This Sunday’s Credo column in the Times is written by Monsignor Roderick Strange, Rector of the Pontifical Beda College in Rome. It concerns a very difficult line in the Letter of James, “You do not possess because you do not ask. You ask but do not receive, because you ask wrongly …” (James 4:2-3). Monsignor Strange then asks about a friend who has suffered chronic pain after a car accident, “Is she not getting what she wants because she isn’t praying properly?” He quickly warns us against glib answers. But what does the Letter of James mean? Here is his conclusion. I must confess that I think that he should have mentioned the Cross more directly and made it clear that one might really need to break out of isolation with a language of complaint, of crying out, and of implacable expectation, which, after all, is still directed to God and bears some hope that this God will redeem time itself.
But perhaps this is unfair – you tell me. Here, then, is Roderick Strange on suffering and asking rightly:
So often, when afflicted by pain, crisis, or tragedy, we do what she has done, we turn in on ourselves. Our suffering absorbs us, which is entirely understandable. But if that attitude prevails it can lead to a kind of entombment. We become buried, sinking into a sort of grave. Somehow, although it may take a long time, that attitude must be overcome. Like my friend we have to shift our disposition and break free from self-imposed isolation. When we do so, we may begin to discover, not perhaps the answer we had expected, but one of another kind.
Close to where I live there is a dramatic symbol of that, the monastery at Tre Fontane, the three fountains, where it is believed that St Paul was put to death.
The place acquired its name because, according to legend, when Paul was martyred, his severed head bounced, striking the ground three times, and from each spot a spring of water sprang — and so the three fountains. Whatever we may think of the legend, the lesson is full of power: there are no wounds, however incurable they may seem, which cannot become fountains, sources, of new life.
To acknowledge that truth and cling to it is not like balm, soothing and eliminating suffering. If only it could. But it can draw the sting. We may still feel the pain, but it no longer enslaves us, we are no longer its victims. Little by little, as our disposition shifts, our wounds become fountains and we find, not perhaps the answer we had hoped for, but another one which can still refresh and renew us.