A Reflection On Suffering – Lent 2024


Suffering is the direct result of Original Sin. God allows it to remain in our world in order that we might remember that the world is not our home, to help us grow in holiness, and that we might share in the mystery of Christ’s Redemption.

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Reflective Study Guide Questions

“For those whom the Lord loves he reproves,”

Prov. 3:12.

1. Tim quotes G.K. Chesterton as saying that the only self-evident Christian doctrine is the doctrine of Original Sin, since we can see the results of Original Sin everywhere in suffering. Where do you see the results of Original Sin most clearly in the world around you?

2. We often tend to think of suffering as a result of our own sins. But we know this cannot be the only reason for suffering since Jesus and Mary both suffered greatly though they never sinned. How can reflecting on the sufferings of Jesus and Mary change the way you view your own suffering?

3. One of the reasons God allows sufferings in our lives is to help us grow in holiness. Growth can be very uncomfortable, but it is important for our spiritual lives. How has suffering impacted your journey toward holiness in the past?

4.  In many ways, our lives are like a tapestry woven by God. If we look at the back of a tapestry, the image is muddled. But when we see the full scale as it is meant to be seen, it is beautiful. How has your view of past sufferings in your life changed with the fuller perspective of time and space?

Text: A Reflection On Suffering

Hi, my name is Tim Glemkowski. It’s an honor to be praying along with you on this, Pray More Lenten retreat. What I’d love to do for this talk is almost sort of a reflection, maybe even a philosophical one on the nature of, suffering. Yeah. I think suffering is kind of one of those critical topics to really understand in the Christian life, because candidly, I think it’s something that can often, derail us. It’s something that we all experience, , either in, you know, painful situations or circumstances that arise in life, or even just in the own, you know, sort of internal sufferings that we encounter in our own minds and hearts and lives as we grow in a life of prayer and holiness. And so really understanding suffering in the place of the Christian life is critical to actually growing, right? And holiness, which is sort of the point of the entire Lenten season, right?

A Personal Experience on Suffering

And so, you know, this was kind of a, a wild experience in my own life or an interesting experience. I’d had my conversion, I was about years old, and, really just fell in love with the Lord really quickly, you know, and, and kind of gave my whole life to Christ. It was an encounter in adoration at a youth conference. And really after that, very quickly began trying to grow as much as I could. It was just inhaling, you know, spiritual books and, and theological books, and really growing in a, a discipline of prayer and trying to grow in virtue and in, and spiritual friendship and all these different things. And then, through kind of a variety of life circumstances, from the ages of about twenty two to twenty four had a lot of really painful circumstances enter into my life. And, also it began incredible amount of just sort of spiritual dryness and darkness at the same time. And all of it, without getting into too many of the details, sort of culminated in this real feeling of, sort of abandonment by God. It, it felt like, I guess, in my own life, you know, probably in an immature spiritual way at years old, like, I had really given everything for God and, and left so many things for him. And now it was almost like I was being punished or like I had done something wrong, or I was stepping outside of his will. And that confusion really led to a lot of I probably, if I had more of a, a better understanding at the time of how suffering fit into God’s plan, you know, in our lives probably could have saved me a lot of grief and a lot of pain. you know, and a lot of maybe in some ways like unrealized suffering, right?

Suffering that I, I wasn’t really availing myself of the fruits or the graces or the blessings of it, was just felt this sort of abject or confusing, confusing. And so first I want to talk about kind of this talk, like how do we understand suffering? Like, what is it, like, where did it come from? then, then two kind of say like, why did God choose suffering as a way to redeem humanity in the world? And then, you know, why is suffering still happening in our lives, even as Christians who are trying to follow God? Right? Is it just the result of bad things we’ve done? Or is it just something we have to kind of like, you know, trudge through? Or, or is there more happening there? Is there a deeper reality happening there?

How Do We Understand Suffering?

