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Struggling with suffering… Part II of II

January 16, 2012 by  
Filed under Fr. Bartunek, Suffering

Dear Father John, I really want to think of God as good but lately I have been struggling with all the suffering I see around me and in my own life. Where is God in all of this?

struggling with sufferingIn our first post in this two part series we reflected on suffering from a number of conceptual angles to try to orient our hearts in the right direction. Now we will discuss a few practical matters.

Our faith is weak, and so the weight of life’s pain and suffering often obscures the light of hope. What can we do to strengthen our faith? What can we do to learn to carry our crosses, and help others carry theirs, with elegance, with love, even with joy? There is a lot we can do. I would just like to mention three things.

Eliminate the Blind Side

First, we have to contemplate frequently Christ on the cross. We need to have crucifixes in our lives – on the bedroom wall, on the desk in the office, on the screen saver, and the smart-phone’s wallpaper… We have to pray the Stations of the Cross more often than just on Good Friday. In other words, we have to prepare ourselves on a regular basis to be soldiers of Christ’s cross.

As a priest, it is agonizing to see people blind-sided by suffering – because it is so unnecessary! We shouldn’t be surprised by suffering. Jesus made it clear, in his words and example, that no one is exempt from suffering. The Church makes it clear, year after year through the liturgical seasons and celebrations, that the cross is central to life in a fallen world and to our growth in holiness. And yet, so many people, in the face of an untimely death, a painful sickness, or some other real tragedy, are still blind-sided. Their initial reaction is surprise and anger at God. But did God promise us that we wouldn’t have to face suffering in life? We must regularly contemplate Christ on the cross, so that we prepare ourselves in times of consolation for the times of desolation that will surely come.

Taking the Initiative

Second, we must consciously, purposefully, and humbly help others carry their crosses. There is no better way to become soldiers of the cross and co-redeemers with Christ than to “Bear one another's burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2). This is the most potent antidote to the self-absorption and self-centeredness that make us vulnerable to temptation during our own sufferings. Reach out to people in need. Take the initiative to bring light to those who are stuck in darkness. Here is where the Church’s traditional works of mercy come in very handy – just looking over the list can give us new ideas of how we can build up the Kingdom of Christ by bearing one another’s burdens.

Never Walk Alone

Third, we have to keep cultivating our life of prayer. In the end, we can only have mature confidence in God’s Providence if we see all things from God’s perspective. For us fallen human beings, learning to see things from God’s perspective happens only through the gifts of the Holy Spirit. And the best way to give those gifts more room to maneuver in our hearts and minds is to give God time, every single day, to infuse his light and wisdom into our souls. That’s what mental prayer – Christian meditation – is all about. If you want some help to go deeper in your mental prayer, we recommend highly this book.

God is not distant from our sufferings. This is the message of Christ’s incarnation: he is with us all the time. This is the message of the Eucharist: he himself wants to be our strength in the midst of life’s troubles. So, remember, discouragement never comes from the Holy Spirit! It only comes when we try to save the world all by ourselves – a very bad idea: “The world will give you trouble, but take courage! I have overcome the world!” (John 14:1).


Art for this post on struggling with suffering: Modified detail of Long-suffering, Julia Margaret Cameron, 1865, PD-US author's life plus 100 years or less, published prior to January 1, 1923, Wikimedia Commons.

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About Fr. John Bartunek, LC

Fr. John Bartunek, LC, S.Th.D, received his BA in History from Stanford University in 1990. He comes from an evangelical Christian background and became a member of the Catholic Church in 1991. After college, he worked as a high school history teacher, drama director, and baseball coach. He then spent a year as a professional actor in Chicago before entering the religious Congregation of the Legionaries of Christ in 1993. He was ordained a Catholic priest in 2003 and earned his doctorate in moral theology in 2010. He provided spiritual support on the set of Mel Gibson’s "The Passion of the Christ" while researching the 2005 Catholic best seller, "Inside the Passion"--the only authorized, behind-the-scene explanation of the film. Fr. John has contributed news commentary regarding religious issues on NBC, CNN, Fox, and the BBC. He also served as the English-language press liaison for the Vatican’s 2005 Synod of Bishops on the Eucharist. His most widely known book is called: "The Better Part: A Christ-Centered Resource for Personal Prayer". His most recent books are "Spring Meditations", "Seeking First the Kingdom: 30 Meditations on How to Love God with All Your Heart, Soul, Mind and Strength", and "Answers: Catholic Advice for Your Spiritual Questions". Fr. John currently splits his time between Michigan (where he continues his writing apostolate and serves as a confessor and spiritual director at the Queen of the Family Retreat Center) and Rome, where he teaches theology at Regina Apostolorum. His online, do-it-yourself retreats are available at, and he answers questions about the spiritual life at

