When asked, most people identify their most serious problems as issues related to their physical health, or finances. Family and career issues also rank up there.
But frankly, our biggest problem is pride, and all the sins that flow from it. Nothing is more serious than our sins, which can destroy us forever. Worldly problems are temporary. The worst they can do is to make life unpleasant, or kill us; then we get to go home and meet God if are faithful.
Therefore, to God our most serious problem is our sin. This was well-illustrated when, at one point in the Gospels, a paralyzed man was presented to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said “Your sins are forgiven.” Yes, that’s right, Jesus looked at a paralyzed man and saw his sins as the most serious thing to be dealt with first.
We don’t think like this. And even when taught that we ought to think like this, we still don’t think like this.
But since it is true that pride is our most serious problem, and all the sins that flow from it, then we do well to ponder how suffering can be one of the things that God permits in our life so as to keep us from becoming too prideful. For to God, it is better that we suffer some here, learn humility and be saved, than to remain prideful and go to Hell.
Personally, I will say, I have gifts and blessings. But if it weren’t for some degree of suffering, and humiliation in my life, I’d be so proud I’d go right to Hell. There’s just something about suffering that can keep us very humble, and calling on God.
St. Augustine reflects on this in his great work, The City of God. The work, which he considered his greatest, was occasioned by the decline of the Roman Empire and the sacking of the city of Rome by barbarians under Alaric in 410 AD. Augustine wrote the work to ponder how a once mighty empire had fallen into such decay.
There were of course many sufferings inflicted on the citizens of Rome by the Barbarians. “Sacks” are not pleasant events. Some were killed, many women were raped, grave damage was inflicted on the city, and the property of many was damaged and taken.
In chapter 28 of the City of God, Augustine ponders why God would have allowed such suffering, especially to the Christians of that city, and in particular to the Christian women of virtue who were raped.
At times, his reflections seem almost unsympathetic. But in effect, St. Augustine points to humiliation and suffering as a strong but necessary medicine for pride, which is far worse than any of the ills suffered to remedy it.
St. Augustine begins by disclaiming any ability to offer a complete explanation for suffering. He says:
If you ask me why they [the Barbarians] were allowed the liberty of committing these sins, the answer is that the providence of the Creator and Ruler of the world transcends human reckoning, and that “incomprehensible are his judgments… unsearchable his ways.“
But Augustine then adds (somewhat boldly) to those in Rome who suffered:
Nevertheless, carefully scrutinize your own souls and see whether you were not unduly puffed up about your virtue.
And he ponders:
They [those who suffered] may possibly have in them some latent weakness which could have swollen to overwhelming pride had they escaped this humiliation….So violence snatched something away from them lest prosperity should endanger them.
He goes on to conclude:
But they learned humility… And were delivered from a pride that had already overtaken them…a pride that threatened them.
And what of us who have suffered? We ought not to exclude the possibility, even the likelihood, that such suffering is permitted by God in order to humble us and keep us from a far worse enemy called pride.
As such, we must also conclude that when God allows suffering for this purpose he also gives grace so as to help us avoid extreme anger or despair. And thus St. Augustine concludes his reflection:
God would never have permitted these evils if they could destroy in his saints that purity of soul which he had bestowed on them and delights to see in them.
Reflections such as these do not generally please modern ears. We do not usually like the notion that God permits suffering for some greater good. Too easily we call him unfair and harsh for doing such a thing. We prefer to think of him as a doting grandfather rather than the disciplining father described in Hebrews 12:4ff.
Our dismissal of suffering as a medicine is largely because we fail to see just how serious a sin pride is. We are dismissive of the serious toll that sin takes upon us, and the extreme danger that it causes in our hearts. Hence we reject any medicine at all, let alone strong medicine. But God will not spare us merely to please us if in sparing us he would lose us.
Suffering a course is complex and mysterious. That God permits it cannot be explained by any one thing. But as Saint Augustine makes clear, we ought not to overlook the salutary effect that suffering can bring through the humility it engenders.
That, in and of itself, is a very good thing; for pride is our worst enemy.
This song, translated from the Latin says:
Sadness and anxiety
have overtaken my inmost being.
My heart is made sorrowful in mourning,
my eyes are become dim.
Woe is me, for I have sinned.
But you, Lord,
who does not forsake
those who hope in you,
comfort and help me
for your holy name’s sake,
and have mercy on me.