So, so first, how do we understand suffering, right? I, I think it’s really critically important to say when you look around at the world, right? GK Justin said, the only self-evident Christian doctrine is the doctrine of original sin. Because when you look around at the world, and you consider sort of these incredible desires we have for meaning and purpose and love and belonging, like what the human heart is and it’s wired for, and then you see the depravity of, you know, the world and the, the pain and the, the suffering that exists everywhere. You can only help but wonder like, something went wrong here, right? Like something broke here. And that, that’s the truth, right? Like, suffering was never the plan from the beginning. That’s why if you’ve ever had an experience in your life, , where a close family member or friend passes away, you know, sort of the wrongness of death, like it goes against everything we are, which is these eternal beings which are meant to live forever, and which are meant to not experience, you know, pain in the beginning. But suffering, having entered the world through sin, then is encountered in our life through our own human brokenness. , and through the brokenness of others, right? Like living in a fallen world itself will bring a natural amount of suffering. here’s kind of the beauty of it, right? God stepped into that suffering and chose to redeem.

Why Do We Encounter Suffering Today?

Even it, I think it’s really beautiful that neither Jesus nor Mary ever sinned personally. And yet each of them still suffered profoundly Jesus, obviously, right? His suffering is, is very clear the ways in which he stepped into. but, but Mary as well too, right? Our sorrowful mother whose heart was pierced by so many sorrows, right? Sorrow, the sorrow she continues to probably feel for humanity today in, in all of the, the, the sufferings that we encounter in our own lives, right? So there’s a mystery and a beauty to the fact, that, suffering is clearly not just a result of our own sin, because it’s, it’s something that Jesus and Mary even choose to participate in. And in doing that allow it to become a place, that can be redeemed, that can be part of this plan for God, for humans to encounter freedom.

So, why is suffering then something that we still encountered today? , this is actually an interesting question. St. Thomas Aquinas put it kind of fascinatingly, when he reflected on it, you know, all these, he had all those great questions he would sort of ponder and then have these really systematic answers to, and when he asked this question, like, basically the problem of pain or like, why does still e why does evil still exist in a world with an all-powerful God? because for so many people, it, that feels like a problem. Philosophically, it feels like when you look at the, the, the horrors that exist in the world and, and the pain we all encounter in our own lives, God can’t be all good, or he can’t be all loving and all powerful, because if he was both, then that wouldn’t exist. And I just don’t think that’s true, right?

St. Aquinas’ Reflection on Suffering

So here’s how Aquinas reflected on it. What he said is why is it that still after baptism, we encounter sufferings in our lives as Christians? I think the, the power and the beauty of that is what happens in baptism is the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, which defeats sin and death forever comes crashing into our lives. It becomes our story, not just someone else’s story, something that happened years ago, but something that’s relevant and true and real that I can encounter the power of in my own life today. And so, if that’s what baptism does and accomplishes, but then there’s almost a natural wondering or questioning maybe in some ways, like I was feeling when I was , which is like, if this is who I am and this is who I’ve become, I’ve been adopted into the family of God, and become his son or become his daughter, why is he still allowing so much bad stuff to happen to me?

Or it’s like the way St. Theresa Avila put it, right? If, if, if this is how you treat your friends, Lord, it’s no wonder that you have so few. I think that’s a really actually, especially powerful way to answer that, or to ask that question of the problem of pain or the problem of suffering, because there’s incredible faith that what God has accomplished in baptism is actually the freedom, from all suffering from sin and death, from the, from the devil, and from, from anything that could seek to ever harm us.

So how does Aquinas answer that, or how does he reconcile that? Because obviously for many baptized Christians, we still encounter a lot of, we still mourn and weep in this valley of tears, right? First he said, what suffering does or what it accomplishes for us, why it’s one of the occasions God creates for our holiness, is because it reminds us that our ultimate destiny is not here. That the zone or the sphere of eternity that’s been placed into our souls by God in baptism is, is ultimately a vocation pointing to a world beyond here, right? This is not our home. our home is in heaven when we are reunited with, the father and with the entire church for all eternity, right?

Suffering For Spiritual Maturity

So it reminds us of our ultimate destiny. suffering too, is a really powerful occasion or battlefield, for us to grow in holiness, right? Like, because of the brokenness in our nature, the concupiscence that we have in our soul suffering is an especially, appropriate or, or adequate place for us to grow as sons and daughters of the father. Think about your own kids, right? Like they have to at some point become challenged in life or try hard things. We can’t just coddle them forever because they have to grow. And, and that growth might be awkward or, or painful, but it’s ultimately about their own good about maturity.

