Category Archives: Human Suffering

Cana Update[1]

I am always brought up short by the strange encounter between Jesus and his mother at Cana. Jesus has already begun His public ministry, He’s been baptized, been to the desert, and is traveling around the country preaching with an entourage of His first disciples. He and his followers arrive at the wedding of friends and as the party is getting going, one of those “Opps” of life happens to the groom, the guests have imbibed all his wine. Mary gets wind of the embarrassment via the guest grape vine and informs Jesus.

Perhaps that all she intended to do, inform Him. Perhaps she hadn’t thought beyond that except that something needed to be done to help her friends. If this is the case, then Jesus enigmatic reply could be interpreted as an invitation to greater belief, to faith: “Woman, how does your concern affect me? My hour has not yet come. [2] [Jn 2:4] In other words, “Does your concern about the embarrassing situation of our friends affect the Kingdom which I have come to establish? Does it pertain to the Father’s will? There is a time and a place Providence has assigned for all things. The hour of my revelation of myself as the Messiah is not now.”

The response He invites from Mary is one of complete faith in God and trust in His guidance of Her. Perhaps this is a Mother-Son moment when He is sincerely asking for Her guidance. Her lesson to Him is that this concern does actually affect Him, as Elizabeth’s need affected her and as the concerns of all affect each of us. She may realize, though perhaps only peripherally, that all concerns need to be His concerns, all needs His needs, not just on a human level, but on His Savior level, His Kingship level, His Divine level. Perhaps this is the “Ah-Ha” moment when she knows He must realize the full import of His being connected with every other human being by virtue of His very Incarnation. Perhaps this is what He later would formulate in His parable on the Last Judgment: whatever you…[do] for one of these least brothers of mine, you…[do] for me. [Mt 25:40] Perhaps He needed to grok the depth and the encompassing reality of the 2nd Great Commandment: Do to others as you would have them do to you, [Lk 6:31] and that this included Him on the Divine level as well as the human level.

Mary’s answer: “Yes, this does affect You both as my Son, a fellow human being, one who is truly empathetic to all the vagaries and vicissitudes of live, the manifestations of the effect of sin in the world, of which lack and need, deprivation, running out of things, is always a sign. Your Father so loved this crazy, mixed up world with all its foibles that He gave us You so that we might believe in You and not perish but have eternal life, [Jn 3:16] Of Him, You will tell us do not worry and say, ‘What are we to eat?’ or ‘What are we to drink?’… Your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom [of God] and his righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides. [Mt 6:31-33] You and the Father are one. [Jn 10:30] Show us the Father’s love here and now. You will talk the talk later, now walk the walk.”

How does she join Him in bringing about His first miracle? This is same way every believer who has ever “preformed” a miracle joins Him. No human actually “performs” a miracle. God does the performing; humans only express their explicit faith and trust in God to do so and thus are instruments through which God chooses to work. Every miracle not performed directly by Jesus is performed through the faith and instrumentality of a person requesting Jesus intercession and believing absolutely that He will intercede. The human person gives him/herself up to God and invites God to work through him/her; she/he transforms her/his self into God’s instrument.

Mary is not trying to override His or the Father’s timing of His hour, but, as with the Finding so many years before, she has explicit faith that, given her explanation, Jesus will do “the right thing.” She doesn’t press Him. She doesn’t define what He is to do, but she has an explicit faith that He will know what to do. Thus, when she says to the servers, “Do whatever he tells you,”[Jn 2:5] she lets go and lets God. Her statement is another way of saying what she says with her whole life, in her dormition, her assumption and even as she is crowned Queen of Heaven and Earth: May it be done to me according to your word. [Lk 1:38]

Obedience, then, comes back to its root meaning, “to listen to.” It’s not so much doing as being, as listening, as following, as joining in the yolk next to Jesus. To hear and let it be done to me, to have faith and trust in God, in whatever His eternal Now brings for my next step. It is to pick up one’s cross daily and to follow the Word, strap on His burden, take on His yolk and walk the world’s roads to the Calvaries of today with Him. It is to listen and hear the Spirit’s whispers of guidance and inspiration, to follow the promptings of one’s true heart, to the love of God and our fellow man to which we are called by our very nature as familial members, not just of the human family but of the very familial Body of Christ. We would not be here if it were not for God’s creation and we would not be human without accepting our place in the family of humankind and thus our relationship to all others.

