The Pope reminds his flock what Catholicism is really about: 'Precious' Suffering
More than 20 years ago, after recovering from the pistol shot that almost took his life in front of St. Peter's, John Paul declared that suffering, as such, is one of the most powerful messages in Christianity. "Human suffering evokes compassion," he wrote in 1984, "it also evokes respect, and in its own way it intimidates." In 1994, as age and infirmity began to incapacitate John Paul publicly, he told his followers he had heard God and was about to change the way he led the church. "I must lead her with suffering," he said. "The pope must suffer so that every family and the world should see that there is, I would say, a higher gospel: the gospel of suffering, with which one must prepare the future."
You wouldn't know it today, watching many Catholics (or Christians in general for that matter), but "happiness as the moral purpose of your life" doesn't
describe the Christian religion. Of course, as Ayn Rand pointed out, the purpose of the Christian moral code isn't to provide a practical guide to action - it's to instill guilt
This exaltation of suffering may be difficult for many non-Catholics to understand. (Protestant crosses, typically, do not depict Jesus at all, much less in the death throes shown by Catholic crucifixes.) Mel Gibson's film "The Passion of the Christ" attempted to convey the power of suffering in a way that was graphic, accessible and not a little sensational. But suffering, scholars point out, is at the very core of the faith; it is the vital link between the human experience and that of Christ as savior. He was a suffering victim who seemed to have been defeated by the earthly powers of his time. But in his moment of apparent weakness and defeat, Christians see him as triumphant, dying for humanity's sins and opening the way to heaven.
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"The cross is not just something you hang on the wall," says Father Justo Lacunza-Balda, a missionary and director of the Pontifical Institute of Arabic and Islamic Studies. "Christianity is not born in a laboratory or a schoolroom; it's not conceived in an institute of higher learning. It's about suffering, torture, the experience of Christ on the cross." And it is about hope. In Africa, for instance, where the Catholic Church is growing faster than anywhere else in the world, the afflicted pope can be seen as "a living presence of the very essence of Christianity, which is the cross—and resurrection," says Lacunza-Balda. "He's not just an icon, he is the incarnation in his whole life of the message of Christ."