Fr. Robert Pasley on Suffering

Sermon for XIII Sunday for Sacred Music Colloquium 2012

Suffering and death are subjects that we normally wish to avoid. The evil of suffering and death can seriously challenge our faith.
Why me?

Why must I suffer this illness?

Why must my child, my husband, my wife, my father, my mother suffer this way and die?

If God is good how can he do this?

Today we are given an answer and a remedy.

Why suffering? Why death? As the author of the book of Wisdom tells us…”God did not make death, nor does he rejoice in the destruction of the living. For he fashioned all things that they may have being… He formed man to be imperishable, the image of his own nature he made him.”

But suffering and death entered the world – how –“ by the envy of the Devil.” Adam and Eve believed his lie. Original sin became a horrible chasm of separation. Man and woman, seeking their own glory, in league with Satan, destroyed the harmony and justice established by God.

This destruction wreaked havoc and brought about physical suffering and death – and spiritual suffering and death.

First, the physical.

Oh how we recoil from suffering and death. We dread it. It is repulsive to us because it seems to go contrary to the very essence of life. Whether we know it or not, there is a reason for our repulsion. St Augustine said it so beautifully, “God made us for Himself, and our hearts are restless until they rest in Him.”

We are made in the image and likeness of God. We have been given immortal souls. We are meant to live forever. By intuition, even without the enlightenment of our Catholic Faith, our being surmises that there must be more – WHY – because there is more. “God formed man to be imperishable. Suffering and Death as we know it was not meant to be. Life was not supposed to come to an end as it does. It comes from sin and error not from our loving God.

Second, spiritual death.

Oh that our souls would be as repulsed by spiritual death as physical death. But NO, Satan, the father of lies, leads us, as he did our first parents, to think that evil is good and good is evil. He appeals to our pride, selfishness, and vanity and he knows that our intellects are darkened and that our wills are horribly weakened – the residual effects of original sin even after Baptism.

Our Lord tells us in Matthew 10:28, “And fear ye not them that kill the body, and are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him that can destroy both soul and body in hell.”

How do we die spiritually? How do we kill the soul – by committing Mortal sin – deadly sin –grave sin.

Now you might say, “well, that’s obvious.” Or, “Oh please, isn’t this just passé, out of date theology.” The problem is, it isn’t that obvious in our world today. Too many people have lost the understanding of this essential moral teaching. And what is more fatal that physical death is spiritual death.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church states,

“Mortal sin destroys charity in the heart of man by a grave violation of
God’s law; it turns man away from God, who is his ultimate end and his
beatitude, by preferring an inferior good to Him.”

It destroys charity in the heart of man,

The theological virtue of charity – it seriously wounds or destroys faith, it causes us to despair or presume hope. It severs our love of God – even if we don’t feel that way. It is an objective rejection of God who loves us beyond all measure.

It is a grave violation of God’s law –

Grave violation means that it is serious matter. How do we know that something is serious or grave matter? Do we decide, based on our own subjective observations? Does secular society determine what a grave sin is or isn’t. Are we the final arbiter of this based on individual conscience? No, the interpretation of what constitutes a serious violation of God’s law is based objectively in the 10 Commandments and the Church’s official interpretation of those commandments. We cannot dismiss the Church’s teaching based on conscience – our conscience must be formed by the Church’s teaching – which is the truth of God. If we disobey the truth of God – then we commit mortal sin.

It is also a violation of God’s law. It can be a violation of one particular law or many laws. A person, living in state of grace, can destroy that state by committing one mortal sin.

It turns man away from God who is his ultimate end and beatitude or blessing

That is why it is called mortal – because it kills supernatural grace. We shrivel up and die spiritually even if at first or ever, we don’t feel that way.

It means to prefer an inferior good.

When we do not choose to love God and His commands above all things; above my opinions, my career, my political party, my country, and yes, even above my family, if it should ever come to that, then I choose an inferior good to God and I destroy my relationship with Him.

For a person to be culpable for, or guilty of committing mortal sin, three conditions must be met

It must be grave matter – which we have talked about
It requires full knowledge – We have to know that it is a grave sin. Rationalizations and trying to make excuses based on feigned ignorance can never fool God. When admitting our sin, it is always safer to err on the side of God’s Truth.
One must give deliberate consent – In other words, you knew it was a grave offense against God and you freely chose to do it anyhow.

The Catechism concludes this section by telling us that the only ordinary way to be freed from Mortal sin is through the Sacrament of Penance. To die in un-confessed and un-repented mortal sin is to freely choose eternal damnation and spiritual death. Again – God does not make death nor does he rejoice in the destruction of the living – it is our choice and responsibility.

We have been given an answer – Why is there physical and spiritual suffering and death – because of the envy of Satan.

But what is the remedy?

Here we come up against the greatest paradox of our Christian Faith.
By dying He destroys death – by rising He restores life. God-made- man, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, saves us and sets us free by his Death and Resurrection. It is through death that we reach life.

In Matthew 16; 24, Jesus says to his disciples: “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For he that will save his life, shall lose it: and he that shall lose his life for my sake, shall find it. For what doth it profit a man, if he gain the whole world, and suffer the loss of his own soul? “

In John 12: 24 Our Lord says, “Amen, amen I say to you, unless the grain of wheat falling into the ground die, Itself remaineth alone. But if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit. He that loveth his life shall lose it; and he that hateth his life in this world, keepeth it unto life eternal.”

The remedy for physical death and the remedy for spiritual death is to die to self and live for Christ. When we do so, he heals the hemorrhaging of our lives. Either we are granted a cure or we are given an opportunity to suffer with him and offer reparation for our sins. In either case we live and move toward eternal life.

When we seek him out in the sacrament of Penance he raises us from Spiritual death and prepares us to conquer physical death. He tells us – “Be not afraid, but have faith”
And when we have doubts or hesitate like the wailing crowd, he casts those doubts into the darkness.

Finally, he has given us a real participation in his death and resurrection – for whenever we gather before the altar at Mass, His eternal sacrifice, his death, and life giving resurrection, are made present to us in sacred mystery. As the priest, the instrument of the Eternal High Priest, lifts the paten to the Father, our hearts, our souls, our lives are crucified with him. We suffer a mystical death with Him – and we receive His Body and Blood, the food of our Resurrected Lord, for the journey to Eternal Life.

Remember always

Suffering, Sin, Death = Satan
Healing, Grace, Eternal Life = Christ

The choice is clear