The true measure of humanity is essentially determined in relationship to suffering and to the sufferer. This holds true both for the individual and for society. A society unable to accept its suffering members and incapable of helping to share their suffering and to bear it inwardly through ‘com-passion’ is a cruel and inhuman society. 

Yet society cannot accept its suffering members and support them in their trials unless individuals are capable of doing so themselves; moreover, the individual cannot accept another’s suffering unless he personally is able to find meaning in suffering, a path of purification and growth in maturity, a journey of hope.

Indeed, to accept the ‘other’ who suffers, means that I take up his suffering in such a way that it becomes mine also. Because it has now become a shared suffering, in which another person is present, this suffering is penetrated by the light of love.

The Latin word con-solatio, ‘consolation’, expresses this beautifully. It suggests being with the other in his solitude, so that it ceases to be solitude.

Furthermore, the capacity to accept suffering for the sake of goodness, truth and justice is an essential criterion of humanity, because if my own well-being and safety are ultimately more important than truth and justice, then the power of the stronger prevails, then violence and untruth reign supreme. Truth and justice must stand above my comfort and physical well-being, or else my life itself becomes a lie.

In the end, even the ‘yes’ to love is a source of suffering, because love always requires expropriations of my ‘I’, in which I allow myself to be pruned and wounded. Love simply cannot exist without this painful renunciation of myself, for otherwise it becomes pure selfishness and thereby ceases to be love.

To suffer with the other and for others; to suffer for the sake of truth and justice; to suffer out of love and in order to become a person who truly loves.

These are fundamental elements of humanity, and to abandon them would destroy man himself.

Yet once again the question arises: are we capable of this?

  • Is the other important enough to warrant my becoming, on his account, a person who suffers?
  • Does truth matter to me enough to make suffering worthwhile?
  • Is the promise of love so great that it justifies the gift of myself?

 

In the history of humanity, it was the Christian faith that had the particular merit of bringing forth within man a new and deeper capacity for these kinds of suffering that are decisive for his humanity.

The Christian faith has shown us that truth, justice and love are not simply ideals, but enormously weighty realities. It has shown us that God -Truth and Love in person – desired to suffer for us and with us.

 

Extracted and adapted from Pope Benedict XVI Spe Salvi articles 38-39.

This article can be found in Mirror 0315.