be God's will to suffer.
"for it is better to suffer for doing good if suffering should be God's will" (1Pet 3:17)
Catholics feel that someone can be inflicted with tremendous suffering, yet have awesome faith and even rejoice in that suffering because of the complete dependency on God that it has facilitated.
It's not a sign of week faith to experience suffering
We don't feel that it is a sign of weak faith. Actually it requires a lot of faith to face suffering with dignity. Catholics do not belittle the miraculous healings that sometimes happen in Evangelical or Catholic healing services. We would just warn against teaching those who are not healed that they are lacking in faith. That is a terrible thing to inflict on someone who may be dying of cancer and may better use their time making peace with God and their friends and family, rather than worrying why they do not have enough faith to be healed. Sometimes the miraculous healing happens spiritually rather than physically and the cancer patient leaves this world in complete abandonment to Jesus. Now that is a true miracle of healing - a conversion of the heart.
The Catechism says this:
Moved by so much suffering Christ not only allows himself to be touched by the sick, but he makes their miseries his own: "He took our infirmities and bore our diseases." But he did not heal all the sick. His healings were signs of the coming of the Kingdom of God. They announced a more radical healing: the victory over sin and death through his Passover. On the cross Christ took upon himself the whole weight of evil and took away the "sin of the world," of which illness is only a consequence. By his passion and death on the cross Christ has given a new meaning to suffering: it can henceforth configure us to him and unite us with his redemptive Passion. (1505)
God's "active will" verses his "passive will"
Suffering was introduced into the world by the devil in the garden. Naturally, the devil wants humans to suffer as much as possible. It was not God's "active" will that we suffer. He would have rather that Adam and Eve we're obedient. It is a mystery how God converts what the devil intended for evil, to ultimate good. God has a long term plan of eternal life. He can use suffering to bring people to him. Naturally, he'd rather that humanity did not choose sin in the Garden. But when we are faithful to him and we suffer, it is his "passive" will. He "allows" suffering and uses it to bring about eternal life the for one suffering and those who witness it. Let's no waste our suffering.
Lord Jesus, let Your prayer of unity for Christians
become a reality, in Your way.
We have absolute confidence
that you can bring your people together,
we give you absolute permission to move.