Rorate Caeli

The Mystery of Suffering: Why do innocent little children suffer? - Editorial by the Abbot of St. Mary Magdalene of Le Barroux

This editorial opens the monastery letter for December 2018, but it seems to appropriate now, when infanticide is celebrated by so many in public life.


Suffering and its mystery

December 8, 2018
Immaculate Conception of the Most Blessed Virgin

On September 27, Father Robert of our foundation Sainte-Marie de la Garde defended his doctoral thesis in theology at the Dominican convent in Toulouse. A strenuous two and a half hour exercise during which he presented the product of three years’ work on “Suffering in Saint Thomas Aquinas”. A very delicate subject! Saint John Paul II wrote in his apostolic letter Salvifici doloris that “Man, in suffering, remains an inaccessible mystery”. Nevertheless, theology can explore this great mystery, provided one looks at the divine purpose. For God has a plan, and suffering is one of them, but according to a line that remains to be clarified. Suffering, whether experienced or perceived, seems absurd, and it can be the cause of revolt against God, loss of faith or indulging in answers that are simplistic, and sometimes downright incompatible with faith and reason. Some theologians have spoken of God’s suffering in his divinity in order to maintain a bond of solidarity between the Creator and the creature. However, this is not the thought of Saint Thomas Aquinas, the great doctor of the Church.

Father Robert insisted a lot on God’s initial plan, namely, a world without any suffering. This is a fundamental truth. God created man to cultivate the earth, to dominate it, so that, with the help of his fellow human Eve fill the world, and according to Saint Augustine, so that man could “pass from this world to a better one through an ascent full of sweetness”. This is somewhat like the Virgin Mary, who progressed from the order of grace to the order of glory, like a ripened fruit. Thus Father Robert: “The whole issue in the thesis boils down to this tension between the innocence of God who does not want – in His first intention of antecedent will – the suffering of men, and the reintegration of this suffering by the providence of God, according to his consequent will: suffering, physical evil resulting from sin, becomes in Christ the means to achieve the divine plan.”

But then, how can we affirm that suffering is part of God’s plan? Does God really want man to suffer? How can Saint Paul say that the Father “did not spare his own Son but delivered him up for us all” (Rm 8:32)?

In fact, the gospels clearly state that it is men who sold, betrayed, condemned and crucified Jesus. And yet, it is indeed the Father who has delivered his Son; but in what sense? Here, Father Robert specifies that, according to Saint Thomas Aquinas, the Father ordained the Passion of the Son for the redemption of the world, that He did not prevent specific events from taking place, and that He inspired Christ to accept everything to do His holy will. Thus, suffering is never planning directly by God, but He allows it by mysteriously arranging for it in view of greater supernatural goods, by not preventing the second causes, and by giving us the grace to experience it in union with Christ.

But what about the suffering of innocent children younger than the age of reason? There, the mystery thickens... Besides, what are we doing to relieve and protect these little ones? Who knows what God does with this suffering, and especially what He does in the hearts of these innocent people? I picture myself that the psalms, in the mouths of the monks, sung night and day, become the cry of these innocent people, and that they transform suffering into an ocean of grace, through the communion of saints.

† F. Louis-Marie, o.s.b.,
Abbot of Saint Mary Magdalene
Le Barroux, France