PERHAPS it is not profitable, nor even possible, to attempt to compare the amount of suffering endured by mankind at different periods of the world's history. But it is at least permissible to point to the overwhelming amount of suffering which has been experienced by a generation whose prophets had led it to expect the rapid solution of all the problems which have dogged mankind's steps in the unenlightened past.
We have the record of two world wars within a single half century, and the hardly less hitter record of the fated consequences of such wars. To-day, nearly four years after the second of those wars, millions are still suffering from exile, poverty, undernourishment, frustration as a direct consequence of that war.
Worse, no doubt, have been the sufferings resulting from the pursuit of racial, nationalistic, social ideologies for the service of which men, women and children in untold numbers have been killed, maimed or held in conditions of serfdom and degradation.
Yet it is questionable whether even this unmeasured quantity of tangible, visible suffering compares with the permeating aura of spiritual frustration which has proved to be the real legacy to the world of those who imagined that the key to human happiness lay in a challenge to the superstitious and primitive religious values, as they called them, which for so long had guided mankind. The sense of the emptiness and meaninglessness of human life haunts the whole of our generation so that living itself has become a burden, and escape from this burden has to be sought in some desperate escape into physical pleasure and excitement or the irrational pursuit of some fantastic and impossible ideal.
Some, maybe, who have attempted such escape and others who have found some almost animal way of vegetating in a mute indifference to the great questions of human existence may find it difficult to recognise the spiritual suffering of which we write. Yet even they, surely, in their occasional human moments of deeper reflection find themselves in the very depths of spiritual desolation — desolation all the bitterer for their inability either to understand or to share it.
If we tried to calculate the spiritual misery at the deepest levels of the consciousness of our disillusioned generation, we should have surely to confess that the suffering of the world to-day is greater and more poignant than ever before.
%v HERE is the answer to be
found to this desperate spiritual condition of a generation which thought it possessed the key to progress and happiness?
The supreme answer is given to the world for its contemplation in the mysteries of the week we are to live through, the week that is called Holy Week.
What is it that we contemplate In this coming week?
It is the mystery of the love of the Almighty God who cannot suffer because in Ms joy is the answer to the whole problem of the world's suffering, and yet is determined to stiffer with the sufferings of those He loves.
On the philosophical plane the problem of suffering has never been adequately answered. But on the deeper spiritual plane it surely has. Surely it is answered by what took place in the first Holy Week.
That week records the depths of human suffering which Almighty God's own love and sympathy for suffering and sinning mankind took upon Himself (who, as God, could not suffer) in the Human Nature of the Incarnate Second Person of the Trinity.
However mysterious the reason for human suffering, infinitely more mysterious is the way which the love of God found of thus sharing our human suffering, yet without, as it were, ceasing to be the God who cannot suffer. For indeed if God in His Divine nature could suffer then suffering would be final, and mankind's hope for perfection vain and unrealisable. On the other hand if God, in one real way, could not share our human suffering, then mankind's suffering would seem like an act of Divine cruelty.
In the mystery of the Incarnation God found the solution far outpassing in mystery the mystery of suffering.
THEREFORE when we follow the Way of the Cross in the coming Holy Week we are truly following the steps which alone can explain and solve the deepest ills of our world, the deepest sorrows and anxieties in our own lives.
For the God who trod a way of suffering infinitely harder than any we may be called upon to follow was treading it in the direction of the supreme beatitude and everlasting joy of His own Eternal Father.
In that suffering He was expiating — and enabling us to expiate — the sin that causes human suffering. And we may Iva remember that if it be hard to measure the sufferings of any one human generation against any other, to-day it most certainly looks as though the degree of suffering which the world is enduring is very directly linked indeed with the sinful pride of the first generation which has boldly challenged the providence, the teaching, the very existence of Almighty God. In other words, If it be true that much suffering in this world seems but very indirectly related to human wilfulness, we must surely confess that to-day the link between such wilfulness and its inevitable consequences in suffering is unusually obvious.
And so, as we meditate on the love of God which expressed itself in the mystery of that supremely innocent sharing with us in our far from innocent suffering, and as we endeavour to add to our own sufferings by seeking to feel with the greater sufferings of Christ, we shall yet know that we are thus moving in the most direct, the only, way towards the sole solution to the problem of suffering which is in the eternal joy of God our last end.
Thus will it be that our Passion pilgrimage of sorrow must prove the door of consolation and happiness in our own disordered lives, just as it must remain true that that self-same door is the only one through whioh a suffering world can pass if it is ever to discover the meaning and solution of its suffering.