While painful, suffering can have good consequences and enrich our personal lives. Overcoming adversity can produce in us sentiments of satisfaction and fulfillment. When we confront tragedy with courage and honor, we experience a growth in character that stays with us for life.
In Virgil’s Roman epic poem, The Aeneid, there is a famous scene when a terrible storm shipwrecks the protagonist Aeneas and his men on the shores of Carthage. The crew is bruised, battered, and discouraged by its misfortunes. The men are tempted to give up.
Aeneas encourages them, concluding with one of the epic’s best-known Latin passages: “Forsan et haec olim meminisse iuvabit.” The translation reads, “and perhaps it will please (us) one day to remember these things” He predicts that the time would come when the crew would recall such tragic moments with joy.
The celebrated passage contains the paradoxical truth that our sufferings and misfortunes can be occasions for later joy. Overcoming adversity can produce in us sentiments of satisfaction and fulfillment. When we confront tragedy with courage and honor, we experience a growth in character that stays with us for life.
The conclusion is that, while painful, suffering can have good consequences and enrich our personal lives. With the proper attitude, we can experience joy in our eventual triumphs and even our defeats. Then, we can truly say with Aeneas: “Forsan et haec olim meminisse iuvabit.”
Seeing No Value in Suffering
This great lesson about suffering is missing from our postmodern lives. Most people see no value in suffering and avoid it at all costs. Thus, we have no fond memories of life’s hardships. The meaningless and monotonous gratification in our lives torments us more than any misfortune. The emptiness and tragedy of so many broken lives come from their many avoided sufferings.
Unfortunately, we do not profit from our trials. Instead, we curse them and wish them gone. Our Hollywood culture has bred into us an unquenchable thirst for a happy end to every one of life’s twists. Moreover, we are told to mask any internal suffering by putting on outward appearances of happiness. Admitting unhappiness is considered tantamount to confessing we are failures.
This world will always frustrate us since it corresponds to the reality of our fallen nature. While the Faith reminds us to face life’s troubles with fortitude, we are constantly tempted to escape to fantasy worlds and deadly vices.
The Mania for Safety
There are three disastrous consequences of our postmodern world without suffering. We see them reflected daily in our lives as we struggle to come to terms with life’s inevitable misfortunes.
The first is a bland existence that leads us to take no risks. So many adopt a mania for safety that reaches the point of absurdity. There is no limit to the measures people take to ensure their security. All must be planned, insured, and regulated to exclude even the remotest possibility of harm.
Thus, reasonable risks are discarded, and a regime of paranoia is installed. The COVID lockdowns, for example, devastated our society and economy beyond measure simply to avoid the risk of someone becoming infected. We organize society to eschew all adventure and drama. Thus, we produce men without chests, people without personalities, and children of timidity.
None are allowed to be bold in our postmodern wasteland. All is reduced to the security of screens and gadgets that keep us entertained and disconnected from reality. Where no danger is allowed, there can never be “Forsan et haec olim meminisse iuvabit.”
All Must Be Effortless
The second characteristic of our age is that our desires for safety must be executed effortlessly. We demand gains without pains, rights without duties, success without failures, and rewards without struggles. Any suggestion that hard effort must be applied to reach our goals is often rejected outright.
Thus, our politically correct world provides a lexicon of terms to explain away our defects as “challenges,” conditions that merit special accommodations and privileges. Any misfortune or inequality, however small, is grounds for a new entitlement. This mindset kills any energetic measures to forestall disasters and functions as if bad decisions never have unpleasant consequences.
The result is a social landscape littered with broken individuals, shattered families, and afflictive addictions of those who avoid dealing with reality. They make supreme efforts to prevent any effort. They languish on their own Carthage shores, refusing to pick themselves up and move forward. Their frustrated lives are deprived of those critical moments when they might shine by their determination to overcome obstacles.
Indeed, they look back on the disasters of their effortless lives, not with joy but acrid remorse.
A Regime of Resentment and Perceived Injustice
The last characteristic is the slide into victimhood. Victims try to avoid suffering by assigning all blame to others, not themselves. Individual responsibility is denied and replaced with “systemic” oppression. Any setback becomes an excuse to protest the established order for saddling us with the “injustice” of adversity.
Victims turn suffering into perceived injustices and a justification for resentment. Any comment, incident, or insult become major catastrophes that must be denounced with loud protest. Those who ask them for a little suffering or effort are labeled racists or oppressors. These victims are the coddled individuals and triggered snowflakes that haunt our postmodernity with their languid mediocrity.
Life’s vicissitudes are thus magnified into the greatest injustices. An ice storm in Texas becomes a story of unbearable suffering for which greedy investors must be made accountable. An insult is turned into a hate crime for which no apology can suffice. A word or tweet is enough to cancel a person’s career. By self-identifying as the contrary of the perceived cause of their sufferings, victims try to change reality, an exercise in futility.
In such a regime, everything becomes fragile and broken. Life becomes impossible. We are worn down by the constant whining of pusillanimous souls who make themselves victims of their suffering and expect our complicity.
Indeed, no greater sufferers exist than those vitiated in the avoidance of suffering. They find few occasions of joy, for their entire life is spent dodging the inevitable trials wrought by our fallen nature. Only those who embrace suffering can say, “forsan et haec olim meminisse iuvabit.”
Of course, we hate the cross of suffering that will always be placed upon our shoulders. We have an aversion to suffering. However, suffering has its benefits. Through it, we come to see that everything worthwhile takes time and effort. We can learn great lessons from our misfortunes. The satisfaction of a duty well done is the source of happiness. Moreover, God blesses our lives with moments of great joy between the sufferings that visit us.
Our postmodern society needs to learn this lesson if we are to overcome the present crisis. There is no easy way out of this crisis brought upon us by our iniquities. The longer we put off the acceptance of suffering, the harder it will be to endure. Either we embrace the coming suffering with resignation, or we perish.
Redemptive Suffering Takes Us Beyond Our Trials
The cruel reality of our situation is allowing evil to reach a climax. If we are to survive, we cannot face this danger alone.
We must have recourse to the Church that teaches us how to overcome our fears and embrace suffering. When united with the infinitely precious suffering of Our Lord Jesus Christ, we can share in His redemptive suffering. We can offer up our sufferings for the salvation of souls. Our sufferings then gain meaning and purpose. They impact society and history.
Thus, the Christian perspective on suffering goes far beyond our trials. It puts them in the context of eternity, which should fill us with joy. Then we can truly say, “forsan et haec olim meminisse iuvabit.” However, the joy will not only be an earthly joy but a heavenly one.
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The featured image is “Landscape with a Shipwreck” (1603), or by its alternative title “Landscape with Scenes from Virgil’s Aeneid,” by Frederik van Valckenborch (1566–1623), and is in the public domain, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons. It has been brightened for clarity.