St. Ignatius Loyola

Speaking Out: Suffering for the soul

By  Angelica Vecchiato, Youth Speak News
  • December 9, 2020

Our world has been in a state of unceasing evolution since the dawn of time. Yet amidst all this change and progression, one thing has remained steadfast and constant for humanity: suffering.

There have been wars, famines, droughts, poverty, depressions and pandemics dotted throughout the ages. Civilization has made great advancements throughout the historical landscape, but these sufferings and many others still remain a conflict for the human soul.

Suffering is not widely discussed as it is generally seen and understood through the guise of misfortune, adversity and anguish. Why would anyone intentionally focus on something so melancholic and despondent?

Obviously, suffering is not pleasurable. However, trials and tribulations are an integral, complex and essential part of the human condition that we will all experience in one form or another. It could be a physical pain, mental anguish or emotional trauma.

The progress of civilization can be in part owed to suffering. For instance, the discovery of anesthetic was born out of the pain that people endured through being awake through their gruesome surgeries. And the discovery of penicillin, today a common antibiotic, was due to the suffering from the influenza virus. In each instance, humans became more learned and intelligent in scientific matters due to the afflictions they withstood.

Suffering, even on a personal level, helps develop character and virtue. As through facing adversity, people become stronger. For instance, St. Ignatius Loyola (1491-1556), did not let war wounds — a cannonball wounded one leg and broke the other — that led a period of convalescence, break his spirit. The Spaniard began reading books about saints, and relating his suffering to Christ’s, he dedicated his life to the pursuit of goodness.

Jesus is our ultimate guide on how to be a suffering servant. He suffered on the cross out of love for us. He endured His Passion for our salvation. He directed His suffering to attain good. Contrary to conventional ideas, rather than spurn suffering, Jesus embraced it. He raised it on a very high pedestal as He equated it with our attaining eternal life.

So no longer does our suffering become meaningless, but something purposeful, in fact glorified, because we are taking part in something beyond us, something everlasting.

Viktor Frankl, the esteemed Austrian neurologist, psychiatrist and author, has shown that the concept of purposeful suffering can be relatable in secular culture in his book Man’s Search For Meaning. As a Holocaust survivor, Frankl battled daily with hopelessness and brutality in the concentration camps, yet through the endurance of his torments, he founded his logotherapy theory.

Frankl’s logotherapy is premised on the concept that the primary motivational force is to find a meaning in life. One of the three ways to find meaning, according to Frankl, was by “the attitude we take on unavoidable suffering.” Through the attitude Frankl assumed on his sufferings, he managed to find meaning and motivation to survive the daily anguishes of the concentration camps and return home.

In this time of COVID-19, where many people are suffering, I hope we don’t become discouraged by our hardships or understand them as misfortunate, but rather rejoice in each of our special meanings in life and see our suffering as an opportunity to play a part in something bigger than ourselves — our eternal life.

(Vecchiato, 16, is a Grade 11 student at Loretto Abbey Catholic Secondary School in Toronto.)

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