The problem of suffering has bedeviled human beings throughout history. It returns to haunt us again and again.  Perhaps, when reflecting on pain and suffering, it might be better to speak of mystery rather than problem.

A problem is like a wall.  With perseverance and using appropriate technique or means, you can eventually scale that wall.  A mystery is like a bottomless ocean.  You can plunge into deeper and deeper without ever reaching the bottom.  You may develop a better sense or feeling about a mystery but its inner essence escapes comprehension.    Pain and suffering remain more of a mystery than a problem.  They can never be fully under-stood.  They can only be undergone.  Speaking of suffering as mystery calls to mind the central mystery of our Christian faith that it is through the suffering and death of Jesus that we are saved.

All the various attempts to “explain” suffering ultimately fail.  Suffering remains inexplicable, especially for anyone seeking explanation as an escape.  That is why
the great religious traditions seek not so much an explanation as a way to cope.  They suggest the only thing to do about suffering is to recognize it as an inevitable
part of human existence and to plunge into the contradiction and confusion it involves in order to be transformed  by what Zen Buddhism calls the “Great Death” and Christianity calls “dying and rising with Christ.”

Because humans are endowed with reason they naturally seek understanding and explanations but in times of trouble and suffering one seeks not so much explanation
as ways of coping.  The noted French bishop and orator, Jacques Bousset, provides an example.  When he was on his deathbed and in great suffering what he had read    to him was not the questions on the subject in the Summa Theologica or his own wonderful sermons on providence but the consoling words of Jesus in his farewell discourses.  (John 14-16)

Mother Angelica made an important observation in this regard.  “Suffering in itself does not make us holy.  It is only when we unite it out of love to the suffering of Christ that it has meaning.  Suffering without love is wasted pain.”

Suffering in and of itself does not save us.  It is how suffering is accepted that makes    a difference.  Through suffering a person becomes either bitter or better.   Suffering makes it abundantly clear that e are not self-sufficient,  that we are not in ultimate control,   Suffering is a call for us to surrender the course of our lives to God in faith.