The Unconditional Duty of a Christian Man: Suffer Well

News: Commentary
by Joseph Enders  •  •  September 19, 2023   

It isn't a choice, so you better learn to manage it

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Pope St. John Paul II once wrote that suffering is "almost inseparable from man's earthly existence," but the art of suffering well has been lost on modern man for decades. There are, luckily, three ways to learn how, and it will make you invincible.

Suffering cannot be conquered without first learning to embrace it. Accepting suffering is recognizing that it is an opportunity for purgation and sanctification — and a chance to fulfill God's will. To do this requires a complete sense of humility, which means total submission to God's perfect will.

You'll hear "manosphere" types constantly bloviate about wives submitting to their strong, alpha-male husbands. Though this is certainly correct, what's discussed less often is how men are equally called to submit, in the same way, to God.

Scripture states it explicitly: "As the Church is subject to Christ, so let wives also be subject in everything to their husbands" (Ephesians 5:24). Read that again, "as the Church is subject to Christ." Men are part of the Church, and that means they are subject to Christ just as a wife is subject to her husband. This means obedience to Him and, by his command (Matthew 16:18–19), His holy, apostolic Church.

St. Alphonsus Liguori and St. John Chrysostom

Saint Alphonsus Liguori added to this point, writing: "We ought to regard all things that do or will happen to us as proceeding from God's hands; and everything that we do we should direct to this one end: the fulfillment of his will."

Accept Suffering as a Gift

Once a person accepts suffering as both a reality and an opportunity to do good, they can then move toward building the strength, in both body and soul, to overcome it. This is the cardinal virtue of fortitude, and early Church Father St. John Chrysostom advised training in fortitude to begin from a very young age: "Let us train boys from earliest childhood to be patient when they suffer wrongs themselves, but, if they see another being wronged, to sally forth courageously and aid the sufferer in fitting measure."

What he's getting at is simple; men need to be trained to stand firm in times of suffering and channel it into helping others who suffer. In fact, Christian men ought to delight in the opportunity to suffer for the glory of God. Doing so is virtuous, and virtue operates similarly to a body's muscles. Fortitude, specifically, is best exercised through self-denial. Fasting is a good way to exercise fortitude.

Suffering will enter anyone's life on a daily basis, no matter how equipped one is to encounter and overcome it. But a strong sense of fortitude allows one to face suffering when it feels like it's too much to bear.

Keep in mind, God wouldn't will someone to bear more than they can withstand. It's counter to His divine nature. God doesn't hate suffering if it makes his child better. That's why he challenges them with suffering. It allows humanity a chance to be better and closer to Him. When you overcome suffering, in no uncertain sense, God rejoices. And if God is rejoicing, then why aren't you?

Manage Your Passions

But even a man of humility and fortitude has roadblocks during times of suffering — roadblocks that often lead to setbacks and/or failures to overcome suffering. The Church has long equated this with slavery — specifically slavery to one's passions (Romans 6:15–23). A slave to his passions cannot be a slave to righteousness, and therefore one of the two must die for the other to live.

When you overcome suffering, in no uncertain sense, God rejoices.

Passions are considered very intense emotions, and they are part and parcel of being human. It's a faculty we have that pure spirits like angels and demons do not.

It's important to note that Christian men are not stoics; they do not believe in suppressing emotions altogether. They also aren't hedonists who find comfort in indulging their passions. Christians believe in feeling emotion when it is appropriate and suspending emotions when it's appropriate.

This is perhaps the most complete form of self-mastery offered in any philosophical system — because it cultivates another cardinal virtue called temperance.

Humans need to feel emotions in order to process suffering properly. Even Our Lord wept when the time was right. And Christianity offers a specific way for men to express these emotions, and that is through the cross. Jesus bore all their grief and anxiety (caused by sin) during his passion and death.

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This makes the Christian man uniquely equipped to choose a time and place to pour out his emotions and unburden himself from suffering in order to break free from the faulty dichotomy of either feeling everything or feeling nothing. Much like a husband is a shoulder to cry on for his wife, Christ is such for his Church.

St. Thomas Aquinas

Famed Catholic theologian and philosopher St. Thomas Aquinas broke down the specifics of how to properly order the passions in his Summa Theologiae

The good of anything depends on the condition of its nature. Now there is no sensitive appetite in God and the angels, as there is in man. Consequently, good operation in God and the angels is altogether without passion, as it is without a body: whereas the good operation of man is with passion, even as it is produced with the body's help.

So, in order to properly check a passion, one must examine the nature of the emotion and its origin. This means taking interior custody of the emotion before entertaining it. We must "take every thought captive to obey Christ" (2 Corinthians 10:5).

Is the passion bad? If it's bad, then fight and/or suppress it. Ask why this urge is being felt, and brainstorm ways to eliminate it. If the origin can be tracked to a specific vice, find its antithesis. For example, if you are boastful and identify the origin of boasting to be pride, then eliminate it with its antithesis — humility.

Choose the Right Moment

If the origin of the feeling is righteous, then you know for certain that passion can and should be entertained. That, however, is not a green light to blurt out an emotion. Indulging a passion still involves temperance and kairos (the Greek word for opportune time and place).

If you're a man, for example, and it's good for you to cry about being overwhelmed with work and life, you ought not to break down in front of your wife and kids and make them question your leadership or the household's safety and security.

The man stands in place of Christ in the home; he is the natural pastor of his household. Imagine how a congregation would react if their pastor started kvetching and crying uncontrollably about how unmanageable his life is. It's the same effect with wives and kids.

This is precisely why a Christian man is called to control his sadness and withhold his weeping until the time is opportune — perhaps in prayer. That way, it isn't perceived as a weakness by his family, but rather a willful and ordered submission to God.

The man stands in place of Christ in the home; he is the natural pastor of his household.

A man can be neither a cold and stoic leader nor an emotional ninny who flies off the handle at the slightest pinprick of life. This is perhaps the hardest aspect of Christian masculinity, and it may be why authentic masculinity is fading a bit more every generation (even in Christian circles).

So take seriously your humility, fortitude and self-mastery. No one said it was easy. But if you're man enough, you'll either succeed in conquering suffering or die trying. And that's good enough for God.

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