Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Are You Hurting?

Last night as a mild toothache kept me awake, I began to contemplate the relationship between pain and suffering. Pain, it seems to me, is a mere sensation and does not necessarily result in suffering. How we respond to pain may be affected by how self-absorbed we are at the time. Granted, the intensity of pain may bear directly on our degree of self-awareness.

For example, it is not unusual for me to be so engrossed in a woodworking project that I can cut myself without being aware of it. Not until I notice blood dripping do I realize I’ve had a mishap. I can guarantee that had somebody made me aware that I was about to cut my finger on a saw blade, my reaction would have been much different. The anticipation of an impending injury and the resultant redirection of focus to oneself can increase the amount of suffering incurred.

If it is possible to incur an injury without realizing it because we are focused elsewhere, is it possible to divert our attention willingly to endure pain that would otherwise cripple us? If we can feel someone else’s pain, is it possible not to feel our own? What is the relationship between pain and suffering? Does one necessarily result in the other? These are just rhetorical questions. Don’t expect to find all the answers here!

We are told pain is the result of original sin. If our first parents had not sinned, we would not experience pain in this life. That idea is difficult to comprehend. If Adam and Eve had not sinned, would it not seem inevitable that someone down the line would have eventually sinned? Is it then possible we could have had two lines of people in this world -- those who descended from sinners and those who did not. Would the sinners have experienced death and others not? I don’t know the answers to these questions. They are things that go through my mind during a sleepless night. I am sure they have all been asked before, and philosophers and theologians probably have answers.

I think about pain and suffering much during this time of year. While many of us are enjoying the Christmas season, others are experiencing suffering to varying degrees, be it physical, emotional or spiritual. We all know people who have been diagnosed with serious illnesses. The news is filled with stories of people who have experienced seemingly unbearable tragedies. Some families are separated from their loved ones by distance or division. Others are simply alone.

Often there is little we can do to lessen physical or emotional pain. The spiritual suffering has remedy, but many fail to take advantage, not realizing that spiritual healing can also help us deal with the physical and emotional side. The problem seems to be that most people do not know they suffer from a spiritual deficiency.

Our church was nearly filled Christmas Eve. We won’t see many of them again until Easter, if then. They are content to live their lives without God, not aware that it is impossible to do so. Spiritual health is determined by our relationship with Our Lord, and that relationship is eroded by our sins. Many people today seem to be oblivious to personal sin, so they fail to see the need for the Church and Sacraments. They have become so engrossed in their daily routine that they do not know they are bleeding.

People cannot see the ugliness of their sin except under the illumination of the light of Christ. A point of reference is needed. In order to call others to holiness, one must first be holy himself. One might look at an MRI of a cancerous tumor not knowing what he is looking at until he sees healthy tissue for comparison. A person who badgers another about his sin without first acknowledging his own sin is wasting his time. In other words, people need to see holiness before they can recognize their own deficiencies.

The Christmas season provides a great opportunity to call others home to the church. I read about one pastor who distributes books as gifts to all visitors attending Christmas Masses at his parish. Tom Peterson’s organization has expanded broadcasting of his Catholics Come Home promotion to major networks in addition to local television. The average TV viewer is estimated to see the video about eight times over the Christmas season. Father Robert Barron’s wonderful Catholicism series has been recently appearing on PBS stations. My daughter gave me the complete ten-hour DVD set for Christmas. The message is getting out there. Spread the Word.