WHY MUST I SUFFER?
by Rev F.J. Remler CM
(Loreto Publications, reprinted 2003 [originally published in 1935], 96pp, $19.95.
Available from AD Books)
First written over seven decades ago, Why Must I Suffer? is if anything more relevant to the present day than it was at its initial publication. Today's public searches for answers, not only to world crises like the war on terrorism and the alarming rise of family breakdown and dysfunction, but also for solutions to issues relating to their personal lives.
The human understanding of suffering is broad, encompassing the Old Testament view of it as a kind of wrath or "revenge" from God in retribution for one's own or ancestors' sins, or the inexplicable workings of "fate" or bad luck.
Fr Remler considers fifteen reasons why we must accept suffering with joy and patience, seeing it in context of the ultimate sacrifice, that of Jesus Christ in his passion and death on the cross.
The idea of innocent people suffering is dealt with, the most appropriate analogy perhaps being that of a stone tossed into a pool, causing a ripple effect reaching to the very edges of the water. In the same way, sin not only affects the perpetrator, but often has a wider capacity to harm not just the sinner, but other individuals and even communities.
The author does not attribute all the causes of suffering to God, reminding us that the human race is largely responsible for much of its own suffering due to its transgressions.
Fr Remler illustrates this reality with examples of how the manner in which people treat their bodies early in life can have negative repercussions in later years, e.g., excessive consumption of alcohol can lead to irreversible damage to the liver.
Much of our suffering would no doubt be eliminated if the "well- defined laws, which cannot be changed or abolished by the will of man" were strictly observed. However, we still have to contend with the consequences of a fallen nature.
Meanwhile, suffering, whether it be that of ourselves or others, can be a great catalyst for compassion and charity.
"God", according to Fr Remler, "foresees that a life without the cross would infallibly be the cause of your eternal damnation". His advice is to try "to see God's infinite love manifested in the afflictions He sends you. Do you not see that, only for the suffering you endure, you would É cast all care of your eternal salvation to the winds? Pain has opened Heaven to thousands who otherwise would have been lost without fail."
Fr Remler reminds us that just because we have not yielded to certain temptations or character flaws, this does not mean we are perfect or impervious to the devil's assaults. Rather, our resistance to these can be enhanced by the sufferings we offer up worthily to God.
Readers are encouraged to reflect upon some notable role models of suffering throughout the ages, such as St John the Baptist and the Blessed Virgin Mary, with the pinnacle of suffering being the Son of Man, Jesus Christ, during his redemptive passion and death.
This book's "tough love" attitude will not appeal to everyone, especially in today's hedonistic culture. But for the more receptive of us, Fr Demler's realism and insights will offer hope. It also heightens an awareness that while suffering is unavoidable, it can strengthen our relationship with God and foster humility through an appreciation that it is only through the grace of God in our fragility that we can withstand and even transcend our sufferings.
Jacinta Cummins is a journalist working with the National Civic Council.