Jesus obeys, Mary obeys, we obey, I obey. Listen, listen, listen and allow it to be done onto me. This is our calling, this is our “vocation,” this is our purpose in life. Amen. Alleluia!!!


[1] As with all my writings, I explain things in the way they make sense to me. In doing so, I often blindly wander into minefields of explanation into which scholars, saints and angels wisely do not venture. Therefore, take all I write not just with a grain of salt but with a whole mine of it. Please, please, please consider that I am just me, one very finite, very myopic, often very confused and mistaken man. I am often wrong. However, God guarantees the infallibility of the Catholic Church. Thus, if anything that I write contradicts or in any way conflicts with what the One, Holy, Apostolic Catholic Church has stated or defined, I profoundly apologize to my readers for misleading them, to the Church for contradicting our infallible Faith, Scripture and Tradition, and I beg God to have mercy on me, forgive me and write straight the crooked lines your wayward servant has written. I beg the forgiveness of all and ask for your prayers that I might have the guidance and inspiration of the Holy Spirit to see aright once again.

[2] Scripture texts in this work are taken from the New American Bible, revised edition © 2010, 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington, D.C. and are used by permission of the copyright owner. All Rights Reserved. No part of the New American Bible may be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the copyright owner. Hereafter, NABRE.

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Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus. [1] [1Thes 5:16-18]: A Summary of Ignatian Spirituality

I have this as my mantra at the bottom of all the emails I send. This statement summarizes Ignatian Spirituality. The Principle and Foundation, indeed the whole Spiritual Exercises, could be considered a meditation on and elaboration of this verse.

Rejoice always.

“All the things in this world are gifts of God, presented to us so that we can know God more easily and make a return of love more readily.[2]” Neither Paul nor Ignatius limit their exuberance but include everything, not only includes “things” but “life” itself. “Health or sickness, wealth or poverty, success or failure, a long life or a short one,…everything has the potential of calling forth in us a deeper response to our life in God.”[3] Because these are given by God, they are designed by God to help me, are from the loving hand of God. For both Paul and Ignatius, everything, every happening, every moment, good or ill, everything is a cause for rejoicing.

Pray without ceasing.

This admonition of Paul finds its expression in the Exercises in multiple modes:

First, the conclusion of the Principle and Foundation is that that my only desire and choice should be that “I want and I choose what better leads to God’s deepening His life in me.” [4] Choosing, for Ignatius, involves discernment, “the interpretation of what St. Ignatius Loyola called the ‘motions of the soul.’ These interior movements consist of thoughts, imaginings, emotions, inclinations, desires, feelings, repulsions, and attractions. Spiritual discernment of spirits involves becoming sensitive to these movements, reflecting on them, and understanding where they come from and where they lead us.”[5] Constant monitoring of these movements requires my being in constant contact, aka prayer, with God and particularly the Holy Spirit. This ever present desire, a constant discernment, an ongoing choice, can only occur in a continual dialogue with God, aka prayer.

Second, the Ignatian Examen of Consciousness opens up our hearts and minds to God’s active presence in our world, to see messy details of our world transformed by the grandeur of God’s vision for creation in our lives. The triple Examen, a reminder in the morning and an Examen at noon and at night, is one of the first exercises that Ignatius recommends. This is not a complete Examination of Conscience but rather reviews our strengthening exercises done under the watchful eye of our Trainer, God, replacing a good habit for a bad one, how many repetitions we have made during the day, how many times we sloughed off and went back to our bad form. It ends with a renewed commitment to practice, practice, practice until, with God’s help, we get this right. It’s not so much a rag of ourselves as conditioning, as an update by our Trainer to keep ourselves in fit. As Paul says, Every athlete exercises discipline in every way. They do it to win a perishable crown, but we an imperishable one. [1Cor 9:25] The Examen, therefore, is but one part of a whole fitness program monitored by a constant dialogue, aka “prayer”, with our Trainer, God.

