On Suffering, Part 2: From Thomas Merton

I Corinthians 15:51-58
51Listen, I will tell you a mystery! We will not all die, but we will all be changed, 52in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. 53For this perishable body must put on imperishability and this mortal body must put on immortality. 54When this perishable body puts on imperishability, and this mortal body puts on immortality, then the saying that is written will be fulfilled:
‘Death has been swallowed up in victory.’
55‘Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?’
56The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. 58 Therefore, my beloved, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the work of the Lord, because you know that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.

From Thomas Merton’s No Man is an Island,
Chapter 5: The Word of the Cross: On Suffering
• Physical evil has no power to penetrate beneath the surface of our being. It can touch flesh, mind, and sensibility, but it cannot harm our spirit without the work of that other evil – sin. Sin strikes deep. It attacks personality, destroys our true character, identity, and happiness – it works to destroy our fundamental orientation toward God.
• Physical evil is only to be regarded as a real evil insofar as it tends to foment sin in our souls. That is why a Christian must seek in every way possible to relieve the sufferings of others, and even take steps to alleviate some sufferings of his/her own: because they are occasions for sin.
o According to Merton’s statement here, he would be an advocate of social justice as an integral part of our faith (unlike some television personalities)
• Compassion for others is good, but it does not become true love and charity unless it sees Christ in the one suffering and has mercy on him/her with the mercy of Christ. Jesus had mercy on the multitudes not only because they were like sheep without a shepherd, but also simply because they had no bread.
• Bodily works of mercy (acts of mercy) look beyond the flesh and into the spirit, and when they are integrally Christian they not only alleviate suffering but they bring grace: that is, they strike at sin.
• Human Sympathy: Alone, it can only offer loneliness in the face of death. Flowers are an indecency in a death without God. The thing that has died has become a thing to be decorated and rejected. May its hopeless loneliness be forgotten and not remind us of our own. How sad a thing is human love that ends with death. This is why many of us fight off suffering and death as long as we can, unless it block our human love forever.
• The Name and the Cross and the Blood of Jesus have changed all this. In His Passion, in the sacraments which bring His Passion into our lives, the helplessness of human love is transformed into divine power which raises us above all evil. It has conquered everything. Such love knows no separation. It fears suffering no more than young crops fear the spring rain.
Why is there peace for the Christian in suffering? Because Christianity is Christ living in us, and Christ has conquered everything. He has united us to one another and to Himself. We all live together in the power of His death which overcame death. We neither suffer alone nor conquer alone nor go off into eternity alone. His love is so much stronger than death that the death of a Christian is a kind of triumph. And while we rightly sorrow at the separation of the one we love, we rejoice in their death because it proves to us the strength of our mutual love. This is our great inheritance – which can only be increased by suffering well taken: We belong to God and no one will snatch us out of God’s hand!

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