Suffering has become a taboo in modern culture, but it is actually the greatest privilege in the world.
This was what writer and academic Dr Colin Harte told residents of the Little Sisters of the Poor’s St Joseph’s Home and Hospital in Ponsonby, Auckland, during at a talk on October 19.
“Many of you can get up here and tell me more about suffering through your own experiences and your own understanding. So, it’s a little bit presumptuous, perhaps, for me to be standing before you speaking,” he said.
“I guess, you are here because you love suffering, am I right?,” he said, eliciting laughter from the elderly crowd.
Dr Harte had been the carer of severely disabled British woman, Alison Davis, for 25 years. He had seen how Ms Davis, who was born with spina bifida, suffered tremendously and yet discovered God in the midst of pain.
“I do not like suffering. And yet I can say, even if we don’t like suffering, suffering is not only a privilege, but it is the greatest privilege in this world,” he said echoing the words of Ms Davis.
He recounted their trip to Lourdes, France in 1989 where Ms Davis would experience so much pain that it would lead to blackouts and to hearing and sight losses.
Before they met, Ms Davis was viciously assaulted after one such episode and the mental anguish of reliving that experience would add to her suffering.
It was during this trip that Ms Davis asked him what it means to offer up suffering.
“My answer was pretty feeble. I said our suffering has a purpose. We can offer them up as prayer,” he recalled. “She was pretty quiet and reflecting. She went to the grotto and prayed for a long time.”
He said he believes this was the moment when she chose to offer all her sufferings to God.
Ms Davis converted to Catholicism (from atheism) and was received into the Church in 1991. Dr Harte said she endured pain during the remainder of her life, but this only gave value to her life.
“The life we have has infinite value because it was paid for by the suffering of Christ,” he said. “When we go to Mass, we are essentially present in the suffering of Jesus. And so, it’s an important way for us to share our suffering with his, or more properly, him sharing his sufferings with us.”
Dr Harte said Ms Davis’ last major talk was in Auckland in 2009. She died in 2013. He said it is “something very profound for me” to speak about her.
“The thing most hated in the world today is suffering. There is a push here for euthanasia. Nowadays, death is not the taboo, suffering is. Death is considered a better option than suffering, he said. “But suffering is a privilege, [it] has a value and a purpose.”