And the same is true in the spiritual life with spiritual maturity. If we never had suffering in our life, we’d become sort of spoiled, sons and daughters. I read a story recently that said it was interesting by the, by the s, the Carnegies, there were no millionaires left this famous kind of, you know, wealthy family in the United States. And the reason was because over the years, they’d had a lot of generations of people that had been really wealthy and comfortable. Well, we’re the sons and daughters of the king of the universe and the father. And if he just kind of like took care of all of our problems, we’d become kind of spoiled, right? And it doesn’t actually help us to step into the same, sort of way of life that the father’s calling us to. So those whom he loves, he reproves act tells us, right? And so I think that’s the truth.

Lastly, as baptized Christians, why is suffering still the occasion for our growth and holiness? There’s a mystery in that which is about a conformity to Christ in Jesus suffering for us, there is a, a hidden mystery in that there’s, there’s a part of that, that is, is hard to fully understand. And similarly, when we suffer, we step into the life of Christ in a unique way. We come close to him, into his sacred heart in a unique way, and to the immaculate heart of Mary in a way that in some ways remains a mystery. there is part of that where when you and I suffer and when we bring those sufferings to God, and we allow them to become places where we recognize that we’re especially close in those moments to the heart of the Father, we come to actually participate in his redemptive work for our own sake, and for the sake of humanity in a way that remains a mystery that we’ll only see, later in life, right? Like we just have to, there’s a trust that we have to recognize, that God is doing something in a way that we can’t always see.

Our Life Is Like a Tapestry

I saw Peter Kreeft one time, I had this analogy where he said, it’s almost like the circumstances of our life are like this tapestry. Like if you’ve ever seen one of those beautiful woven tapestries that used to be, you know, now they’re usually, typically right, like hanging in museums or something, or even one of those like printed blankets where it’s got like an image on it or something. If you look at it from the back, because it’s inverted, the image is completely muddled, right? So if someone were to were to make that, and if you were to watch that tapestry being put together and you’re looking at it from the back, you’d see, you know, sort of the different details and the colors, but, but you couldn’t see the full picture or the full sort of scale of what’s happening there as it’s, as it’s being created. But when it’s turned around, then you all of a sudden see like, oh, that was kind of the point of it all. And, and so I think that’s true of the sufferings we encounter our own lives. Like God is weaving the story of the universe. And as sons and daughters of the Father we’re stepping into his redemptive plan for all of humanity. And as he weaves this tapestry of the story of all, of human history, as we step into that plan, you know, we don’t know kind of this side of eternity what that all looks like, but when we get up there and when we see him face to face, we’ll see him as he is, and we’ll see all of reality as it is too.

And so I think what that takes is abandonment. It takes surrender to say, Lord, no matter what happens to me, you are still good. And no matter what happens in the world, you’re still in charge. that an expression of faith that you can be all good and all loving and all powerful, and bad things can still happen in my life and in the world. and when we do that expression of faith and we, we surrender, and when we abandon ourselves to that reality and that truth we start to actually learn what it’s like to not just be fans of God, or even just followers. but true friends, right? true friends. Jesus has a lot of both of the other I’m not sure how many friends he always has. And so if they’re suffering in your life, this Lent, maybe one of the things we can do, is in beholding the mystery of the one who suffered for us, become his friends. In the midst of that suffering.

About Tim Glemkowski

Tim Glemkowski is the Chief Executive Officer of the National Eucharistic Congress. Previously, he served in the Archbishop’s Office for the Archdiocese of Denver as the Director of Strategy, helping to set up the archdiocese for a time of apostolic mission. He is the former founder and president of L’Alto Catholic Institute and Revive Parishes. Tim authored Made for Mission: Renewing Your Parish Culture, which was released in Fall 2019 through Our Sunday Visitor. He is an international speaker who has also consulted for many organizations, dioceses, and parishes. His writing has appeared in numerous print and web-based theological and catechetical publications. Tim and his wife, Maggie, live in Littleton, CO with their three young children.