Article first published as The virtue is not in suffering on PADAYON: Our Life Journey.
While many tend to glorify suffering, people who experience it will surely disagree. Having tasted the worst in life, so far, I can attest to this.
Yet, the belief in the virtue of suffering has been embedded in the psyche of Filipinos for centuries. More so, that there are also efforts to perpetuate such conviction for reasons only known to perpetrators. Some take suffering as a pass to heaven. Others look at sufferings as trademark of the followers of Christ. There are denominations that associate or even expect their clergy to undergo the process inevitably. Church members fondly call their pastors manugpangabudlay. An Ilonggo term which connotes hardship and difficulties.
Countries with colonial past, where religion is used in conquest are most vulnerable to this fate. Like the case of the Philippines. Historians note how colonizers integrate religion into their subjugation scheme. From feudalistic to capitalist systems, religion plays a big role in domestication of the subjects. In the context of the Philippine, as pointed out by nationalist historians, while the sword was used in conquest, the cross pacified resistance. The blessedness of poverty, mourning, oppression and persecution as taught in the church make people accept their fate, with relief, expectant of the future reward.
The belief in the virtue of suffering is more evident during Lenten season. Most often, crucifixion and death have been given emphasis in the observance. This can be attributed to the prevalent notion that the cross has salvific power. Redemption has been closely associated with pain and suffering. While Easter is considered the cornerstone of Christian faith, in practice people put emphasis on crucifixion.
Interestingly, attempts have been done by church authorities to dissuade rituals of self-inflicted pain and suffering in holy week celebration. Clergy, of various affiliations, consistently highlights the significance of resurrection in Lenten sermons and teaching. Still, it has not penetrated yet to the Filipino psyche. Filipinos are very much predisposed to suffering, according to Archbishop Emeritus Oscar Cruz. “The Church can only do so much to highlight the importance of Easter among Filipinos because suffering and poverty as well as the love for children are already deeply rooted in Philippine culture,” he noted.
While working on this series of Lenten reflections, I remember the article of a Filipino Jesuit priest. It was published after the execution of three Filipinos abroad convicted of drug-related offense. Fr. Manoling V. Francisco contends that suffering is not virtuous, but love is. Suffering is not even redemptive per se. The love underlying the pain makes it salvific.
Does it negate then the impact of the sufferings of Jesus? Not really. Fr. Francisco qualifies his point: “Jesus’ physical torment and emotional anguish do not redeem us; his willingness to suffer for his convictions and out of love for us is that which saves.” You might be interested to read his article, in the April 3, 2011 edition of Philippine Star, When suffering becomes a virtue.