25 Replies to “On Suffering as A Remedy for Something Worse. A Meditation on a Teaching from St. Augustine”
The follow up article from yesterday’s article I had considered writing today is still in the works and will probably appear tomorrow.
I think this exlpains a lot. It has taken 62 years but this explains a lot. So please explain the disease process of pride and how one might avoid the bitter antidote.
judaic bolshevist mammonism is no less a devil than mahomet
taking sides in the conflicts between devils is not a path to Salvation
Thank you for the reminder. One point of my suffering is especially poignant with this post. As a child.I was a horrible spoiled brat, then my mom died, and it shook my world. I would never wish a child to lose their mother, but I have to say that I would probably not be a christian or a Catholic if she had lived. I shudder to think what kind of person I would have become if my mom had lived. It isn’t that she was a bad person or that my father was a bad person. They loved me, but there was a horrible dynamic with my parents that would have allowed me to become a selfish and cruel person. It is really too complicated to explain here. Suffice to say that while I would love to have my mom around, I trust that God allowed this suffering to save me. My family is in the middle of another trial, and I will have faith that God can use this suffering to guide us to our true home in heaven rather than continue some foresaken path that seems pleasant right now.
Inordinate love of self is the great vice. A reminder that too much of a good thing (other than love) usually is not good.It is easy to fall into the trap that pride sets for us if we don’t pay attention and talk to the Creator on a regular basis.
Sufferning can open the eyes to understanding. Before my wife of 35 years died, I would gladly have explained the meaning of “Trust in God”. After her death I began to understand what that truly meant. It is not to say that my wife died because of my pride it is only that her death promoted humility and understanding through the suffering.
Your acceptance of this great sorrow and the wisdom it led you to is inspirational to me. I think those who have experienced great loss and suffering are in a sense guides for us who will, sooner or later, walk that road. I am 63 and I do honestly fear the possibility of losing my husband, having a debilitating age related handicap, and so on. What if I can not find God in that storm? What if utter darkness descends? It is hard for me to think I will be strong enough. A comment such as yours gives me hope. Thank You and God bless you today and always.
Perhaps, Anne, recognizing ahead of time that you may not be able to handle this trial may be indicative of you being very able to handle it. Your awareness and faith may be your saving grace.
I find that when I worry it is a branch of pride. By worrying, I’m not giving it up to God, but I am assuming I will fix the problem rather than asking God to handle it as He sees fit. Worry is just one of my sins of pride, the rest I’ll save for my confessor!
Agree with the sentiment, but not Augustine. ‘Buck up, you whining victims of rape, and consider your sinful pride!’ I mean, good God, was he trying to discredit the Faith? Rape is just about the most humiliating and degrading thing you can do to another human being – you think that if he had gone through the same experience, he would have been quite so keen to upbraid the victims for their pride? It’s obscene.
Much of what Augustine wrote is hard to swallow, but, for better or worse, he remains at the core of Catholic theology.
My viewpoint on pride and suffering has shifted significantly in the past few years, thanks to God working through others such as, but not limited to, Monsignor Pope.
I now see them more as the direct consequences of my negative, and prideful, actions which God does not protect me from and less as a punishment which He delivers as a result of those actions – so that I may learn. He may, however, limit the total annihilation which I’ve invited so that I survive and learn.
There is a broad concept called “co-dependence” where an “enabler”, a “caretaker” or some other person in a relationship (authourity figure, associate, partner, etcetera) protects someone from the consequences of their negative actions, thereby setting the stage for further negative actions.
Where inter-dependence is sometimes described as two healthy people traveling side by side through life in co-operation – co-dependence is sometimes described as two unhealthy people leaning on each other as they stumble erratically through life.
Lately, I have heard from people in the counselling field that there’s a move to claim that co-depedence does not exist. I don’t know about the veracity of the claim but, I suspect the claim to be an attempt to push the growing “warm and fluffy” belief that, bad stuff doesn’t happen.
God is the perfect Father who does not protect us from consequences which are destructive and from which we may learn. He does seem to limit them from being so destructive that we cannot learn.
