Easing Suffering
13th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Antonio P. Pueyo
Reproduced with Permission

A mother came to me crying about the death of her son. Another told me the story of her sick husband. Students come to me with stories about how they find it so hard to look for money for their schooling. A priest listens to many such sad stories. Sometimes he reaches a point of “caring fatigue” that he dreads meeting people with their variety of sufferings and needs.

Action starter: Are you easing suffering or causing it?

Suffering is the lot of humanity. As the prayer says, we live in a vale of tears. One can try to avoid suffering or cover it up with activities or with narcotics. We can deny suffering or we can delay confronting it but eventually we have to meet it head on. For example, a person may be feeling that something seems to be wrong with his health. He tries to forget it by burying himself in work. Or he may take some drugs to deaden the pain. There comes a time when these things do not work anymore. He eventually goes to the doctor for surgery or for other forms of treatment.

In the first reading, the book of Wisdom tried to explain that suffering came about because of the devil’s envy. At the root of any suffering is sin. “God did not make death nor does he rejoice in the destruction of the living. (Wisdom 1, 13) ” God intends happiness for His creatures. We humans somehow with or without the devil’s help, manage to throw a wrench into this orderly plan. One characteristic of human efforts in this world of pain is that even our attempts at helping others can cause some suffering. Treating cancer involves surgery, chemotherapy, and other uncomfortable and painful processes. Treating somebody addicted to substances includes the painful period of withdrawal.

What then do we do with suffering? Human nature is such that with the exception of sadists and masochists, most of us have the tendency to do something to ease the sufferings of other people. This Sunday’s gospel tells two stories of how the Lord Jesus did something about people’s suffering. He raised up from the dead Jairus’ daughter. He healed a long-suffering woman from her embarrassing illness of chronic hemorrhage. Even when initially He did not intend it, he affirmed the healing by assuring the woman that she was healed. In the second reading, St. Paul encouraged the Christians in Corinth to help those who were less fortunate, “Your plenty at the present time should supply their need. (2 Cor. 8)”

To profess that we are Christians is to do something about those who suffer in many way, whether it be suffering that comes from ignorance, illness, poverty, lack of power, and being disadvantaged. The efforts of easing suffering may be temporary measures as in relief and rehabilitation of people who are victims of disasters. Or one could be involved in a life-time apostolate of doing something about discrimination, injustice, ignorance, and other “structures of suffering”.

Sometimes this “do-gooder” attitude can be misinterpreted by people. It seems to be contrary to common sense that one helps another with no expectation of return. In some places these charitable activities can be interpreted as forms of proselytizing. Some think that there must be a hidden agenda behind the charities. At the risk of being misunderstood in this manner, a believer in Jesus cannot be anything else but one who does something to ease suffering. It is an essential part of his life in obedience to and in friendship with Jesus.