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  • This article is consoling. The first and second steps you mentioned have been a very important part of my prayer life. As for the second step, when meditating on His Passion, while praying the Chaplet of Divine Mercy, the desire to serve Him and help Him can be so strong. Yet, as of now, I can’t as much as I would like to just yet.

    One song that really touched my heart is “If I Could Touch You” by Fr. Manoling Francisco SJ. This is a link to a video of the song. I hope it helps others with their prayer as well.

  • judeen

    suffering, something I did all my life for souls, healings , so on.. now I cant.. I just cant.. mentally or emotionally.. what happened? I want to appreciate things be grateful.. the end of jobs life was filled with good things.. yet being taken care of by God , my soul suffers ,yet . I should not have these things.. I should fast, offer up my life ,but my emotions , cant why?

    • Grace

      I am not sure if you wanted another person to answer this Judeen or if you posed this question of yours only to Father John. I am going to reply just the same so you have the perspective of a fellow layperson. As a person who is presently suffering and having life as I know it turned upside down and inside out, I can look back on the fact that God tested Abraham with his faithfulness to the point of asking him to sacrifice his own son. This provides hope in God. Sometimes God asks us to show our love and faith for Him to such a degree that we do not understand it. Proverbs 3:5 (passed on to me by someone els) states: Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. There are not always immediate visible results from following what God wants for us.  However, by doing His will we do receive the gift of having a pure heart.  Trusting Him opens us to His grace. By being open to receive His grace, we are able to transmit His light into the world. If you cannot do what you have been doing in the past, please understand that many people have this problem. It is in these times that the Spirit steps in for us. Please continue to fight the Good fight because you are not alone. God is with you.

  • And, Father, Jesus Himself has told us if we want to be His followers, we must be ready to pick up our cross every day and follow Him. In His Message of the Divine Mercy and the teachings of the Church as you state regarding the Spiritual and Works of Mercy, we are called to unite all our sufferings, setbacks, obstacles and all problems we face with His Sufferings on the Cross.  And this makes our suffering meritorious and souls-saving.  We also mature Spiritually through sufferings and adversities but surrendering them to God.  Christ’s Message in the Divine Mercy Devotion which He gave us through Saint Faustina, teaches us the place of Suffering in the Salvation Mystery very well.

  • Fr. John, I have just come upon this wonderful Catholic Minute Meditation for 15th January which is very relevant to this Post :  

    Follow the Leader In every step of our journey, Christ has been there first. He has accepted being born as a frail human, to share in our sufferings and joys. 

  • Deniseshelly05

    What do I do if I can not bear the pain?

    • I couldn’t bear the pain. Before surgery, after surgery, in the emergency surgery that followed… During and after betrayal. During false accusations and lies that had no foundation in reality. During the disabling, disorienting, and seemingly endless haze of nausea, loneliness, and incapacity. He is the only source of strength when darkness seems to our only companion. Hold on to Him – He knows your suffering like none other. He carried the weight of the sins, derision, and rejection of the very people he humbled himself to serve. He endured torture, scourging, cruelty, and crucifixion – and all the while knew that even in this supreme act of love that He would be rejected. Cling to Him and just make it one more moment… the only strength He gives, the only hope He gives is in each moment… and He will give enough if you turn to Him. I can assure you that He will give enough.

    • Becky Ward

      God does not give us more than we can bear.

      We may not like it………we may wish we weren’t so strong, yet with each trial he gives us the grace to get through it!

      Think of Mary at the foot of the cross…ask her to help you.

      I am praying for you!

  • Lcaldwell9

    Thank you, this was very helpful .

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