One can hook a direct current light to only the positive pole of a battery and the light will not come on and dispell the darkness. Focus only on the contacts of the positive by cleaning impurities with sand paper and re-attaching and light still does not come on and dispell the darkness. Clean both eht negative and positive contacts and hook them up and the light shall come on and dispell the darkness. Part of the reason that my focus is on direct current is that it is natural, while alternating current is a creation of Nicola Tesla, a worthy but, human.
So, Saint Augustine focussed on pride and well that he did but, there seems to be a very noticeable under-current of a suggestion of the need for humility.
Many are the definitions and descriptions of humility some of which compliment each other and some of which are in conflict with each other. Fro instance, is humiliation a gateway to humility or a part of it? Is it sometimes one and sometimes the other?
I will focus on what I’ve stated before, and is only my opinion but I still like it, that humility is admitting that we don’t know whatever it is that we don’t know. Perhaps that’s a part of humility.
Since this opinion is not fully supported by peer review and the like it only amounts to speculation. However, although that speculation may be wrong, it may also be right. I don’t understand enough to conclude. Am I being uncertain or, am I admitting to an uncertainty which is a result of not being “there” yet?
So, with two uncertain things (humility being admission that I don’t know and humility including such admission) speculation seems to lead to another uncertain thing, to me, which does not add to improbability but seems more to multiply the uncertain improbability which still remains somewhat possible.
During a prayer meeting, at the Invocation of the Spirit, there seemed to be a question asked of me. If humility demands an admission that one does not know then; what is it that One Who claims to be “humble of heart” (Matthew 11:29) could admit to not knowing? The Son who has the Father in Him and Who is in the Father (John 17:20&21) what could He not know so that He could admit to not knowing?
I floundered. Feeling fear of presumption and fear of becoming lost as a feeling of being adrift and lost pervaded. The fear seemed to open the way for a response which was not of my creation.
Matthew 24:36 and Mark 13:32. According to the footnotes some manuscripts do not have the Book of Matthew displaying, ” …nor The Son… ” but, is it needed when there is assurance that only the Father knows?
Am I portraying myself as a watchman and, if so, is it presumption on my part? Is this a careless selection of too few verses to be accurate?
So many questions but, questions which assure me that I am not looking at some little thing that can readily be figured out but – at something grand and glorious which is worthy of long effort.
Thank you, Father. This time last year I suffered tremendously due to my unemployment and finances–and the whole humbling ordeal taught me that every good and perfect gift comes down from the Father of Life. Now that I’m engaged and happily employed I often become proud and forget about where my blessings come from. But then I worry whether I’ll be working in a few months, or I worry about whether I’ll be able to afford a young family…And I remember the source of my blessings.
Pride is definitely the sin from which all other sins flow. Pride and arrogance and self absorption seem to be the defining characteristics of much of our society. I remember a good friend once telling me that I was the most arrogant person they had ever met, but that it worked for me. They loved me that way. In 2005, my husband, whom I had been with for 30 years, who was my best friend, announced that he was having an affair and wanted a divorce. Sixty-three days later I was divorced and alone for the first time in my 49 years of life. Despair and darkness covered me. I did not know God, did not believe in Him. In 2007, The Lord made a very big entrance into my life. I remember at one point thanking my ex-husband for leaving me, such was my joy at knowing and loving the Lord. I was maybe a tad insensitive with that comment, but it was true. I could not see God nor hear Him in my former life, nor did I have any desire to do so. It was when I was broken and open, that He came in.
Life is still hard and I still have too much pride, arrogance and self absorption. I work on that constantly. God will make all things new. Good will come from evil. Sometimes we have to suffer great things in order to wake up or be woken up. I think Augustine was right on. If one has read any of City of God, they will see that St. Augustine is very blunt in just about everything. Doesn’t make it less true.
Thank you, Monsignor Pope
I am reminded of the pride of Lucifer which led him to rebel against God.
He was the most lovely, blessed, beloved angel until….
So, it makes sense that we, such frail and weak humans, could be just as
arrogant and sinful. Praise be God for His infinite mercy and love.
Your daughter in Christ, anna
Thank you, Monsignor Pope
FROM JOB, LAZARUS, AND JESUS SUFFERINGS , WE ARE AWARE THAT THE MORE WE SUFFER MORE AND MORE WE WOULD BE GIVEN IN HEAVEN!
WE ALSO KNOW THAT ALL SUFFERINGS ARE RELATED TO OUR OWN ORIGINAL SIN, AND OUR EVIL GENERAL BEHAVIOUR WHILE ON EARTH!
