Sin and Suffering

By Simone Rizkallah

This is the fourth in a series of seven meditations examining the Christian meaning of suffering according to the thought of Pope St. John Paul II in his 1984 apostolic letter “Salvifici Doloris.”

Pope St. John Paul II continues his meditation on suffering by discussing one of the causes of suffering — evil in the form of personal sin. He writes: “The conscious and free violation of this good by man is not only a transgression of the law but at the same time an offense against the Creator, who is the first Lawgiver.”

The Catechism of the Catholic Church (quoting the great St. Augustine of Hippo and St. Thomas Aquinas in paragraph 1849) defines sin as “an offense against reason, truth and right conscience.” Therefore, despite what we often hear it is not human to sin. To sin is an act of inhumanity (this is why we refer to serial killers as “animals” because they are acting beneath the dignity of human nature). The original sin ushered in suffering in the first place and as inheritors of concupiscence (“the aftereffect”), we cause suffering for ourselves and others when we commit sins. At the same time, this should not lead us to believe that every suffering we must bear is punishment for our own personal sins. This incomplete answer is the mistake Job’s friends make in trying to make sense out of their friend’s suffering.

In the generosity of His creating us with gifts beyond nature, God never intended evil and therefore he never intended us to suffer. However, this is the place we find ourselves either due to the evil caused by the original sin or the personal sins of ourselves or our neighbors. What is so incredible about Jesus’ words recorded in Matthew 26:39, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as thou wilt,” is that he first asks to be relieved of the suffering. We too should do everything in our power to avoid unreasonable and unnecessary suffering.

John Paul continues, “Christ goes toward his own suffering, aware of its saving power; he goes forward in obedience to the Father, but primarily he is united to the Father in this love with which he has loved the world and man in the world.” Ultimately, Christ’s salvific suffering and death gave us the gift of sanctifying grace and eternal life.

Sanctifying grace (given to us first at our Baptism and then maintained in all the sacraments) — without which we are unable to be in a supernatural relationship with God — is a participation in God’s divine life here and now as a foretaste of the complete union of eternity.

Although sin merited death, Christ’s suffering and ours in union with His means our bodies will not remain in death but will enjoy restoration and resurrection. The experience of perfection manifested in the resurrected body, as St. Thomas Aquinas illuminates, will be radiant (Mt 13:43), agile (1 Cor 15:43), subtle (1 Cor 15:44) and impassible (1 Cor 15:42). In other words, our bodies will have the qualities of clarity and the ability to move easily, will be perfected in form and be incapable of suffering!

Simone Rizkallah is the director of program growth at Endow Groups, a Catholic women’s apostolate that calls women together to study important documents of the Catholic Church. Endow exists to cultivate the intellectual life of women to unleash the power of the feminine genius in the world.

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