Why Do People Suffer?


Tree against night sky

After the error of our ancestors, Adam & Eve, the world was shrouded in darkness under the domain of death.  On Friday, the church celebrates the Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord when God sought to enter the world anew. He knocked at Mary’s door and we reflect on the great promise of salvation for mankind, fulfilled in Jesus and brought about by Mary’s acceptance of becoming “the handmaid of the Lord”.  The significance of that big “Yes” on Mary’s part contrasts with our own struggle to respond as perfectly to God’s call to have faith and to trust. The great things done in Mary life speak to us deeply of our own journey in life, paved with uncertainty and suffering.

The problem of suffering is more than existential. It tests the very core of faith.  “Something is wrong,” critics of religion tell us.  “Why does God allow so much suffering in the world?  Either God is not loving and merciful or He does not have the power to control what He created.”

Suffering is more than an intellectual puzzle to be solved.  Although it may not satisfy the critics, maybe the answer requires an attitude change. Certainly God loves us and as a Father would not want us to suffer but, like Adam & Eve, we are allowed to make choices. Too often we choose sinful ways and cause people to suffer. But some good can often come of it. As with Ukraine, the intense suffering challenges us all to act. Either we reach out in the belief that God will help us on the path. Or, we fade into cynicism.  Suffering gives we sinners time to reflect and change.  The parable of the fig tree this Sunday supplies the hope that there was still time to change and that change could produce fruit. But the change would be painful and require help.  The vine keeper pleaded for a delay. Justice delayed allowed time for the sinner to repent and reveal the mercy of God’s only Son.

Others have walked the path of suffering before us – including Abraham, Mary, and Jesus Himself. If we only look to their example, we can find inspiration and real help. Yes, suffering may shake us. But when we suffer, when others suffer, the choice of faith arises. We might not know why suffering exists but we can use suffering as a bridge to change – a chance to get closer to God and help defeat the evil that brought the suffering about.  As the parable of the fig tree implies, we not only have a choice. We have a helper -someone to care for us during our struggles and our suffering.

One line of help may come on Friday in St. Peter’s Basilica when Pope Francis will consecrate Russia and Ukraine to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, fulfilling a 1917 vision revealed to the Fatima children.  The same act, at the same time, will be performed in Fatima by the papal almoner.

On July 13, 1917, the Virgin Mary appeared to three child shepherds in Fatima, Portugal.  She gave three secrets to be revealed to the world, one concerning hell, one about the end of World War I and a final vision of a pope being shot, as well as angels sprinkling blood of Christian martyrs on the deceased.  However, part of the second vision contained a request to consecrate Russia to the Immaculate Heart of Mary.  Mary told the children that a consecration of Russia could stop that nation’s “errors throughout the world, promoting wars and persecution of the Church.”  If the consecration did not happen, she said “the good will be martyred, the Holy Father will have much to suffer, and various nations will be destroyed.”

Pope Pius XII consecrated the entire world in 1942, and followed it with a similar blessing in 1952, this time for “all the peoples of Russia.” In 1964, then-pope Paul VI renewed the Russian consecration during the Second Vatican Council. Pope John Paul II also composed a prayer of “entrustment” for Russia in 1981.