Pope Benedict XVI provides an answer for us in his rich encyclical Spe Salvi (Saved in Hope):
“The true measure of humanity is essentially determined in relationship to suffering and to the sufferer. This holds true both for the individual and for society. A society unable to accept its suffering members and incapable of helping to share their suffering and to bear it inwardly through “compassion” is a cruel and inhuman society. Yet society cannot accept its suffering members and support them in their trials unless individuals are capable of doing so themselves; moreover, the individual cannot accept another’s suffering unless he personally is able to find meaning in suffering, a path of purification and growth in maturity, a journey of hope. Indeed, to accept the “other” who suffers means that I take up his suffering in such a way that it becomes mine also. Because it has now become a shared suffering, though, in which another person is present, this suffering is penetrated by the light of love.”
Those who have given birth to a child or who have borne the pangs of cancer know the answer in a physical sense, while those who have suffered with another who is aching or dying know it in the sense of, and because of, love. In fact, we know that Pope Benedict XVI knew this in his own suffering and in the plight of those who have fallen away from their faith, or more precisely, fallen out of love with Christ.
We live in a time when aborting a child is socially accepted and helping a loved one die sooner than God planned is called mercy. As I have reflected on the death of Pope Benedict and refamiliarized myself with his writings, I now better understand why moments of pain are opportunities of meeting Christ in a way we might not otherwise experience.
During a 1986 interview, a younger Cardinal Ratzinger said: “It is time that the Christian reacquire the consciousness of belonging to a minority and of often being in opposition to what is obvious, plausible and natural for that mentality which the New Testament calls ‘the spirit of the world.’ It is time to find again the spirit of nonconformism.”
In these words, one can hold tight to that same love of Christ that imbued this man of God, blessing us with his profundity and his passion for truth.
My husband Paul knew this and lived it. Because of his suffering in love, I now feel the strength of Pope Benedict’s love of Christ in a much greater way, and I pray that as you read this you too will know that love is much more than a candy heart on Valentine’s Day. It is indeed the only measure of humanity that matters.