Msgr. Charles Pope: On the Relationship of Suffering and Wisdom

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By Msgr. Charles Pope • August 23, 2018

Over 29 years ago, as I was finishing seminary and about to be ordained, my spiritual director at the time gave me some advice on seeking a new one in my diocese. “Look for someone who has suffered,” he said. At the time I wondered about this but have come to find that it was good advice.

If it is endured with faith, suffering brings profound wisdom. As much as I have hated any suffering I have endured in my life, I must admit it has brought gifts, though in strange packages. I discovered gifts and strengths I did not know I had. I experienced things I would have avoided. I learned to seek help rather than always trying to depend on myself. I became better equipped to help others in their struggles. Through suffering my faith grew as did my compassion and generosity for others who have struggled.

Scripture says, A broken humbled heart the Lord will not scorn (Ps 51). A few years ago, my spiritual director shared a strange saying with me: Everything needs a crack in it; that’s how the light gets in. Yes indeed, the light gets in through a broken heart, one with fissures or openings. Rarely does the light get in through a perfect wall, a strong barrier.

This is a painful truth to be sure, and it makes me want to run, but I have learned that it is so. God has done more with my brokenness than with my strength. In a paradoxical way, my brokenness has become my strength. Have you experienced this? Where would we be without our crosses and sufferings? What do we have of true value that has not come at the price of suffering?

Now let me get out of the way and let a Saint explain it. The following is from St. Rose of Lima, whose feast we celebrated yesterday. Here is an excerpt of what was in the breviary:

Our Lord and Savior lifted up his voice and said with incomparable majesty: “Let all men know that grace comes after tribulation. Let them know that without the burden of afflictions it is impossible to reach the height of grace. Let them know that the gifts of grace increase as the struggles increase. Let men take care not to stray and be deceived. This is the only true stairway to paradise, and without the cross they can find no road to climb to heaven.”

When I heard these words, a strong force came upon me and seemed to place me in the middle of a street, so that I might say in a loud voice to people of every age, sex and status: “Hear, O people; hear, O nations. I am warning you about the commandment of Christ by using words that came from his own lips: We cannot obtain grace unless we suffer afflictions. We must heap trouble upon trouble to attain a deep participation in the divine nature, the glory of the sons of God and perfect happiness of soul.”

Suffer well, fellow Christians. Beg deliverance, but realize that even delaying our relief, God is up to something good.

This motet by William Byrd says, “O Lord, according the multitude of the miseries of my heart, your consolations have gladdened by soul.”