New Sherwood

A Message of Hope for the World

The Holy Father’s encyclical Spe Salvi:

We can try to limit suffering, to fight against it, but we cannot eliminate it. It is when we attempt to avoid suffering by withdrawing from anything that might involve hurt, when we try to spare ourselves the effort and pain of pursuing truth, love, and goodness, that we drift into a life of emptiness, in which there may be almost no pain, but the dark sensation of meaninglessness and abandonment is all the greater.It is not by sidestepping or fleeing from suffering that we are healed, but rather by our capacity for accepting it, maturing through it and finding meaning through union with Christ, who suffered with infinite love.

In this context, I would like to quote a passage from a letter written by the Vietnamese martyr Paul Le-Bao-Tinh († 1857) which illustrates this transformation of suffering through the power of hope springing from faith:

“I, Paul, in chains for the name of Christ, wish to relate to you the trials besetting me daily, in order that you may be inflamed with love for God and join with me in his praises, for his mercy is for ever (Ps 136 [135]).

“The prison here is a true image of everlasting Hell: to cruel tortures of every kind—shackles, iron chains, manacles—are added hatred, vengeance, calumnies, obscene speech, quarrels, evil acts, swearing, curses, as well as anguish and grief.

“But the God who once freed the three children from the fiery furnace is with me always; he has delivered me from these tribulations and made them sweet, for his mercy is for ever. In the midst of these torments, which usually terrify others, I am, by the grace of God, full of joy and gladness, because I am not alone —Christ is with me […]. How am I to bear with the spectacle, as each day I see emperors, mandarins, and their retinue blaspheming your holy name, O Lord, who are enthroned above the Cherubim and Seraphim? (cf. Ps 80:1 [79:2]). Behold, the pagans have trodden your Cross underfoot! Where is your glory? As I see all this, I would, in the ardent love I have for you, prefer to be torn limb from limb and to die as a witness to your love.

“O Lord, show your power, save me, sustain me, that in my infirmity your power may be shown and may be glorified before the nations … Beloved brothers, as you hear all these things may you give endless thanks in joy to God, from whom every good proceeds; bless the Lord with me, for his mercy is for ever … I write these things to you in order that your faith and mine may be united. In the midst of this storm I cast my anchor towards the throne of God, the anchor that is the lively hope in my heart.”

This is a letter from “Hell”. It lays bare all the horror of a concentration camp, where to the torments inflicted by tyrants upon their victims is added the outbreak of evil in the victims themselves, such that they in turn become further instruments of their persecutors’ cruelty.

This is indeed a letter from Hell, but it also reveals the truth of the Psalm text: “If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I sink to the nether world, you are present there … If I say, ‘Surely the darkness shall hide me, and night shall be my light’ —for you darkness itself is not dark, and night shines as the day; darkness and light are the same” (Ps 139 [138]:8-12; cf. also Ps 23 [22]:4).

Christ descended into “Hell” and is therefore close to those cast into it, transforming their darkness into light. Suffering and torment is still terrible and well- nigh unbearable.

Yet the star of hope has risen—the anchor of the heart reaches the very throne of God. Instead of evil being unleashed within man, the light shines victorious: suffering—without ceasing to be suffering—becomes, despite everything, a hymn of praise.

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December 1, 2007 - Posted by | Uncategorized

4 Comments »

  1. Beautiful post. It is a blessing to know that though trials come, Christ is there. So many people in this day and time think that the Christian walk is to be nothing but good jobs, fancy cars, and perfect health. I dont see people living this life in the bible (Old or New testaments). What I do see is people suffering for Christ with the hope that this life is a vapor compared to the eternity we will share with Him. It is all about His glory not ours. Thank you for the reminder and God Bless!

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    Comment by Jeff Keith | December 1, 2007 | Reply

  2. Thank you for the comment, Jeff. I’m only about half-way through the encyclical, but here are some preliminary thoughts:

    1. It’s a beautiful document, very learned and scholarly but also deeply inspiring. This encyclical was truly a labor of love for the Pope. What an incredible blessing we have in this pontificate.

    2. The Pope explains the priority of the monastic and contemplative vocations for the world. I hope we hear more from him on this!

    3. He corrects many false ideas in vogue today, with gentleness and understanding.

    4. I’m not quite sure why he says that modern Christianity has erred by excessive focus on individual salvation. That may be true of some forms of Protestantism, but modern Catholicism – in most places, anyway – seems to have degenerated into a this-worldly social gospel and lost all concern for individual salvation. Perhaps he is thinking, instead, of the 17th through the 19th centuries, in which Catholic piety has often been criticized as too individualistic, leading to the over-reaction we are living with today in which “community” is deified and salvation is ignored entirely.

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    Comment by Jeff Culbreath | December 2, 2007 | Reply

  3. If it isn’t already obvious, I should make it clear that all the words in this post (apart from the introduction) are from the encyclical: none are my own. I declined to put quotes around it because there are so many quotes within.

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    Comment by Jeff Culbreath | December 2, 2007 | Reply

  4. Having finished the document, I can only say that I am stunned at its beauty, depth and erudition. The second half was even better than the first. Thank you, Pope Benedict!

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    Comment by Jeff Culbreath | December 4, 2007 | Reply


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