My thoughts and reflections on my Catholic Faith, Fulton Sheen, the problem of suffering, and books

Sunday, August 12, 2012

God is Not the Author of Your Heartbreak, III

While skimming through The Quotable Fulton Sheen, which a friend recently gave me, I found a quote that seems to fit with the series that I've inadvertently started, namely, "God is Not the Author of Your Heartbreak."  (If you need to catch up, here are links to Part I and Part II.)

The quote, from Sheen's book The Eternal Galilean, looks at how love can transform the effect pain has upon us:
When pain is divorced from love, it leads a man to wish others were as he is; it makes him cruel, hateful, bitter.  When pain is unsanctified by affection, it scars, burns up all our finer sensibilities of the soul, and leaves the soul fierce and brutal.  Pain as pain, then, is not an ideal; it is a curse, when separated from love, for rather than making one's soul better, it makes it worse by scorching it.
I want to supplement this quote with a similar one from Life is Worth Living:

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                                                                Pain – Love = Hell
                                                                Pain + Love = Sacrifice

Pain in and of itself is not a good thing; as Catholics, we don't exalt pain qua pain.  Sheen says quite bluntly in Life is Worth Living: "Pain without love is suffering or Hell," because in Hell there is no love; there is only pain, selfishness, and bitterness, as he writes in The Eternal Galilean: "When pain is divorced from love . . . it makes [a man] cruel, hateful, bitter."  That's what we experience when we're suffering without love: we will only experience our pain, plus the selfishness and bitterness that are inevitable in Hell or in the experience of pain unmitigated by love.  Pain by itself is going to make us selfish; it's going to make us turn inwards and focus on ourselves.  We're not going to turn outwards and focus on our suffering neighbor; instead, we're going to wish our pain upon him in selfish self-pity: "If he knew half of what I was going through, or if he could experience it for just five seconds, he'd understand, he'd be more compassionate!"  Pain without love makes us bitter; and we become selfish, complaining jerks.  I know; I've been a selfish, complaining jerk far too many times in my life!

Love is not going to take away our pain; we're not going to escape suffering just because we love.  Instead, as Sheen continues in Life is Worth Living, love eases our pain by drawing us out of ourselves to look upon our suffering neighbor:
Love does not have the power to kill pain or to extinguish it, but it does have the power to diminish it.  After losing money, a person often says, "I hope some poor person found it."  The love of the poor softens the loss.  A mother sits up all night with a fever-stricken child, but it is not suffering to her; it is love and sacrifice.  No work is hard where there is love.  Students who do not love a subject never do well in that subject.
Love eases our pain because it turns our pain into sacrifice: "Suffering with love is sacrifice."  What is sacrifice?  It's an exchange, as Sheen explains in Life of Christ:
Cross-bearing, He then explained, was based on exchange.  Exchange implies something that one can get along without, and something one cannot get along without.  A man can get along without a dime, but he cannot get along without the bread which the dime will buy; so he exchanges one for the other.  Sacrifice does not mean "giving-up" something, as if there were a loss; rather it is an exchange: an exchange of lower values for higher joys.
We take our pain and the bitterness with which it wants to overwhelm us; we accept the pain in homage to the Divine Love that emptied Itself to save us, and we exchange that bitterness for love.  This is the point where our pain becomes redemptive.

As I said above, pain in and of itself has no value; it only becomes valuable, redemptive, good for the soul when it is united to love; this is the other half of the equation: "Suffering with love is sacrifice."  Our Blessed Lord Himself is the Exemplar par excellence of this truth; for that is what He did on the Cross.  He took the worst evil that can befall man--sin--in addition to all the physical sufferings of His Passion, and He bore them with Love--not with our poor, weak, meager, human love, but with a Divine Love, the Love that is Himself, the "Love we fall just short of in all love!" (Sheen, The Seven Last Words).  Sheen explains this in Justice and Charity:

There is only one way we can become like Him, and that is in the way He bore His sorrows and His Cross.  And that way was with love.  "Greater love than this no man hath, that a man lay down his life for his friends."  It is love that makes pain bearable.  As long as we feel it is doing good for another, or even for our own soul by increasing the glory of God, it is easier to bear.
Love is necessary in order to view our pain as being redemptive for our own poor souls, or for another person who is suffering and for whom we "offer up" our pain.  This union of pain with love is why His Death on the Cross was a sacrifice and not just the death of another man: "Suffering with love is sacrifice."  His pain, His suffering, was the response of the Almighty, Infinite, Divine Love that throbs within His Sacred Heart to the problem of evil, of sin, of pain.  Sheen explains in The Eternal Galilean how pain is the response of love when confronted with evil:

[O]n the cross Our Lord shows that love can take no other form, when it is brought into contact with evil, than the form of pain.  To overcome evil with good, one must suffer unjustly.  The lesson of the Crucifix, then, is that pain is never to be isolated or separated from love.  The Crucifix does not mean pain; it means sacrifice.
Again, as Catholics, when we display a Crucifix in our homes and classrooms, we're not exalting pain; we're not saying it's an ideal or something to strive after.  The Crucifix makes sacrifice, "love + pain," self-sacrificing love, the ideal.  "Greater love than this no man hath, that a man lay down his life for his friends" (Jn. 15:13).

So, if we take our pain, and if we let the God Who is not the Author of our heartbreak enter our hearts, the Divine Healer of our heartbreak will transform our pain into sacrifice and our bitterness into compassion; and our sacrifice and our compassion will gain the merit won by His Death on the Cross.

God Love you!

Yours in all things Theological and in Love of VEN. Fulton Sheen,
P.S. Hurt-ey, as usual, feels like a hypocrite having written this post, and asks for your prayers.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for sharing this with us. Bishop Fulton Sheen has a very brilliant intellect, matched with God-given wisdom. I read his "Moods and Truths" back in college and i was never the same again. Thanks to his insight, i understood Christ and Catholicism better. God bless you!