SO REFLECTING ON THIS I CAME INTO CONCLUSION, THAT SINCE GOD IN JESUS SUFFERED THE MOST, AND ALSO FOR OTHERS, SO INNOCENTLY HE LOADED HIMSELF WITH ALL THE ENTIRE OF OUR PAST, PRESENT AND FUTURE SINS! AND OBVIOUS HE IS ALSO THE MOST GLORIFIED!
SO TO BE MORE CLEAR, FROM THE MOST EVIL ON THE CROSS, HE BECAME THE MOST GLORIFIED AND BECAME:
THE ONLY TRUE GOD, AND JESUS CHRIST!
WE SHOULD, YES IT IS DIFFICULT WITH JOY, TOTALLY ACCEPT ALL SUFFERINGS, SINCE IT REFLECTS OUR OWN OVERALL EVIL BEHAVIOUR, WITH THE CONSOLATION THAT THROUGH JESUS, GOD, WOULD EVENTUALLY REWARD US EVEN MORE AND MORE!
SO FROM OUR OWN EVIL WE WOULD STILL EVENTUALLY BE MORE REWARDED, BUT IN COMPARISON WITH LESS SUFFERING IN BETWEEN! NO?
AND THAT APPLIES ALSO TO THE ONLY BEING WHO ESTABLISHED SIN: LUCIFER!
HE IS THE MOST EVIL, HE WILL SUFFER MOST, AND HE WOULD BE REWARDED ALSO MOST! ON THE LAST DAY!
I HOPE MY POOR ENGLISH IS CLEAR ENOUGH TO MAKE YOU AWARE WHAT I BELIEVE IS THE TRUTH!
Peace and love in Jesus
I asked the Lord, “How can I forgive someone that wants me dead?”. And He turned and pointed to the cross.
So when we are tempted to do the right thing, we might as well do it, because no mean act goes un-noticed.
I understand that God allows suffering … but I’m not sure how we can tell whether it comes from God or the evil one. Ex. story of Joseph being sold into slavery vs. story of Job.
Thank you, Monsignor Pope. I link to your posts from New Advent. Sometimes your picture is there and sometimes I just see an interesting post. Frequently I come upon them that way and am always pleased.
Pride has certainly been one of my sins. Now I need to read more of this St. Augustine. I know my pride has hobbled me, and my hope is that coming to grips with my failings will inspire and motivate me to do better. Thanks again.
Years ago we were living in Iowa and expecting our first child. Iowa has 99 counties in 9 rows of 11 counties. Each county is small enough that a man could leave his farm, ride a horse to the county seat, conduct his business and be home before dark. Politicians wanted to have a hospital in each and every county. My wife went to the hospital around 7 in the morning. This hospital was so small that if they knew a woman needed a Cesarean they sent her to the hospital 30 miles down the road. We could have easily gone there. By 2:30 pm an emergency Cesarean was needed, time ran out, and our first child died in delivery. Peter was a long baby with a short umbilical cord. One minute his heartbeat was showing stress and very quickly that heartbeat was gone. I attribute pride as a contribution to his death. Since then I read that one should avoid giving birth in a hospital that delivers less than 355 babies a year. Hospitals need that much practice to make the difficult routine. The county simply wasn’t big enough to support a hospital. Had he lived he would be having his 31st birthday next month. He rests in a church cemetery between the church and a cornfield, surrounded by hardy Norwegians. The bright blue color of the sky the day of his funeral will stick with me forever.
“But God will not spare us merely to please us if in sparing us he would lose us.”
Dear Msgr Pope, I was looking through your posts in hopes to find one on what you think of Creative Imagery. I think you know what this is…it is a kind of guided meditation that Mind-Body Medicine is promoting. I am concerned about it because I seem to remember reading that it opens one’s mind to the entry of the evil spirit. Do you have any comment on this? I am in a course of study where the teacher is insisting that I participate in this for the sake of self-knowledge.
There must be two kinds of pride? Otherwise, why would be people constantly say things like “I’m proud….” and yet we all acknowledge pride is a deadly sin. So there’s good and bad pride. Or we need to stop going around declaring we’re proud. We don’t say “I’m lustful” or “I’m gluttonous” I never understood “I am proud…!” statements.
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