Third, “Finding God in all things is at the core of Ignatian Spirituality and is rooted in our ever growing awareness that God can found in every person, in every place, in everything. When we learn to pay more attention to God, we become more thankful and reverent, and through this we become more devoted to God, more deeply in love with our Creator.[6]” Bringing to consciousness our awareness of God in all that we think, say and do, all that we encounter of people, places, things, events is praying always.

Fourth, “To live Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam is a way of being that permeates every thought, every deed, every action and inaction—all is contemplated and weighed, all for the greater glory of God. To live Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam is to lay claim to…a completely integrated other-ness that seeks to make all things whole, that approaches the liminal without hesitation, finds God in all things, finds the Good in all things, and seeks to proclaim His glory in all that we do…To seek Him and to find Him in all things, people, circumstances, and places, Unafraid to speak Truth to injustice To embrace the contradiction of Love Clothed in the power of the One who died naked and penniless. To be…called together at one table, unity in diversity, One family, working together to realize heaven on earth. Answering the call to serve and to glorify, in all ways, The Love that always finds a way.[7]So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God. [1Cor 10:31] Such constant dialogue with God as to which option is for His greater glory is nothing other than constant prayer.

Finally, The Suscipe is a culmination of the last Exercise, the “Contemplation to Attain Divine Love”, a total giving of God everything that one has, turning our will and our life over to Him: “Take Lord, and receive all my liberty, my memory, my understanding, and my entire will, all that I have and possess. You have given all to me. I surrender it all to you to be disposed of wholly according to Your will. Give me only Your love and Your grace. With these I will be rich enough and desire nothing more.”[8] By giving all I am to God, holding nothing back, and asking only for His Love and His Grace, which are sharings of Him Himself, we are asking to be continually united to Him in mind, body and soul, the ultimate everlasting prayer.

In all circumstances give thanks

This is the attitude accompanying active indifference, the posture Ignatius formulates in the Principle and Foundation from the beginning:

The other things on the face of the earth are created for man to help him in attaining the end for which he is created. Hence, man is to make use of them in as far as they help him in the attainment of his end, and he must rid himself of them in as far as they prove a hindrance to him.

Therefore, we must make ourselves indifferent to all created things, as far as we are allowed free choice and are not under any prohibition. Consequently, as far as we are concerned, we should not prefer health to sickness, riches to poverty, honor to dishonor, a long life to a short life. The same holds for all other things.

Our one desire and choice should be what is more conducive to the end for which we are created.[9]

Having based this premise on the fact that man was created for a higher purpose: “to praise, reverence, and serve God our Lord, and by this means to save his soul,”[10] Ignatius then classifies everything else as a given by God to man as means to that end. Everything, good or ill, is a gift for which we are to be thankful. And our thankfulness is not based on the categories of the world, i.e. good or “bad,” nice or not nice, windfall or disaster. Regardless of whether we have health or sickness, riches or poverty, honor or dishonor, a long life or a short life, each of these can be “conducive to the end for which we are created.”

When we have a choice between one or other of these alternatives, we may strongly prefer one or the other. Ignatius urges us “to rid…[ourselves] of the attachment,…in such a way that [we]… seek only to will and not will as God our Lord inspires them, and as seems better for the service and praise of the Divine Majesty.”[11]

But whether we are allowed free choice and are not under any prohibition or not, Paul urges us in all circumstances give thanks. “In a society which is focused on the next goal, the next success, the next whatever, gratitude is countercultural. In truth, gratitude is the first step on the pathway to true freedom in God.” [12] Such an attitude is actually a help and support to the freedom from the tyranny of selfishness, of the need to control, of things, of the world’s definition of good and bad, success and failure. It is the mantra of active indifference. It enables us to see that God has control of our lives and, in His providence, is providing us with that which is best for me. Thus, if God gives me health or sickness, riches or poverty, honor or dishonor, a long life or a short life, it is time to rejoice, for it is precisely what I need to attain my greatest happiness. The Venerable John Henry Newman summarized this in a meditation:

God has created all things for Good; all things for their greatest good; everything for its own good….God has determined, unless I interfere with His plan, that I should reach that which will be my greatest happiness. He looks on me individually, He calls me by my name, He knows what I can do, what I can best be, what is my greatest happiness, and He means to give it me.

