St Francis Q&A

Friday, January 04, 2008

A loving God and suffering

1) Adoration tonight, 7-8 pm, SAA Church. All those who wish to spend time with Jesus in the Eucharist are invited!!
2) DC ‘Hood basketball – upcoming games
a. Fri., Feb 1, 7 pm @ Little Flower, Bethesda.
b. Sun, March 2, 2 pm @ Verizon Center
Weeks ago, Fran posted some quotes from an article she came across in the Washington Post. The author posed a question we have addressed, more or less, many times here: “How can a loving God allow so much suffering on Earth?” As I continued reading the Pope’s excellent (and extremely insightful) book, “Jesus of Nazareth” last night, I came to the point where the Holy Father addresses this question in his treatment of the Our Father (p. 160f). I thought of our discussions online here, and thought this might help:

“God gives Satan the freedom to test Job, though within precisely defined boundaries: God does not abandon man, but he does allow him to be tried. This is very subtle, still implicit, yet real real glimpse of the mystery of substitution that takes on a major profile in Isaiah 53: Job’s sufferings serve to justify man. By his faith, proved through suffering, he restores man’s honor. Job’s sufferings are thus by anticipation sufferings in communion with Christ, who restores the honor of us all before God and shows us the way never to lose faith in God even amid the deepest darkness…

Love is always a process involving purifications, renunciations, and painful transformations of ourselves – and that is how it is a journey to maturity. If Francis Xavier was able to pray to God, saying, “I love you, not because you have the power to give heaven or hell, but simply because you are you – my king and my God,” then surely he had needed a long path of inner purifications to reach such ultimate freedom – a path through stages of maturity, a path beset with temptation and the danger of falling, but a necessary path nonetheless.

Now we are in a position to interpret the sixth position of the Our Father in a more practical way. When we pray it, we are saying to God: ‘I know that I need trials so that my nature can be purified. When you decide to send me these trials, when you give evil some room to maneuver, as you did with Job, then please remember that my strength only goes so far. Don’t overestimate my capacity. Don’t set too wide the boundaries within which I may be tempted, and be close to me with your protecting hand when it become too much for me’. It was in this sense that St. Cyprian interpreted the sixth petition, He says that when we pray, “And lead us not into temptation”, we are expressing our awareness ‘that the enemy can do nothing against us unless God has allowed it beforehand, so that our fear, our devotion and our worship may be directed to God – because the Evil One is not permitted to do anything unless he is given authorization’ (De dominica oratione 25; CSEL III, 25, p.285f).

And then, pondering the psychological pattern of temptation, he explains that there can be two different reasons why God grants the Evil One a limited power. It can be as a penance for us, in order to dampen our pride, so that we may reexperience the paltriness of our faith, hope, and love and avoid forming too high an opinion of ourselves….But should it not put us in mind of the fact that God has placed a particularly heavy burden on the shoulders of those individuals who were especially close to him, the great saints, from Anthony in his desert to Therese of Lisieux in the pious world of her Carmelite monastery? They follow in the footsteps of Job, so to speak; they offer an apologia for man that is at the same time a defense of God. Even more, they enjoy a very special communion with Jesus Christ, who suffered our temptations to the bitter end. They are called to withstand the temptations of a particular time in their own skin, as it were, in their own souls. They are called to bear them through to the end for us ordinary souls and to help us persist on our way to the One who took upon himself the burden of us all.”


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