One practical and real enigma facing human beings today is the problem of suffering. Every one of us can readily relate to this problem, no one is insulated from it. We all have experienced suffering in one way or the other. It is not exclusive to any group of people. If there is indeed any variation at all, it is certainly not its universality or in the frustration it brings, the difference rather is in varying degrees, colorations and manifestations it has taken in different persons, at different times and circumstances. Indeed our world is plagued by disheartening degree of strife and suffering, sometimes, it takes the form of severe incurable and protracted disease, gross insufficiency, poverty, disease, economic crisis, starvation, war, hatred, terrorism disregard for human life and myriads of instantiations of this phenomenon. The nature therefore, of human suffering, its causes, consequences, solutions or at least better ways of handling it have been a matter of sincere and eminent concern for people of all ages and faith. This is important because today, atheistic questions about God have significantly evolved.
Today, it is no longer about whether God really exists, the popular rhetoric is how to reconcile the idea of a good and omnipotent God with the reality of evil in the world. But more importantly, our world is broken by selfishness and hate, wickedness and strife. We need healing, and only mercy, compassion, forgiveness and love can save our world from relapsing into the annihilation of hate and acrimony. Truly, ours is a society where mercy is lacking, where hatred and greed are celebrated. A society, that operates on the Thracymachean, where might is just. It is a society of survival of the fittest. In our society, human beings have been exhaustively dichotomized into the high and low, the latter at the mercy of the former. The suffering in our world today, if we must be realistic is to a great extent man-made, it is a pathetic product of man’s inhumanity to man and a gross insensitivity, lack of charity and unwholesome pragmatism.
The rich get richer and the poor get poorer. Little wonder, The United Nations estimates that more than 12 million people are enslaved and living in abject poverty today. Other organizations believe the true number is more than the estimated number. Time magazine describes the situation: “Millions of people around the globe, including children as young as six, are working in bondage—in dangerous and degrading conditions that often involve 18-hour workdays, beatings and sexual abuse” (March 22, 1993). Many more, although not held against their will, live in virtual slavery, trapped by economic circumstances and long work hours while eking out a meager living. Such conditions crush the human spirit. Imagine a life bereft of joy, an existence in which people never enjoy such simple pleasures as the sound of beautiful music, the fun of good humor, the feel of a new garment or the comfort of a secure roof overhead.
The question then is: How did we arrive at such a massive gap between the poor and the rich? What is behind such a heart wrecking irony that some are living in an embarrassing affluence while others are languishing in so great a poverty? Why have the people entrusted with the care of the society become so merciless and callous? How then can we respond to the prevalence and pervasiveness of suffering in our world? The truth is that the answer is not far-fetched. Humans need to rediscover that they are meant for each other. There is need for a total overhauling of the trends of selfishness and the craze of wanting to secure everything for ourselves. The system that gives undue advantage to the already high placed is not only unjust but merciless and callous; indeed mercy will save our world. If the world leaders and people charged with the responsibility of administering world’s goods at different levels can be genuinely compassionate and concerned about the appalling and wretched conditions of the people, our world will certainly be better. As a matter of fact, compassion and mercy have no boundaries. They are recognizable by everybody.
When mother St. Teresa of Calcutta began her works of mercy among the poorest of the people, everybody knew she was doing something to save our world. Interestingly, before she was canonized by the Catholic Church, the Hindus among whom she worked, and who usually have so many gods, there was already a statue of Mother Teresa which was added to the numerous catalogue of the gods that they have and honour, the point is that everybody understands the language of mercy and love. I was amazed when a muslim acquaintance told me so much about mother Theresa. I must confess he probably knows far more than I do about her and how she conquered hate and suffering with love and mercy. Mother St. Teresa is a glaring evidence of the power of mercy and compassion to revolutionize our world and ameliorate suffering.
She was so passionate in the care of the poor as she was not tired in showing mercy to them. She alleviated their sufferings and pains and gave them reasons to live, little wonder she was awarded the Prize for peace in 1979. The concern of this paper, mercy as the penance for suffering, was summarized by the Holy Father during his homily at the mass of canonization of Mother Teresa when he said, “Mother Teresa, in all aspects of her life, was a generous dispenser of divine mercy, making herself available for everyone through her welcome and defense of human life, those unborn and those abandoned and discarded. She was committed to defending life, ceaselessly proclaiming that ‘the unborn are the weakest, the smallest, the most vulnerable.’ And indeed, she saved souls! She bowed down before those who were spent, left to die on the side of the road, seeing in them their God-given dignity; she made her voice heard before the powers of this world, so that they might recognize their guilt for the crime… of poverty they created.
For Mother Teresa, mercy was the ‘salt’ which gave flavour to her work, it was the ‘light’ which shone in the darkness of the many who no longer had tears to shed for their poverty and suffering.” In the midst of this world’s poverty and pain, Mother Teresa of Calcutta has shown the warm light of God’s love and compassion on us all. This is what the Church affirms in raising her to Sainthood that it was his light we beheld in her. “You are the light of the world,” Jesus told his disciples, in words that echo down to this day. “Come, be my light,” Jesus similarly urged Mother Teresa at the outset of her mission. “Bring me into the dark holes of the poor. Come, carry me, I cannot go alone.” She would satiate this “thirst of Jesus for love and for souls,” “ by following him into the “dark holes” where Calcutta’s poor huddled, living among them and like them, loving them in his name, and serving his hidden presence in them who bear the burden, And the sacredness of his cross.
Throughout her life on earth, and now even more fully in the Kingdom, she stands as a beacon of light reflecting the heart of God to those who seek him, who seek signs of his nearness and care in the darkness of human suffering and sin. She has shown to us the much mercy can do to save our world of suffering. This kind of service, which Mother Teresa refers to isn’t always about doing something for the poor, but being there in their suffering, sharing it with Christ. For her, the greatest treasure, God’s greatest gift to her, was the poor people. Through them, Mother Teresa said, “I have an opportunity to be with Jesus 24 hours a day.” All of us who bear the name of Christ have received from God a vocation to translate our faith into concrete acts of love and mercy. Pope Francis has said that, “There is no alternative to charity: those who put themselves at the service of others, even when they don’t know it, are those who love God.” Thus, let us be remembered that “at the evening of our lives, we shall be Judged on love and mercy showed to our neighbours and those in need.
Consequent on this, when faced with an opportunity to be merciful, our greatest temptation is to look away. It is usually convenient. It’s easy to rationalize that someone else is better able to help than we (are). But the reality is, when we turn away from someone in need, we are turning away from Christ Himself. If we want to be more merciful, we have to willing stand beside the other person – even if it makes our own live more difficult and in truth, very often, it will. The quality and meaning of our lives are largely dependent on how we respond to the misery and plight of people around us. Christianity, like every genuine religion that deserves the name, must not be a set of abstract ideas of a conglomeration of utopic reports of events that have happened in the past. Christianity is an experience; it is a way of life. We cannot be said to be Christian if in our daily live we do not bring succor and hope to the people we meet. Our preaching are ideals are illusory as they may be, will lose their bearing and significance on real life experience if they are not lived out. As Pope Paul VI asserts, “the world needs and listen to witnesses more than preachers, and if they listen to preachers, it is because they are witnesses”. Our eyes must be open today to the sufferings of the poor irrespective of their faith, colour language, orientation – the common denominator is our humanity. Mercy and compassion will save our world.