Monday, May 17, 2010

On Pain: When it seems to come from God or His Church

One of the problems when discussing doctrine of belief and morality is that people do have emotions and feelings and desires.  These things can be disordered of course.  These things can be brought about bad choices or being in situations through the fault of another person.  However, they are real feelings.  Sometimes, in dealing with a situation where the Church has no choice but to say "No," a person is caught on the wrong side of that decision.

Now from an objective perspective of course, if we believe the Church's authority is bestowed by Christ, then the person caught on the wrong side is on the wrong side.  However, it doesn't do them much good to say "$#!+ happens.  Deal with it."  Indeed, it might lead such a person to decide that the Church is acting with cold indifference.

On the other hand, each person in such a situation must "deal with it."  They must come to terms with the situation they are in or walk away while those who are not in this situation, while not being permitted to compromise on the truth, do need to be compassionate in how they deal with the situation.

Dealing With It: The Person In Pain

The person in a difficult situation needs to consider some things here.  Our emotions do tell us how we feel, but they should not be the master of what we do.  There is an old maxim of moral theology which states that no person should be their own judge of what is right and wrong.  Why is this?

This is because the possibility for self deception is high.  We all have a strong desire to avoid any suffering, or at least a perceived suffering.  Consider the person who endures a toothache because they consider the possibility of the dentist to be worse.  Sometimes we do have to experience discomfort in order to be healed of the situation we are now in.

The Issue of Faith

When I was a child I often had toothache, and I knew that if I went to my mother she would give me something which would deaden the pain for that night and let me get to sleep. But I did not go to my mother-at least, not till the pain became very bad. And the reason I did not go was this. I did not doubt she would give me the aspirin; but I knew she would also do something else. I knew she would take me to the dentist next morning. I could not get what I wanted out of her without getting something more, which I did not want. I wanted immediate relief from pain: but I could not get it without having my teeth set permanently right. And I knew those dentists; I knew they started fiddling about with all sorts of other teeth which had not yet begun to ache. They would not let sleeping dogs lie; if you gave them an inch they took an ell.

Now, if I may put it that way, Our Lord is like the dentists. If you give Him an inch, He will take an ell. Dozens of people go to Him to be cured of some one particular sin which they are ashamed of (like masturbation or physical cowardice) or which is obviously spoiling daily life (like bad temper or drunkenness). Well, He will cure it all right: but He will not stop there. That may be all you asked; but if once you call Him in, He will give you the full treatment. (CS Lewis.  Mere Christianity p201-202)

The question then is "Do we trust the dentist" to do the right thing even when a situation seems to be quite painful (drilling the tooth)?

Likewise, do we trust God to seek our ultimate good when what we see is painful?  Do we trust the Church when she acts in the motivation of doing what she believes Christ wants us to do?  If we do not trust, we will not see the possibility of pain being used to purify us from what is not good for us from the perspective of having an immortal soul.

I have alluded to this in the past in speaking of what the Catholic Church believes about herself.  The important questions the Catholic in pain must ask themselves are: Do I believe Jesus established the Church which established the norms I am at odds with?  Do I trust that Jesus has promised to protect the Church from teaching error?'

Do we recognize the possibility that we are clinging to a toothache in thinking that if it is not our way, it can't be God's way?  Are we thinking that if the Church does not grant our request, it must be doing wrong?

Belief vs. Faith

28 Peter said to him in reply, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.”

29 He said, “Come.” Peter got out of the boat and began to walk on the water toward Jesus.

30 But when he saw how (strong) the wind was he became frightened; and, beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!”

31 Immediately Jesus stretched out his hand and caught him, and said to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?”  (Mt 14:28-31).

There is a story about the 19th century Tightrope walker called Blondin (Jean Fracois Gravelet) who would walk across Niagara Falls.  He would do some amazing stunts like riding a bicycle, walking it blindfolded.  The story goes that one time he asked the crowd who believed he could cross it blindfolded while pushing a wheelbarrow.  Of course the crowd cheered him on.  Blondin then replied with "Who will get into the wheelbarrow while I push it across?"

