On Joy and Suffering in This Life

The thought came to my mind that people use times of joy and suffering in the opposite way from which they were intended.  During good times, we think that God loves us very much (as He does regardless of circumstances) and we grow more attached to this life.  During the latter times, we become vexed with God and groan and complain for Him to improve our lot.  Perhaps the thought crosses our mind that God hates us–an impossibility.  Rather, prosperity is not a sure sign that we are pleasing to God.  It might even be a sign that our lot is not with God but in this life.  On the other hand, St. Pio avers: “Suffering is the sure sign that God is loving us.”

St. Pio carrying Christ's cross

I mentioned in my article on Arpeggio of Blue Steel that God wishes us to be His friends.  If we look at human friendships, we might rate them as follows from least to greatest: 1) friendships of utility, 2) fair weather friends, 3) friends of long duration, 4) friends who remain friends in difficult times, and 5) friends who suffer with us.  Though God loves all of us infinitely–even those who actively hate Him, who can doubt that those who most perfectly share the cross of Christ must be considered best friends?  He wishes to transform those of mercenary temperament to serve him out of love, is pained by seeing the unwillingness of second group to stay with Him in suffering, looks with great fondness on those who stay by His side though weakly, is consoled by those who remember His Passion often, and who can describe the joy and pleasure He takes in souls that share in His Passion through suffering?  And so, when we suffer, we ought to be more inclined to thank God for these very sufferings than complain of them.  As St. Peter writes: “But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed” (1 Peter 4:13).

Leonardo da Vinci's crucifixion of St. Peter

The whole purpose of prosperity is to prepare us to suffer.  We thank God for good things so that we might later be able to say with Job: “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21).  This time on earth is the most important time in our lives, but it pales in comparison to the eons we shall enjoy in the presence of God.  Such a long time is incomprehensible to us!  Everything good and beautiful here should lift our minds to the splendor and joys of paradise.  If the flowers and verdure of spring can give us such pleasure, how much more will paradise delight us with its beauties?

beautiful garden

Lest the thorny and rocky path to this delightful paradise disquiet us, let us remember that path smooth and strewn with flowers but leads to the gaping maw of hell.  Even if we allow the storms of life to choke our faith, God will never forget the least moment we shared His sufferings.  Who can doubt that He shall shine the warmest rays of His Mercy on such a soul even to the last moment of life so that it might still attain eternal life in heaven?

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Encore Une Autre Raison D’Etre Pour Fiction

Excuse the French title, dear readers, but this article is related to another rather popular article on this site titled Fiction’s Raison D’Etre. The title was proofed by the former French teacher who resides next door to my room, so you may be assured of its grammatically correct nature. (It’s so nice living next to a former French teacher. I’ll have to try my best to benefit from this propinquity in order to master French before he leaves us next semester.) Beginning to watch Hell Girl again and reading George MacDonald’s Weighted and Wanting have prompted me to write this article. Both works have certain Christian themes—especially this novel of George MacDonald, who was also a great influence on C. S. Lewis—which helped to highlight the other reason to read fiction: repentance.

First, I shall summarize the basic premise of Hell Girl, the eponymous young heroine of which is also known as Enma Ai. Enma Ai was cursed with the eternal duty of aiding those who were seeking revenge by dragging their tormentors to hell. The sufferers contact her through a certain website called the Hell Link, at midnight—merely typing in the name of their tormentor. She appears to them holding a doll with a red string, pulling which string seals this contract: she’ll send their tormentor to hell with the catch that the person who initiates the contract must also go to hell upon their death. (A surprisingly large number of people agree to such terms.)

You wouldn’t have guessed, but this girl was one of the most eager to pull the red string.

This premise provides us with some great scenarios for character study, a favorite genre of the Japanese. As I mentioned in the prior article on fiction, character study aids us in understanding other people. On the other hand, it is a more useful tool in bringing us to understand ourselves—especially in cases where we cannot see our faults. How can we repent unless our shortcomings are present to us?

That’s unrepentant for you.

Hell Girl excels at bringing to light various faults, particularly since all the episodes employ modern settings with commonplace situations. This makes it highly probable that we shall find ourselves in one of the antagonists. (As I did in episode ten of the second season. Despite its edifying nature, watching how Tetsuro Megoro’s lack of constancy led to his demise was rather painful to watch.) People often possess faults of which they are unaware or faults in which they have justified and excused themselves for so long as to produce hardness of heart, i.e. they no longer see a need to change. By holding fictional characters with the same faults before our eyes, our identification with them will hopefully reveal how we have gone wrong and the necessity of our repentance. Otherwise, we shall be like the tormentors in Hell Girl, claiming our innocence despite the heinousness of our offenses and dying with final impenitence on our souls. (From which, may God preserve us!)

So says the detective who used his position to stalk and harass a high school girl, attempt to murder her, actually murder his partner, critically wound the girl’s father, and is presently attempting to finish the job.

It is interesting to note that all the antagonists are offered the opportunity to own up to their guilt: final impenitence in grave sin—at least, according to the Catholic Faith—is the only way to be damned. Perhaps, Ai would be unable to fulfill the contract should the sinner admit his guilt. One imagines God intervening on behalf of the repentant lest such a one be eternally damned. We never know if such would be the case, because no one ever repents in the show at that point; though, I do remember a few rather inoffensive people being condemned—perhaps to cast doubt on Ai’s role as the savior of the oppressed.

The last thing they see before falling headlong into perdition: flowers.

Weighted and Wanting so far is less drastic in the consequences for people’s faults, which tend to be various forms of worldliness and vanity. But, the fault of mine with which I am reminded in this work recalls part of a lecture given at my old Alma Mater by the renowned Dr. Justin J. Jackson (if you care to hear give a beautiful convocation speech, click here):

“And how do we treat our families?”  When no one ventured to give an opinion, he replied for us: “Horribly!”

Needless to remark, no one gainsaid this opinion. But, does this shock any of my dear readers? Is there not a tendency to fear offending our families less than offending our friends, because forgiveness is so readily available? Instead, we ought to be less inclined to offend our family members due to their readiness to forgive us.

n.b. this is George MacDonald, not my former English Professor.

George MacDonald portrays the elder brother in the Raymount family, Cornelius, as suffering from this defect in regard to every member of his family save his father, who governs how his children shall inherit his property. Cornelius enjoys deriding his sister Hester at most every opportunity, though Hester isn’t perfectly innocent of this defect herself, and, on the whole, treats his friends and business associates better than his family. Yet, Cornelius is rather intelligent in a way: if we treated our friends the same way as we treated our family, we should only have the latter left to us. However, one cannot be too hard on oneself: the members of our families often take our good will for granted, increasing the chances of us sinning through impatience or wrath itself!

Illustration from one of his works. MacDonald was most famous for his fantasies.

So, one walks into the confessional with more offenses against one’s family than against one’s friends. But, cognizant of this fault and with the help of God’s grace, we can work to overcome it. Having been patient with the defects of my friends and associates, we can attempt to apply the same patience to the defects of my family members. Depending on the vision of George MacDonald, Cornelius’s lack of respect for his family and inability to consider this a fault may lead to his downfall.

Therefore, the next time one feels moved to deride another person or even a fictional character for their faults, one ought to first consider how oneself may be guilty of the same fault.