God knows what is my greatest happiness, but I do not. There is no rule about what is happy and good; what suits one would not suit another. And the ways by which perfection is reached vary very much; the medicines necessary for our souls are very different from each other. Thus God leads us by strange ways; we know He wills our happiness, but we neither know what our happiness is, nor the way. We are blind; left to ourselves we should take the wrong way; we must leave it to Him.

Let us put ourselves into His hands, and not be startled though He leads us by a strange way; a mirabilis via, as the Church speaks. Let us be sure He will lead us right; that He will bring us to that which is, not indeed what we may think best, not what is best for another, but what is best for us.[13]

Thomas Merton, in his prayer of unknowing, voices similar trust in Divine presence and providence: “…you will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.”[14]

Thus, as St. Paul writes elsewhere, my life is a continual hymn, giving thanks always and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God the Father. [Eph 5:20]

for this is the will of God for you

As stated above, viewing the world with the eyes of one who resides in the Eternal Now, I can continually rejoice and thank God for what surprises, gifts, tokens of His unconditional Love, which He is unveiling before, above, and around me at this moving moment of my life. “The person who knows that there is far more to the spiritual journey than she currently experiences but is content to let God lead the way…she may experience the desire for more, but… focuses on what she has.”[15] The past is done and the future is not yet. God is the God of Now, of Love, and He reveals Himself in His providence and love to me in His ever changing display of my presentness.

While providence is history from God’s point of view, whether I (a) recognize, (b) acknowledge, (c) embrace, and (d) react with joy and thanksgiving are my perspectives. To be able to discern providence in the ongoing turmoil of my life, the ever evolving agony of the world in birth requires the gift of faith. Whether I acknowledge God as the creative genius, the loving Father, the sacrificing Son, the inspiring Spirit, behind providence or view in horror as incomprehensible karma or fate the chaos of life and death’s drama is my call. Whether I embrace that providential chaos as Christ did on the Cross and with Him redeem it and remold it into the Kingdom by taking up my Cross daily and following Him is my choice. Here I remember the Psalmist’s words: It was good for me to be afflicted, in order to learn your will. [Ps 199:71] And finally, whether I have the hope and trust in God’s abiding love to know that what is happening is for the greatest happiness of me and every other person, because what is the best for me is the best for all around me, as the 12 Step program says,…all this is an embrace of God’s love, is a gift of God’s vision, God’s eyes, of Jesus viewing the world through me. I am called to continual willing acceptance, to repeat and live the refrain: your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. [Mt 6:10] God’s will is that His Eternal Now continually elicit my Everlasting Yes. 

in Christ Jesus

I am in Christ and Jesus is in me. I cannot rejoice, pray always, give thanks in all circumstances alone. I will be faced with trials, with sorrows, with crosses too great for me to even pretend to rejoice or give thanks in their midst. My only prayer will be for deliverance, for rescue. Humanly, I will be blind to the deep undying, unconditional love that surrounds me, that envelopes this tragedy, this meltdown, this death, without the abiding and sustaining presence and support of Jesus within, around, under and over me. Only by working through the denial, the anger, the frustration, the silence of God with Jesus at my side, joining my cry: My God, My God, why have You forsaken me, [Ps 22:1; Mt 27:46] only as He picks me up and carries me over the sand until I am ready to walk beside Him again,[16] will I leave my depression behind. Only with Jesus’ personal help will I again be able again to enter into God’s temple singing praise and thanksgiving with the joyful crowd. [see Ps 42:4]

But, in such times, I do not sit Shiva alone. Jesus arrives in the persons of family, friends, relatives neighbors, priests, pastors, children and adults. Sometimes sitting in silence with me is all I need or want, just being there is a comfort. I am not alone as I walk through my dark valleys, You are there in others. Your crook to bring me back when I stray to deep depression, Your staff wards off the evil that wishes to crowd in and take me even then.