The crowd was silent.  Not one person was willing to get into the wheelbarrow while he took it blindfolded across Niagara Falls.  They believed he could do it, but not one of them was willing to put their faith in him.

Those who are suffering some affliction, and believe Christ or His Church is the cause of it are in the situation of the Crowd at Niagara Falls.  Christ, like Blondin, is asking "Who will get into the wheelbarrow?"

Peter may have sank when his faith wavered, but he at least had faith enough in Christ to get out of the boat, and he had faith in Christ to save him when he sank.

Will we trust Christ enough to get out of the boat of the situation we are in and follow Him?

"God is Good" does not mean Our Life will be Pain Free

In the book Rome Sweet Home, Kimberly Hahn discusses a story of how she was wrestling with the pain and bitterness over her husband's conversion to the Catholic Church.  She recognized that she either would have to join him or remain in a divided family.  She was struggling with why God would  allow her to go through such pain.  She then relates how her daughter had to be taken to the hospital because of dehydration.  She had an extremely high temperature (peaking at 105.2 degrees) and she had to assist the nurses in putting ice cold cloths on her child's body to help bring the temperature down, even though it was very painful to the child.  She says of the experience:

As soon as her hot little body heated up the towel, we took it off and put on another cold one.  it was imperative that we get her fever down.  Hannah was lying there with one arm bound by an IV tube and the other stretched toward me as far as she could reach, her body shaking so hard.  She was screaming "Mommy!  Mommy!"

Hannah could not understand what I was doing.  I was supposed to protect her from harm, yet here I was helping to put the cloths on that were causing her much pain and discomfort.  I could not explain it to her, but I knew I was doing the most loving thing for her.

In the midst of this I felt the Lord put his hand on my shoulder and say, "Kimberly, do you see what a good mother you are?  You love your daughter, so you are causing her pain to heal her.  Do you see how much I have loved you, my daughter?  I have caused you pain, to heal you, to draw you to myself." (Rome Sweet Home pages 150-151)

I think this is important to remember, when we are asking ourselves "Why is God making me suffer like this?"  Like the dentist of CS Lewis' account.  Like the actions Kimberly Hahn had to do in helping the nurses keep the temperature down on her seriously ill daughter, sometimes God must act in a way which causes us pain in order to make us well.  Sometimes the Church must act in a certain way and refuse to make an exception, even though it causes us pain, because she must be faithful to Christ.

In such a case God is doing us no wrong.  Nor is the Church doing us wrong.

Parenthesis: On Unjust Stewards

Let me be clear I am not speaking of an individual in the Church who is unyielding in a way which does not do God's justice.  There are sinners in the Church of course.  If there is an unjust member of the clergy or the laity in a Church position who behaves unjustly, we need to have faith in God and trust He will do His will, while praying for deliverance.

However, our view must be that of Christ in Matthew 26:39, which says:

He advanced a little and fell prostrate in prayer, saying, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet, not as I will, but as you will.”

The solution God might have to deliver us from injustice in such cases might not be what we want.  It might even be that the Lord permits the action of the unjust steward to bring about good we do not see.  However, if we are certain that an affliction is due to an individual in the Church behaving unjustly, we need to respond in faith, and not in anger.  God is not thwarted by those who act against Him.  If He wills a thing, nothing can stand against him.

So is it Cruel to say "Deal With it?"  Reflections for the Person Interacting with the one suffering

So is it cruel for the person who is interacting with the suffering person to just say "$#!+ happens, deal with it?"  I think it would be cruel to say it in this way of course.  However, if the Church does a thing because to do otherwise would be to contradict what she believes, then we do the person no favors in agreeing with the lashing out against the Church which they do in their pain.

On the other hand, we do not do God's work if our response is cold.  Sometimes we must say "No" and take part in "tough love."  But that doesn't mean we can just brush off their pain.  We need to offer them our ear to hear and our support to help them with their heavy burden without indulging in any self pity which may be present.

We cannot abandon the truth ever.  But how we present the truth can make a difference as to whether we help a person with their burden or whether we make it seem more oppressive.

For the times I have chosen the latter approach, mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.

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