Tuesday, 22 March 2016

Redemptive suffering and running for charity

Of all the strange things our society takes for granted, there is one that the shrewd peasant in me just does not understand, not even a little bit: running for charity.

Maybe I should be less specific and get over my own hatred of running. The thing I don't get is the whole concept of: "I'm about to do unpleasant thing X, therefore YOU should give money to random charity Y". 

Unrelated picture of St Patrick, ridding Ireland of snakes.

I mean, I don't have a problem with raising money for charity, I think it's a great thing to do, but why don't people just, you know, ask? 
Why do they have to run/swim/shave their heads/take a bath in beans as well?
It's not like they're doing anything FOR me, and giving away the proceeds. Nope, they just do a random gratuitous thing. 
Why? Is it meant to be a thank you? Am I meant to feel gratitude that YOU are forcing YOUR body to move at an unpleasant pace from random point A to random point B?
Do people think their suffering will make me more likely to give? If so, why? Are they asking me for money and accusing me of a touch of sadism at the same time?

Seems counter-productive to me. 

Now of course, I have my own theory as to why - much as I love to rant, I like to pretend I have at least a bit of a point - my guess here is that this phenomenon is an attempt at secularising (yes, it's a verb now) redemptive suffering. 

I think people are vaguely grappling with the idea that effort and suffering are worth something in themselves, but as they will not go near such concepts as salvation, the crucifixion and participating in redemption, it's all kind of odd and illogical but kind of feels right at the same time. 

A bit like how people feel they should be nicer at Christmas, or that selfless-ness is admirable, or even that there is such a thing as a moral code, without admitting that such beliefs don't actually work well without a belief in God.

Similarly, there is this feeling that suffering for a good cause somehow should bear fruit (albeit magical illogical fruit because God has been taken out of the equation).

A great blogger turned radio host likes to say that as Catholics, we have the "owner's manual" to human life, and therefore can make use of all these strange, illogical impressions. And I think this is another example.

As a Catholic, I can have a really bad day - say, a small red-headed toddler in my care may decide to run madly around in the cry-room at Church, shouting "Dame! Dame!" (Which obviously means "lady" in French, but also sounds suspiciously like "damn") at the top of his lungs, strip half-naked in the narthex whilst cackling, before eventually turning into Headbutty-The-Headbutting-Giraffe when his mother attempts to control him - I could be having this completely imaginary disagreeable experience, and offer it up. 

I can say: "Look here, Lord" (yes, I have a bossy prayer-voice) "this is rubbish and hard, but I know You can use it, so go ahead, take it all." I can do "disagreeable thing X" and trust that God will use it for "useful thing Y" (which may or may not include the "help Isabelle grow in patience" cause, or something completely unrelated which I will never know about). 

There is a logic. 

So, sorry fundraising world, but I'm calling out your imperial nakedness, so you'd better admit that, basically, you're running for charity because you're being Catholic. 

Even less related picture of St Patrick, chilling out with the pestle and mortar after all his hard work.

Now I'm going to attend to my colicky baby and offer that up too. But never fear, I won't run. 


  1. I have often wondered what the connection was with the weird things to raise money for charity, also. As a convert, I'm still working on understanding the whole deal with offering up suffering. I've been watching Vision this past week (my DVD player wouldn't play the last three chapters - so frustrating!! Does that count as something to offer up? :-) ) and was thoroughly horrified by the scene when two nuns are preparing the body of a third for burial, and discover she's been wearing essentially a belt of barbed wire for so long it has been eating into her waist. This, and self-flagellation, I struggle to understand the point of. Is there redemptive value to self-imposed suffering? I feel that the value comes in choosing to receive suffering with a good attitude, rather than in imposing it on oneself. But apparently the Church disagrees? I have read that St. John Paul II practiced self-flagellation regularly. I don't know if that is true or not. I find the whole thing incredibly disturbing.

  2. I can totally see where you're coming from, but it's only the prolongation of the idea that suffering has value in and of itself. I wouldn't be surprised if the reason we feel flagellation to be weird has more to do with yet again, the sexualisation of such acts as portrayed by the media (and we all wish people would get over the masochistic/sadistic nun fantasy already!). But is it easier if you put it in less shocking terms? Say, you give up your pillow for Lent and then offer up the pain you have inflicted your neck, even though it was voluntary?
    Does that help?

    1. Not really. I have no pre-conceived sexual idea of self-imposed suffering to mess things up - I just find the whole thing really disturbing. If our bodies are the temples of the Holy Spirit, how can it be appropriate to perpetrate such acts on them? Why is it good to deliberately cause ourselves harm? Why is giving up one's pillow and offering up the resulting neck pain acceptable, but burning one's arm with a pewter cross and refusing to allow the burn to heal is unhealthy (this is an actual act of repentance I read about recently)? How does one differentiate between legitimate redemptive suffering and unhealthy self-harm, once it has been stated that self-inflicted suffering has value?

      Also, it seems to be a statement that there isn't enough suffering already in the human condition, that we have to deliberately cause more, which doesn't make sense to me either. The whole world groans with suffering, and how does laying a whip across my own back help that? I can go without meat to have more money to send to the poor, or go to a third world country, with all the attendant risks, and offer those things that actually accomplish something and certainly entail suffering on my part to one degree or another. What does causing myself pain accomplish?

      Toddler refusing to allow me to continue typing, but I would love to hear more about this. It is really a difficult topic for me to understand.

    2. Bonjour Isabelle :)
      Meige m'a conseillé ton blog, et je me régale :)
      Aux US, il est fréquent que soient organisés le genre d'événements que tu décris, et j'avoue ne pas avoir compris pourquoi. Je me souviens avoir couru petite pour les kilomètres-soleil. J'imagine que pour des enfants, il y a une sorte de logique, ils ne peuvent pas donner d'argent alors ils donnent d'eux-même, un truc qui les fait grandir (courir, ou lire, ou ...), et les parents payent pour cela (cela parait logique que les parents investissent dans des trucs qui font grandir leurs enfants), un peu comme si les enfants touchaient un salaire qu'ils reversaient sous forme de don.
      Mais lorsque l'on sort de la logique du donateur qui est intéressé directement par l'effort, cela devient extrêmement mystérieux. Je voyais ça comme un gros paternalisme capitaliste, mais ta lecture spi est très intéressante aussi :D


      (Les coms en français sont autorisés ?)

    3. I totally agree, it’s a very tough one, and I can only offer my own understanding of it.
      Part of the problem I think is that self-imposed suffering mixes the idea of redemptive suffering and disciplining the flesh, which makes it a very confused concept. The way I see it is that we can offer up just about anything, our weakness, our failures, our pain, provided it is just that, a gift, not a form of gratification. But I also think that such extreme forms as you describe would have to be discerned as the will of God for you, rather than a general comment on insufficient suffering being provided by, you know, life! I vaguely remember something about the shepherds of Fatima being asked by Our Lady to mortify their flesh for the salvation of souls for example.
      I am aware this is in no way a sufficient answer, I shall pray about it some more!

  3. Merci Agnès!
    J'avais aussi pensé au côté capitaliste de l'histoire, mais j'aime mieux me dire que tout le monde est secrètement catholique! ��

    Et bien sûr, aucun souci pour les commentaires en français!

    Bises à vous 5!