When You Suffer (Jeff Cavins)

10 Jul img_0080

In the great line of books about suffering, including Peter Kreeft’s great Making Sense Out of Suffering and my personal favorite, the sadly out-of-print The Pain of Christ and the Sorrow of God by Fr. Gerald Vann, OP,  comes Jeff Cavins’s book, When you Suffer.


What Cavins offers that others have not is to frame issues of human suffering in modern and accessible ways that hold the reader’s attention. When Vann brilliantly strays into a spiritual discourse on human and divine suffering, Cavins returns to the biblical text and the many examples of suffering he uses throughout the book.

Cavins begins with a helpful distinction–a few distinctions, really. The most prominent is that between our ideal life, what we envisioned for ourselves. That life is comfortable, predictable, involves being engaged in your personal interests, reflects your gifts, is affirming, is pain free, brings a sense of accomplishment, and meets your basic needs. Contrasted to this ideal life is real life, what we actually experience in our day-to-day lives. That real life is uncomfortable, unpredictable, uninteresting, does not maximize your gifts, is unaffirming, is painful, lacks a sense of accomplishment, and leaves needs unmet. We know this life all too well.

And suffering comes at the intersection of our real and ideal lives. It is the moment when we realize that our lives are not meeting the expectations and desires we had for ourselves. It’s when we know that we are not as good, smart, capable, holy, etc. that we ought to be. We recognize a deprivation. There’s something lacking and we do not know how to fill the void.

To understand this suffering, Cavins first offers some historical background. He brings us back to the original state of man, the original suffering brought about by original sin with Adam and Eve. Original sin–what the Catechism calls, “so to speak, the ‘reverse side’ of the Good News”–has wrought devastating effects throughout history. Yet the greatest sinners of our history, the St. Augustine’s of the world, have, at times, become the greatest saints. After discussing the different types of suffering in Chapter Four, Cavins moves on to explain how suffering is redemptive, how the greatest sinners can becomes the greatest saints.

Chapter Five is, to me, the heart of the book. It begins by evaluating a central question that mankind has raised from the beginning: Why is there suffering? Cavins quotes Pope St. John Paul II, who said that

in order to perceive the true answer to the ‘why’ of suffering, we must look to the revelation of divine love, the ultimate source of the meaning of everything that exists. Love is the richest source of the meaning of suffering, which always remains a mystery: we are conscious of the insufficiency and inadequacy of our explanations.

Divine love. It’s not an oft-cited answer to the question of suffering, but it is the key to unlocking the mystery. As Cavins notes, “If we are going to discover the meaning of suffering and learn how to appropriate it’s benefits we must come face-to-face with the reality that many times our thoughts and ways are contrary to divine wisdom.” (66) God has created a reality in which suffering is redemptive, in which even death has been made a “blessing.” (67; CCC 1009) What Adam brought to creation, Christ redeemed by His incarnation, suffering, and death. 

Cavins’s book crescendos with some practical advice: ten things to do when you suffer. I think they can all be summarized as a deep dive into the spiritual (prayer, confession, Mass, uniting yourself to Christ, etc.) and practical (live out your vocation) aspects of what we should be doing every day. But they take on a special significance when we are suffering because we need them more and, I think, we become more present to them. God cannot become more present to us–He is always as present as He can be–but we are not always present to him. In times of suffering, we are weakened and humbled and we can more fully open ourselves to him and find the Divine Love He has been waiting for us to accept.

All of us have gone through some suffering and as long as we are on this earth, we will continue to suffer. Jeff Cavins gives us a helpful guide to make the most of our suffering, to not let it go to waste, and to give it a divine purpose and meaning. This is a useful book to anyone going through suffering or trying to figure out the great mystery it is.
For an honest review of this book, I received a complimentary copy.

The Right Kind of Crazy (Adam Seltzner)

4 Jul

A couple months ago, I read John McCullough’s book about the Wright brothers–a fascinating story of hometown heroes who accomplish something extraordinary through dedication and hard work. It was amazing to hear of how the Wright brothers took what they knew from their days working in a bicycle shop and machining parts and turned it into the first airplane. Now, those first days of the Wright brothers flying around Huffman Prarie in Dayton, Ohio seem so far away, technologically speaking, even though they are quite close from a historical view.

The descendants of the Wright brothers have done many incredible things that we take for granted. Yes, we take for granted flying 30,000 feet in the air inside a metal tube, but I digress. What no one takes for granted, however, is the exploration of the next step in Orville and Wilbur’s journey. And The Right Kind of Crazy is a story precisely about those who took and are still taking the next steps in the name of technology.

Adam Seltzner works at the Jet Propulsion Lab in California and has worked on several missions to explore Mars in various capacities. The Right Kind of Crazy is his story about how he and the team he led landed Curiosity–the Mars rover–safely on the surface of the red planet. The story is instructive for anyone who works in or leads a team. Although many of the lessons have been told in other books, it is useful to hear them in the context of those who are trying to push the bounds of technological advance rather than a business team pushing out widgets.

The Right Kind of Crazy is a quick read and an enjoyable story that tells you a lot about life and work and how your work environment is an important part of having an enjoyable life. It’s a good end-of-summer read and I recommend it to anyone.

Face to Face (Kirk Blackard)

19 Jun

To open the Jubilee of Mercy, Pope Francis said that “this is the time for mercy. It is the favourable time to heal wounds, a time not to be weary of meeting all those who are waiting to see and to touch with their hands the signs of the closeness of God, a time to offer everyone, everyone, the way of forgiveness and reconciliation.” To give and receive mercy is one of the most intimate encounters that one can have with another person. And yet it is what we must do to become full human beings, to recognize the divine spark that is in each human soul. If “the glory of God is man fully alive,” as St. Irenaeus says, then mercy changes us into the people we are called to be. It smooths our rough edges, builds our fortitude for the next time we are faced with that fundamental question: can I forgive again?

Because we will need to forgive, over and over again. Even, at times, the same person for the same act against us. It may take years to forgive, but each time we do, it brings us closer to closure and the forgiveness that God asks of us: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.”

Misty Wright would be more than justified, in everyone’s estimation I think, in not forgiving Keith Blackburn. In October 1992, Keith shot Misty in the face in order to avoid her being a witness to his attempt to steal her car. Face to Face is the story of Misty and Keith coming to terms with their new reality after the shooting–Keith in prison, Misty in constant rehabilitation. After a meeting between them years later, the story turns to their relationship–indeed, friendship–as they navigate how to give and receive mercy.

Face to Face is a worthy read during the Year of Mercy or for anyone struggling with the difficult and personal process of forgiving another.

For an honest review of this book, I was provided a complimentary review copy.

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