Since 2000, Ottawa Archbishop Marcel Gervais has expressed his opinion on a variety of faith topics. These texts were initially published in the "Ask the Religion Experts" column which appears every Saturday in The Ottawa Citizen. As of June 2005, Msgr. Patrick Powers, Vicar General, will be taking on the responsibility of the weekly articles.

Is there a spiritual dimension to prolonged physical pain?

Physical pain and suffering have always been among the gravest difficulties we confront in life. Pain can lead to an experience of powerlessness, of limitation and even of our own finiteness. On the one hand, such afflictions can cause anguish, despair and even a turning against God. On the other hand, this experience can help us to grow, to mature in our faith and to identify the essentials of life. In other words, pain can enkindle in us a search for God and an intensifying of our relationship with him.

In all the difficulties which pain can inflict, we always turn to Christ himself, remembering his infinite compassion towards those who were ill or infirm. He went so far as to identify with those who suffer: We read in the Gospel of Matthew, "I was sick and you visited me"(25:36), and "He took our infirmities and bore our diseases (8:17). Our Lord revealed a preferential love for those who are affected by all forms of pain.

The Vatican II document Gaudium et spes (21,22) focuses our attention today on the meaninglessness of human pain and anguish when viewed apart from Jesus healing death and resurrection. The lives of those who suffer reveal to the world the inherent beauty and dignity of the human person; and to the eyes of faith, a God who has responded to human our pain by immersing himself in it and by inviting us to labour for the worlds healing. Jesus example calls each of us to alleviate pain wherever possible.

He has robbed even the most unspeakable tragedy of its power to destroy. His love, which is stronger than death, promises to transform even our eventual deaths into an unimaginable future where he himself will wipe every tear from our eyes (Romans 8: 28-39).