Thus, it is in Jesus, through Jesus, with Jesus that I can fulfill the will of the Father whether in the sunshine of happiness or in the midst of misery, rejoicing that He is with me, praying for His will to be done, giving thanks that he “has vouchsafed me knowledge of his works; deep thanks that he has set in my darkness the lamp of faith; deep, deepest thanks that I have another life to look forward to–a life joyous with light and flowers and heavenly song.”[17]

Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus. As I said, the whole statement exudes Ignatian spirituality. God, grant that I may live it out to the fullest, discerning You in all things, following You into the More, choosing the Way of Your greater glory, offering all that I am and have to You, knowing that You will care for me in all circumstances. And whatever I do, in word or in deed, may I do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. [Col 3:17] Amen. Alleluia!!!


[1] Scripture texts in this work are taken from the New American Bible, revised edition © 2010, 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington, D.C. and are used by permission of the copyright owner. All Rights Reserved. No part of the New American Bible may be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the copyright owner.

[2] David Fleming, SJ, A Contemporary Reading – St. Ignatius Loyola – First Principle and Foundation, Spiritual Exercises [23], http://www.xavierhs.org/s/717/ images/editor_documents/petrielloj/fp_f_3ver_.pdf

[3] Fleming, Contemporary, Ibid.

[4] Fleming, Contemporary, Ibid.

[5] Discernment of Spirits, Ignatian Spirituality, Loyola Press, http://www.ignatianspirituality.com /making-good-decisions/discernment-of-spirits#sthash.CGi90JEL.dpuf

[6] Finding God in All Things, Our Catholic Faith, Ignatian Spirituality, Loyola Press, http://www.loyolapress.com/ignatian-spirituality-finding-god-in-all-things.htm

[7] Rebecca Ruiz, Living “Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam,” July 22, 2015, Ignatian Spirituality, Loyola Press, http://www.ignatianspirituality.com/22204/living-ad-majorem-dei-gloriam#sthash.jbIJIP8v.dpuf

[8] Amy Welborn. Suscipe, the Radical Prayer, adapted from The Words We Pray, Ignatian Spirituality, Loyola Press, http://www.ignatianspirituality.com/ignatian-prayer/prayers-by-st-ignatius-and-others/suscipe-the-radical-prayer

[9] Ignatius of Loyola. The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius: Based on Studies in the Language of the Autograph (Kindle Locations 179-183). Kindle Edition. Para. 23.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid. Para 155.

[12] Mags Blackie, The Centrality of Gratitude, Ignatian Spirituality, Loyola Press, Nov. 20, 2014. http://www.ignatianspirituality.com/20010/the-centrality-of-gratitude#sthash.2fHO4qbM.dpuf Subscribe to dotMagis, the blog of Ignatian Spirituality

[13] Venerable John Henry Newman, Meditations on Christian Doctrine, I. Hope in God—Creator March 6,1848, http://www.newmanreader.org/works/meditations/meditations9.html

[14] The Merton Prayer, Reflections, Yale University, Spring, 2012, http://reflections.yale.edu/ article/seize-day-vocation-calling-work/merton-prayer#sthash.Oh2wm0Je.dpuf

[15] Blackie, Gratitude, Ibid.

[16] See Mary Stevenson’s “Footprints in the Sand,” http://www.footprints-inthe-sand.com/index.php?page=Poem/Poem.php

[17] Helen Keller, Quotable Quote, Goodreads, https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/3268-for-three-things-i-thank-god-every-day-of-my

ON THE CHRISTIAN MEANING OF HUMAN SUFFERING by John Paul II

John Paul II’s insights into suffering are magnificent. Truly, they give us a better understanding of suffering: “not of course completely (for this we would have to penetrate the divine-human mystery of the subject), but at least they help us to understand that difference (and at the same time the similarity) which exists between every possible form of human suffering and the suffering of the God-man.” [SD, 18]

