Skip to Content
Advanced Search

Why O Lord? The Inner Meaning of Suffering

Carretto, C. (1986). Why O Lord? The Inner Meaning of Suffering. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis.


What follows is a passage from the book:


My handicapped sisters and brothers have heard I am planning to write a book about suffering and death, and have asked if we could discuss those matters together.

It is not easy to talk to someone who is suffering. It may not even be the right thing to do. Silence may be more appropriate.

I am going to tell you part of the story of (my walking) stick that I have been using for so many years...

My dream was to go to the Alps and live with the Alpine rescue teams up on the Matterhorn, and go with them to help people caught in storms...

(Wanting) to devote my existence to others...where the going would be tough,...I went to the Little Brothers of Charles de Foucauld...The desert would be the perfect place, I thought...‘Present to God and present to people’.

Do you know what happened in the middle of my dream (of being prepared to help others in the mountains)?

I had to go on a 600 kilometer hike through the Khaloua desert. I was not in good condition and a male nurse, my friend, who took good care of me was concerned. ‘I’ll give you some shots,’ he said. ‘You’ll see, they’ll keep you going.’

‘Fine,’ I said.

And with the best of intentions my friend stuck a needle in my thigh and injected me with a paralyzing poison. In less than 24 hours my leg was useless.

He had made a mistake. He’d used the wrong vial. It was stupid...I didn’t complain then, and I tried to keep cheerful if only to help the nurse whose fault it was from going out of his mind. He was not as emotionally stable as I was.

I was paralyzed for life.



  1. How would you speak to a room full of disabled persons?
  2. What would you have to say to a remorseful nurse who had paralyzed you?
  3. How does one cope with the personal disasters which come to most of us?
  4. How are we to make sense and interpret such craziness of life?


Carlo Carretto continues addressing his brother and sister sufferers:


How could the God I wanted to serve not reach out his hand when I needed him? Why didn’t he help me? Why did he let...

Sisters and brothers, let’s stop for a moment. Let each of us think of our own suffering, our own trouble, our own paralysis, our own story.

What am I doing here? How did I get in this wheelchair?

What am I doing with this crutch?

How comes it that I can’t sleep at night?

How did I ever marry such a man, and then he abandons me to boot?

Is someone to blame for all this? Or worse, is it because I’m so disordered inside?

Brothers and sisters before me with your misfortunes, I testify to you of one thing only. Today, thirty years after the incident that paralyzed my leg, I don’t say it wasn’t a misfortune.

I only say that God was able to transform it into a grace. (pp.1-7)



  1. Out of the difficult experiences of your own life and seeing others suffer, how do you respond to the author at this point?
  2. What are some of the issues you would like to see him address in this little book?


Carretto continues with Biblical and spiritual reflections on suffering. The story of Jacob reveals earth’s mystery of divine-human struggle.


I too have fought. I too have had to struggle between my will and God’s will, between his way of doing things and mine. I truly believe the story of Jacob is everybody’s story. (p. 75)

Our inability to get to the truth except by bitter experience is terrible!

Sisters and brothers: I tremble at what I am about to tell you. But I am going to say it all the same because I am convinced it is true. It is not God who much suffering and weeping in the world. It was ourselves who willed it, we who chose it!

It was we rich nations sucking the blood of poor nations who established a spiral of violence, hatred and war. We, who, betraying a girl’s love, disrupted her life and thrust her into the insecurity of prostitution. It was our selfishness that brought whole species to extinction, our pride that caused the weeping that surrounds us.

The way to block our way is by suffering, and He knows how to employ it. Once we have been betrayed by someone we begin to appreciate our own betrayals. Once we experience for ourselves hunger, plague, war, we get some idea of the wickedness and cruelty with which we have treated others. Once we are deserted we recall that we too have deserted someone else...In times of trial lust becomes friendship, friendship becomes sharing, and sharing becomes agape. (pp.63-64)


There is much more here—of insights and instruction. The book closes with instructions for prayer. Three days of prayer follow the themes of "Courage of Faith," "Hope in Sickness," and the "Folly of the Cross." Each reflection is led by an exceptional woman of suffering and death, faith and hope.

Benedetta Bianchi Porro is such a woman in this century. Stricken with polio as an infant, she was able to attend school only intermittently. Yet, at the age of 17, she entered medical school and soon found herself going deaf and blind with the paralysis of neurofibromatosis. She was still a teenager when she experienced the following humiliation.


At the oral examination at the end of her first two years, anxious to make sure she had understood the questions put by one of the professors, she put her hand to her ear and asked him to repeat it; whereupon he flung her paper into a corner with the acid words, ‘And who ever heard of a deaf doctor?’

Deafness was only the beginning of it. The disease which was soon to devastate her beautiful young body, was already at work. She was to go blind, lose the sense of touch, and be paralyzed, first in her legs and then gradually throughout her whole body. (p. 101)


The letter of Benedetta to a young man so ill and discouraged he had written to a newspaper for help is sure to inspire all us in our prayers for hope in sickness. Benedetta continued to help others out of the cocoon of her suffering until her death in 1964.


  1. Are you able to reflect specifically and deeply on the experience and nature of suffering? Do you know some who are not?
  2. Does suffering seem to be a necessary part of human growth?
  3. What has helped you most from the review of this book? With what questions has it left you?


  1. With so much suffering in the world, it is surprising that so little attention is given to a theology of suffering in many theological schools. It also maintains such a small place in public school curricula.
  2. Most children and young people today have suffered in some way that calls for healing. Educators and youth leaders should be sensitive to this need in young lives.
  3. We never know the proper time and method of healing in another. So our style of relating and our teaching generally should continually hold out hope and suggestions for healing and growth.