Salvifici Doloris – Week 1
Week One: Suffering and the Human Person
Overview: In this first section of Salvifici Doloris, Pope St. John Paul II introduces the theme of his meditation—suffering—and gives an overview of the nature of suffering: what it is, its various forms, and how we experience it.
A Taste of Part I: Setting the Stage
“Suffering seems to belong to man’s transcendence.” ~John Paul II
In this letter, John Paul II is making the bold, Christian claim that while suffering belongs to all creatures, it is human suffering that has the possibility of being redeemed precisely because it is human suffering. Put another way, because men and women have dignity so too does their suffering also have dignity. Every creature suffers, but only man (because of his gift of reason) is aware he is suffering and because of this recognition, may ask Why?
A Taste of Part II: Suffering’s Many Forms
“In fact, it is a question of pain of a spiritual nature, and not only of the ‘psychological’ dimension of pain which accompanies both moral and physical suffering.” ~John Paul II
Moreover, because of man’s dignity and therefore the gift of a rational soul, suffering includes a moral and spiritual dimension. In his preface to Viktor E. Frankl’s famous book Man’s Search for Meaning (about why he psychologically survived his time in a concentration camp), Gordon W. Allport writes, to live is to suffer, to survive is to find meaning in the suffering. This search is one of the noblest, dignified, and responsible endeavors of the rational animal called man.
A Taste of Part III: Evil and Suffering
“Man suffers on account of evil, which is a certain lack, limitation or distortion of good.” ~John Paul II
Christian tradition has always defined evil as a negative reality, meaning that evil cannot “stand alone” without its relationship to the good because it is always in some way an absence or a dismantling of the good which ought to be present.
For Reflection & Prayer:
“All human suffering, all pain, all infirmity contain within itself a promise of salvation, a promise of joy.” ~John Paul II, Memory, and Identity
Why is suffering paradoxically a promise of joy?
For Further Study: The Bible, “the great book about suffering” is full of men and women wrestling with the problem of evil. Consider reading the Book of Job, the just man who suffered unjustly. For an innovative way to approach the text, check out Fr. Mike Schmitz’s The Bible in a Year Podcast.