Q: In his book, Open Mind, Open Heart, Fr. Keating says that divine union is not a free ticket to happiness in this life; that some people are left with mental/emotional/physical issues that they “suffer for some unknown purpose for the good of the whole human family.” Can you please explain what this means?
A: Thank you for your question about Fr. Thomas’ quote. I went back and read the context of the quote on page 105: “Transforming union is not a free ticket to happiness in this world. For some, this may mean a life of complete solitude, full of loneliness; for others it may mean an active apostolate that prevents them from enjoying the delights of divine union; for others again, it may mean intense suffering–physical, mental, or spiritual–which they undergo for some special intention or for the whole human family.”
The next sentence is the key to the wisdom of the quote. “Their transformed humanity makes their suffering of immense value for the same reason that Jesus, because of his divine dignity, became the Savior of every human being, past present and future.”
In the 1986 edition of Open Mind. Open Heart, this section is in answer to the question, “Is the purpose of this prayer to keep you in a state of union with God throughout the day?” In the 2006 edition it is under the question “What is vicarious suffering?‚Äù
Vicarious suffering is something that is endured, suffered or performed by one person in place of another. How many times have I heard a parent say “I would rather suffer this pain than to see my children go through this suffering”? We can never really know the purposes God might have for our ‚Äì or anyone‚Äôs ‚Äì suffering.
It is not all about us. We are part of a larger environment – the mystical body of Christ. We are supported by it and we support it through these various seasons of our lives. – Fr. Carl