Happiness or suffering?

We were not made for suffering. We were not made for “conventional” happiness either.

David Brooks, an op-ed columnist for The New York Times, wrote on the redeeming nature of suffering. It went online more than a week ago, but reading it in the midst of Holy Week was intriguing. His points are insightful, but they make even more sense in light of Christ’s suffering.

The main goal of many people’s lives is to “maximize happiness,” said Brooks. However, when reflecting on life, people tend to focus on the significant points, whether pleasurable or painful. Difficulty has a definite impact.

“People shoot for happiness, but feel formed through suffering,” said Brooks.

Happiness is about “maximizing your benefits,” while suffering affects people in more significant, and often constructive ways, said Brooks.

He identified three main effects of suffering:
  1. Self-knowledge
  2. Sense of limitations and of the divine (or at least something beyond control)
  3. A call to respond

That raised this question for Holy Week: How are we formed through Christ’s suffering?

It is easy at this point to fast-forward to Easter. We have been sacrificing and praying hard for 40 days now. We have had a singular focus on the Cross, and we may feel like just focusing on that empty tomb and the glory now. We can’t.


What can we learn from the Cross? Jesus demonstrated unconditional love, complete self-gift, unfailing obedience, humility, sacrifice and courage. What are we learning about ourselves? Are we applying those lessons to our lives?

Sense of limitations and of the divine

How many times have we failed this Lent? It is often quite painfully obvious how human we are. We cannot do anything — not even give up chocolate — without the grace of God. So we look to the Cross, as an example of perfect love and perfect sacrifice and unite ourselves with Christ.

A call to respond

Christ embraced suffering. As Brooks notes, “there is nothing intrinsically ennobling about suffering,” but Christ made it beautiful. Through it, we are redeemed. In it, we find a deep intimacy with Christ.

When presented with the choice between, as Brooks calls it, “happiness, conventionally defined,” and suffering, I think the choice becomes clear.

“The right response to this sort of pain is not pleasure. It’s holiness,” said Brooks. “I don’t even mean that in a purely religious sense. It means seeing life as a moral drama, placing the hard experiences in a moral context and trying to redeem something bad by turning it into something sacred.”

Jennifer Rey is the web editor of Our Sunday Visitor Publishing. Follow her on Twitter @JenReyOSV.