September 13, 2019

Our Works of Charity / David Bethuram

God allows suffering so we can help heal others’ wounds

David Bethuram

One of Pope Francis’ quotes that embraces and demonstrates the depth of the works of charity is: “Like the Good Samaritan, may we not be ashamed of touching the wounds of those who suffer, but try to heal them with concrete acts of love.” It leads us to reflect not only on the parable of the Good Samaritan, but also on how our own suffering leads to understanding why we need to act lovingly toward those who suffer.

Of all the letters St. Paul wrote, his second one to the Corinthians is the most autobiographical. In it, Paul lifts the veil on his private life and allows us to catch a glimpse of his human frailties and needs. In this letter, he describes the value of “empathy.” In a Catholic dictionary, empathy is defined as “a function of the virtue of charity by which a person enters into another’s feelings, needs and sufferings.”

Paul records the specifics of his anguish, tears and affliction. He spells out the details of his persecution, loneliness, imprisonments, beatings, feelings of despair, hunger, shipwrecks, sleepless nights and pain.

It is not surprising, then, that he begins the letter with words of comfort, especially in verses 3-11. Ten times in five verses Paul uses the same root word, Para-kaleo, meaning literally, “to call alongside.”

This word involves more than a shallow pat on the back with the expression, “God bless you.” No, this word involves genuine, in-depth understanding—deep-down compassion and sympathy. This seems especially appropriate since it says that God is the “God of all comfort ... who comforts us in all our affliction.”

There is another observation worth noting in St. Paul’s Second Letter to the Corinthians: No less than three reasons are given for suffering, each one introduced with the term “that.” The Holy Spirit states reasons we suffer: “That we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction”; “That we should not trust in ourselves”; “That thanks may be given” (2 Cor 1:4, 9, 11). Admittedly, there may be dozens of other reasons, but here are three specific reasons we suffer:

  • God allows suffering so that we might have the capacity to enter into others’ sorrow and affliction. Isn’t that true? If you have suffered a broken leg and been confined to crutches for weeks, you are in complete sympathy with someone else on crutches even years after your affliction. The same is true for emotional depression, an auto accident, financial burdens. God gives us the capacity to understand through similar sufferings in our lives.
  • God allows suffering so that we might learn what it means to depend on him. Doesn’t suffering do that? It forces us to lean on him totally, absolutely. Over and over, God reminds us of the danger of pride, but it frequently takes suffering to make the lesson stick.
  • God allows suffering so that we might learn to give thanks in everything. Now, honestly, I can’t recall me ever saying, “Thanks, Lord, for this test!” But I have heard time and time again that the people Catholic Charities is honored to serve are those in the midst of daily struggle. And we often hear them thank God for the small blessings they receive. They recognize and appreciate God’s loving sovereignty over their lives.

Touching the wounds of those who suffer is why Catholic charity exists. Like the Good Samaritan, when we enter into another’s sufferings with concrete acts of love, we help God heal the wounds that so many people carry throughout their lives.

(David Bethuram is executive director of the archdiocesan Secretariat for Catholic Charities. E-mail him at

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