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Pain Is Universal.



Everyone, whether or not he is a Christian, must expect a certain amount of sickness and discomfort to enter his life. Physical pain is universal. No one escapes it.


Father Seraphim (Rose) of Platina

Therefore, how much we suffer from illness, or how intensely, does not matter so much as how we understand these infirmities. The understanding is all. If a man supposes that life should be one long, luxurious “vacation,” then any amount of suffering that comes to him is unbearable. But if a man views life as a time of sorrows, correction, and purification, then suffering and pain become not only bearable, but even useful. St. Ambrose of Milan says of the Christian attitude toward sickness:

If the occasion demands it, a wise man will readily accept bodily infirmity and even offer his whole body up to death for the sake of Christ.
This same man is not affected in spirit or broken with bodily pain if his health fails him. He is consoled by his struggle for perfection in the virtues,” (Exegetical Works).

Hearing this, the man of the world is quite likely to exclaim: “What an idea! How can a man ‘readily accept’ illness and disease?” To an unbeliever this is indeed an incomprehensible thing. He cannot reconcile the fact of human suffering with his own idea of God. To him, the very thought that God would allow pain is repugnant; usually he sees every kind of suffering as evil in an absolute sense.

Without the aid of Divine Revelation man cannot understand the origin and cause of pain, nor its purpose. Many people, not having help in understanding, are haunted by the fear of pain, terrified at the thought of a lingering illness, and quick to seek medical relief because they believe illness is only the result of “chance.”


If it is true that infirmity comes through mere “bad luck” (which even common sense tells us is not so, since much disease is the result of immoderate living), then indeed it is permissible and even desirable to use all means to avoid the pain of illness and even the illness itself. Furthermore, when a disease becomes irreversible and terminal, worldly wisdom teaches that is acceptable to end the life of the patient — what is called euthanasia, or “mercy-killing” — since, according to this view deathbed suffering is useless and cruel, and therefore “evil.”


But even in everyday life we know that suffering really isn’t “absolutely evil.” For example, we submit to the surgeon’s knife in order to have a diseased part of the body cut away; the pain of the operation is great, but we know that it is necessary in order to preserve health or even our life. Thus, even on a strictly materialistic level, pain can serve a higher good.

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