Making Sense of Suffering
Why does God allow us to suffer?
by Father Jonathan Morris, LC | Source: Catholic.net
Every priest has an unparalleled window into the lives of real people with all of their sufferings, doubts, and questions. But some priests also have a special gift for opening that window to let in some light and a breath of fresh air. Father Jonathan is one of those priests, and his first book “The Promise: God’s Purpose and Plan for When Life Hurts” is bound to be a source of light and fresh air for many souls.
In his “day job” as a priest and spiritual advisor, and in his “night job” as a Fox News analyst, Father Jonathan’s mission has put him in touch with a wide range of people. Many of them, as he says in his Introduction, are struggling under a burden of suffering – often without understanding it and without knowing how to handle it. This is the problem that the author addresses: not just the abstract philosophical question of where suffering comes from, but the eminently practical and pastoral question of how to respond to our suffering here and now. His intended readers are not just people who have learned to carry their cross with Christ, but those other multitudes of people who are carrying the even heavier cross of anger, doubts, questions, and accusations against God.
“My goal,” he writes, “is to provide something to know and something to live—to address both your mind and heart,” to offer “a guidebook of spiritual principles and practical ideas—examples and techniques, rooted in the teachings and person of Jesus of Nazareth—that aim to better your life.”
He undertakes this project in three main parts. In Part I, “God on Trial,” he addresses the real questions and doubts about God that may be blocking a person from receiving the healing that God can give. He addresses people who have sent him letters like this one from “Susie,” who writes: “I used to believe. I used to pray. No more. Everything I had, everything I loved—I’ve lost it all. Who needs a God who only cares for a time, who runs and hides when things get rough? Is he hiding a smirk, a mean smile that mocks the power I thought he had?” These are the types of questions that Father Jonathan faces head on, not with pat answers, but with a pastoral touch.
In Part II, “Emotional and Spiritual Healing,” he helps the reader understand how our suffering is a complex reality with emotional, physical, and spiritual components, and begins to show the way toward integral healing. This section touches on the mysterious boundary where psychology and the spiritual life meet. For example, he sheds some light on how psychological and emotional damage can be linked to invisible spiritual realities at work, such as the subtle lies that the devil can introduce into a person’s thought processes or self-concept.
In Part III, “Principles for Freedom-Living,” he lays out five practical principles that can turn personal suffering into a means of growth in holiness and in one’s own humanity. These principles are not just an automatic “recipe for success”: they are a program of work that invite us to take a hand in our own healing, and turn our suffering into an opportunity for tremendous spiritual growth.
This is not a typical self-help book promising a few easy steps to eradicate suffering. Father Jonathan’s approach to suffering is not so facile as that, nor does he whitewash the mystery of suffering or lightly pass over the way it can so deeply mark and damage people. This is a book written for real people with real problems, and the voices of these real sufferers can be heard in almost every chapter in excerpts from actual letters which Father Jonathan includes as notes “from my in-box.”
One such note reads: “Father Jonathan, my husband recently died in a bicycle accident from a head injury. It just happened in September, and of course, I am devastated and, yes, looking for an answer. We were each other’s soul mate, so why would a good God want to separate a love like ours? I just don’t get it… I just cannot seem to grasp anything about life right now. How can I ever find joy on this earth again without my love by my side?”
Father Jonathan’s answers will help readers to grasp the big picture of why God allows us to suffer, how we personally can grow and be healed through it, and how we can rise above it by living a life in line with God’s plan for us.
But aside from its enlightening insights and practical techniques, this book will also give readers—especially those who are suffering—a sense that they are accompanied and understood, that their experience is not dismissed lightly or brushed aside with clichés. Father Jonathan’s “voice” throughout the book is that of a friend and older brother who knows how to meet people where they are at, who hears their real questions, and who can respond with deep and satisfying answers.
This is the first book of a young priest who is already fulfilling a big mission as an effective communicator of the Gospel to the American people. Its pages, full of relevance to any person who has ever suffered even the tiniest twinge, are full of the personal gifts that make Father Jonathan “connect” so well with audiences of all kinds.
There is the personal touch of empathy, his uncanny ability to grasp what other people are experiencing and describe it from the inside so that the reader says, “Yes, that’s it exactly. You hit the nail on the head!” There is the sense that this priest listens to people, that he listens long and listens well, and that he isn’t about to offer any pat answers or textbook solutions. His approach is deeply human, rooted in pastoral experience, and full of respect for that boundary where the best answer is to say with all honesty and humility: “We don’t know.” There is the communication style, which is full of warmth, conviction, and sensitivity, and that practical, down-to-earth American realism right alongside an authentic religious fervor and idealism. And most of all, there is that winning combination of a spiritual wisdom and native intelligence: the answers that he gives are not undigested pious platitudes, nor are they abstract theorems cooked up in a mental test tube. His answers come from active and intelligent reflection on real people with their real experiences, and on the universal principles that can guide and enlighten particular situations; both sides of the equation enrich and enlighten each other. It also seems that he allows himself to learn from the people he serves, and that he approaches others as a friend. This quality opens hearts and also enables him to provide a deeper service to a wide range of people, including those who may not be on speaking terms with God at the moment.
Father Jonathan has a mission as a communicator to the American people, a capacity to make “mass communication” somehow personal. This book, written in the engaging style of a personal conversation, will help multitudes of people find peace, healing, and a way to carry with greater hope and grace whatever suffering they must endure.
All of which makes “The Promise” a very promising beginning indeed.
Father Jonathan Morris’ new book “The Promise: God’s Purpose and Plan for When Life Hurts” is now released from HarperCollins Publishers. For a schedule of Father Jonathan’s upcoming book tour in the United States, visit his web page at FatherJonathan.com.
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