  • That Jesus, out of love for each one of us, took on perfect obedience to the Father, took on all our disobediences, becoming sin [2Cor 5:21], and wrapped them up and forgave/gave-for us perfect obedience to the Father.
  • In doing so, He simultaneously took on all our suffering, not only our “temporal suffering, any kind of suffering, but the definitive suffering: the loss of eternal life, being rejected by God, damnation,” [SD, 14] and united it to His, and thus, took on love for us and united it to His love of the Father; “in a certain sense he annihilates this evil in the spiritual space of the relationship between God and humanity, and fills this space with good.” [SD, 17]
  • “Christ descends, in a first phase, to the ultimate limits of human weakness and impotence: indeed, he dies nailed to the Cross. But if at the same time in this weakness there is accomplished his lifting up, confirmed by the power of the Resurrection, then this means that the weaknesses of all human sufferings are capable of being infused with the same power of God manifested in Christ’s Cross.” [SD, 23]
  • “Suffering as it were contains a special call to the virtue which man must exercise on his own part. And this is the virtue of perseverance in bearing whatever disturbs and causes harm. In doing this, the individual unleashes hope, which maintains in him the conviction that suffering will not get the better of him, that it will not deprive him of his dignity as a human being, a dignity linked to awareness of the meaning of life.” [SD, 23]
  • “The sufferings of Christ created the good of the world’s redemption. This good in itself is inexhaustible and infinite. No man can add anything to it. But at the same time, in the mystery of the Church as his Body, Christ has in a sense opened his own redemptive suffering to all human suffering. In so far as man becomes a sharer in Christ’s sufferings—in any part of the world and at any time in history—to that extent he in his own way completes the suffering through which Christ accomplished the Redemption of the world…. Christ opened himself from the beginning to every human suffering and constantly does so. Yes, it seems to be part of the very essence of Christ’s redemptive suffering that this suffering requires to be unceasingly completed.” [SD, 24]
  • “When this body is gravely ill, totally incapacitated, and the person is almost incapable of living and acting, all the more do interior maturity and spiritual greatness become evident, constituting a touching lesson to those who are healthy and normal.” [SD, 26]
  • “But in general it can be said that almost always the individual enters suffering with a typically human protest and with the question “why”. He asks the meaning of his suffering and seeks an answer to this question on the human level. Certainly he often puts this question to God, and to Christ. Furthermore, he cannot help noticing that the one to whom he puts the question is himself suffering and wishes to answer him from the Cross, from the heart of his own suffering. Nevertheless, it often takes time, even a long time, for this answer to begin to be interiorly perceived. For Christ does not answer directly and he does not answer in the abstract this human questioning about the meaning of suffering. Man hears Christ’s saving answer as he himself gradually becomes a sharer in the sufferings of Christ…. For it is above all a call. It is a vocation. Christ does not explain in the abstract the reasons for suffering, but before all else he says: “Follow me!”. Come! Take part through your suffering in this work of saving the world, a salvation achieved through my suffering! Through my Cross. Gradually, as the individual takes up his cross, spiritually uniting himself to the Cross of Christ, the salvific meaning of suffering is revealed before him.” [SD, 26]
  • “A source of joy is found in the overcoming of the sense of the uselessness of suffering, a feeling that is sometimes very strongly rooted in human suffering. This feeling not only consumes the person interiorly, but seems to make him a burden to others. The person feels condemned to receive help and assistance from others, and at the same time seems useless to himself. The discovery of the salvific meaning of suffering in union with Christ transforms this depressing feeling. Faith in sharing in the suffering of Christ brings with it the interior certainty that the suffering person “completes what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions”; the certainty that in the spiritual dimension of the work of Redemption he is serving, like Christ, the salvation of his brothers and sisters. Therefore he is carrying out an irreplaceable service.” [SD, 27]
  • “In the messianic program of Christ, which is at the same time the program of the Kingdom of God, suffering is present in the world in order to release love, in order to give birth to works of love towards neighbor, in order to transform the whole of human civilization into a ‘civilization of love’… At one and the same time Christ has taught man to do good by his suffering and to do good to those who suffer. In this double aspect he has completely revealed the meaning of suffering.” [SD, 30]

I commend to your reading the entire Apostolic Letter: http://w2.vatican.va/content/john-paul-ii/en/apost_letters/1984/documents/hf_jp-ii_apl_11021984_salvifici-doloris.html