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They Are Christ

by Veronica J. Treanor

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The poor, the hungry, the aged, victims of prejudice, prisoners – we speak of people in groups and often either accept or dismiss them on that basis. One obvious reason for this is that man is, by his very nature, a social being. We think of ourselves and others in certain categories; men or women, old or young, sick or well, Christian, Muslim, Jew. We feel connected to others who are like us in some way, or who share with us some common characteristic or bond.

The benefit of such grouping is that it enables us to learn. From the time we are born we are taught to simplify our understanding of the world around us by distinguishing likenesses and differences. However, this way of thinking can become dangerous if we allow it to blind us, or if we reject people because we see them as being different simply because they belong to groups with which we cannot identify. Whether it stems from prejudice, hatred, neglect or indifference, much human suffering is caused by this type of misconception.

Human suffering such as this can be alleviated because it is of a type over which we have control and which we can either prevent or eliminate. It is the moral, psychological and even physical suffering which results from sins of prejudice, greed, pride and neglect, or which if it is not caused by such sins, is intensified by them.

The social aspects of suffering have three dimensions. The first is the sharing that those who suffer have in the sufferings of Christ. When these are endured for the love of Christ, and in union with His Passion, they have deep sociological effects. As St. Paul writes, “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the Church.” (Colossians 1:24) That this social aspect of suffering benefits all of mankind is reaffirmed by the Holy Father in his letter on human suffering “Those who share in the sufferings of Christ preserve in their own sufferings a very special particle of the infinite treasure of the world’s Redemption, and can share this treasure with others.” Moreover, he tells us that suffering is both a trial and a mystery which is “present in the world in order to release love, in order to give birth to works of love toward neighbor, in order to transform the whole of human civilization into a civilization of love.”

The second sociological implication of suffering is caused by an absence of love toward those whom we perceive as belonging to certain groups (prejudice). On the other hand, suffering can be caused by neglect of a group such as the sick. The absence of love is sin. This creates or prolongs suffering. In this way it afflicts others with pain.

In war, which results in suffering beyond reckoning, mankind puts the boundaries of geography above the unbounded love of God and His commandment to love – even our enemy. This is the most hideous sociological aspect of suffering.

Today there is being unveiled another aspect of human suffering. Each year in the United States alone, thousands of cases of child abuse are reported. Many children suffer physically, and over the long term emotionally, from lack of love. These children are blameless victims. Their suffering is inflicted by the uncontrolled anger of immature parents as well as by sick individuals who subject them to physical and moral abuses.

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Tags: Christianity Unity Poor/Poverty War