Litany of Loreto – Comforter of the Afflicted
The charge that religion in general and Catholicism in particular is an ‘opium’ for the people, an unreal refuge to which the afflicted flee from the meaninglessness of suffering, is one that has been levelled again and again since the enlightenment. The cynical Ivan is in despair. Like many a great philosopher he has seen through the false gods offered to Him by religious communities that have twisted the gospel, he has seen how human beings have been mangled and mutilated by the abuse of our freedom, but he can see no light of redemption. Ivan believes that he now beholds the terrible truth of the human condition. Yet Ivan’s despair is not a case of too much Truth, but not enough, for if he delved deeper he would find God and Christian hope.
True Christian hope means having the courage to look our sinful world in the eye and recognise it for what it really is. It means refusing illusions and delusions. When we look at our world with the eyes of faith we see the Truth that God loves all that he has made including each one of us with a love that infinitely exceeds any imperfection or evil. It is this love that holds this creation in being, and it is this love that sustains it. True Christian hope, then, is not a retreat into unreality but the gift of truth. When we call Mary the Comforter of the Afflicted we are not offering a sentimental and unreal emotional prop to those in need. Instead we are reminding ourselves of the truth: like Mary we will suffer in this life; however, our sufferings, like Mary’s, are not meaningless and like Mary we are destined for the vision of God in heaven.
In Dostoevsky’s novel the reply to Ivan’s “Grand Inquisitor” comes almost immediately afterwards in the testimony of the holy monk Zosima. Like Ivan, Zosima beholds the suffering of humanity unflinchingly, but like Mary he beholds God in humanity and in his own suffering. His trials lead him not to despair, but to God.