It has long been a teaching of the Church that suffering, whether minor or debilitating, should be received as a gift. I’ve read countless spiritual works that put suffering in this proper perspective, and the concept sounds beautiful and glorious. At times I’ve even been inspired enough to want to experience the cross in a “big” way [You know, all those little annoyances throughout the day are piddly, but the BIG stuff — THAT can move mountains (Read with a high degree of sarcasm)!].
In reality, though, I think suffering is more like a magnificent painting. From afar, depending on how people approach it, suffering has the potential to be beautiful, moving and inspirational; but when you get close, it looks like a mishmash of random paint splotches, strewn about in random order — sloppy and very ugly.
Recently, our family has experienced the messiness close up. In the midst of doctor’s appointments, medications, fears, expenses and just the inconvenience of living with a new most likely permanent medical condition, we’ve had several discussions about how much this has renewed our sympathy for others who have endured suffering, and the amazing examples that we’ve witnessed through our lives. My husband’s father was one of those inspirational examples. He passed away nearly ten years ago, after a painful battle with bone cancer.
Because of the admirable way my father-in-law approached his final days, he has become for us an even greater hero than he was. As a dairy farmer, this man woke before the crack of dawn and worked until late at night seven days a week. Yet for all his toughness, he never forgot the Source of strength, and was devout in his faith, keeping a weekly holy hour for over 50 years, participating as much as possible in parish life and always sharing a prayer-centered relationship with his beautiful wife. In the end, despite his debilitating pain, he was joyful, grateful, loving and — most endearingly — childlike. With every shot of excruciating pain, rather than cursing, he’d call out his devotion to Jesus, Mary and Joseph. He held fast to his rosary and prayed fervently during his waking hours. As we stepped back from the splotches, we could see that he was a magnificent portrait of the Christian life (and death).
In our current political climate, activists have set their sites on erasing all the splotches. They want to eradicate suffering on every level, to the point of promoting abortion to the moment of birth, expanding euthanasia for any reason, as well as promoting many other evils that seek to rid our culture of the magnificent beauty and saving power inherent in the sacrifice of suffering. By erasing all the splotches, they destroy the masterpieces of life that God Himself has offered for our good.
Despite a culture of death that insists suffering be eradicated at all costs and by any means, we must remember that as long as suffering is approached with resignation and not bitterness, it can be redemptive and leads to greater union with God. As C.S. Lewis said,
“God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks to us in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: It is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”
Saint Teresa of Calcutta said,
“…remember pain, sorrow, suffering are but the kiss of Jesus — a sign that you have come so close to Him that He can kiss you.”
Blessed are those who suffer — how counter-intuitive in today’s society!
Well, after my little pep rally above, here we sit. In the midst of suffering. Our pom-poms may not wave quite so high behind closed doors. But we are learning slowly but surely how to be grateful. And having witnessed role models like my father-in-law certainly helps. The question is, will we stand too close to the painting and focus on the mess of “splotches”? Or will we stand back and appreciate the masterpiece that our current situation truly represents? With God’s grace as the paintbrush, we’re hoping for the latter.
Recently I read some encouraging words by Lorenzo Scupoli. Perhaps I should post them around the house as a reminder — both for us and for our children:
Now that you are in a position to please Him more than ever, speak from the fullness of your heart and say: “[This] is the will of God that is accomplished in me. From all eternity God’s love has chosen me to undergo this suffering today. May He be blessed forever!” – Spiritual Combat, pg. 74-75
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Artwork: The Crucifixion by Diego Velazquez (from Wikimedia Commons)