Suffering and dying
Nobody wants to suffer, we pay large amounts of money every day to the Pharmaceutical companies for medications just so we don’t have to suffer through that headache, back ache, sore throat or what have you. Suffering is a word we run away from, gasping for breath and heaving a scream of torment. It is not something we pray to be given. Who ever heard of someone praying for pain? Who ever heard of someone praying for an illness, quite the opposite? Immediate prayer requests go out for a sick family member, friend, or neighbor for a cure, for the pain to go away, for relief. St Rita, a young nun, prayed to the crucifix to be able to suffer as Christ did, and immediately a thorn from His crown of thorns stabbed her in the forehead! Other saints prayed as well, for illnesses and infirmaries in order to be closer to Christ and suffer with Him. This is not the norm and understanding this abnormal behavior is harder to achieve as we contemplate these people, they seem almost untouchable. I prayed about this and God gave me the surprising answer, “I chose the stronger ones.” Yes, that makes total sense.
Suffering comes in so many different levels, from a headache to extreme illnesses, from losing a job to losing a loved one, from running late for work to running into brick walls working towards your dreams. Many say that when these things happen, “just offer it up” like it’s some chore that needs to be accepted in anguish and despair; we are victimized by this thing that suffering does to us, it makes us sad and full of grief. Suffering is a money-making industry as well; scam artists look for opportunities to make money off of our grief and suffering, it goes on and on, doesn’t it?
When you study the saints, however, you see suffering in a whole different light, one of positive possibilities. Seeing Christ on the cross makes us cringe and adore Him all the more for his suffering, we know that he did it for love of us, but he knew where he was going, didn’t he? He knew that this was his father’s plan and that he will be with God when it is all said and done. Do we not know where we are going after it is all said and done? Are we not so sure of the future, of the after-this-life? God told us, “This is my son, whom I am pleased, listen to Him.” Ok, what did Jesus tell the thief at his side during their crucifixion? After the thief realized Jesus was indeed the son of man, he asked to be with him in paradise; Christ told him that he will be, we heard this in the gospel. Was the thief the only one who got this forgiveness? Aren’t we all thieves? Could we all use some forgiveness, too? Have you ever asked someone for forgiveness, have you ever gotten down on your knees and asked, no pleaded with God to forgive you? Then you will be forgiven as well, just like the thief, you will be in paradise, too, but you have to have faith in Jesus Christ and in his forgiveness.
Another big factor in this equation is love. Love for Him and for the guy next to you, in front of you, beside you, and behind you. Love is what we all need and need to give. Love makes no excuses, tells no lies, holds no grudges, and is always forgiving. This amazing emotion that God gave us, and only us, is a gift that can never be ignored and never goes away, can you feel it? Love is that emotion that we feel when we see the sun shine in the morning, watch the trees sway in the breeze, see a new born baby, smell the petals of a rose, and find a lost child in the store and help them find their parents. Love is not just a sexual thing, in fact it is not sexual at all, it is relational. The agape love is one that feels the need to make sure those around them are happy, secure, and well taken care of. This is the love that the saints experienced and developed in their faith and spirituality. They loved Jesus so much that they wanted to be all that they could be for him even to the point of suffering greatly physically, emotionally, and it is in their suffering that they grew closer and closer to Christ and loved him more and more. How amazing is that that what you think is a negative thing, a scary thing, and misfortunate thing is really what gives the most benefit!
Reading Thomas Kempis’ book “The Imitation of Christ” he talks about the interior conversion in his book 2: Considerations for Interior Life”. I opened it last night to read what he had to say to me, and sure enough it was about dying, dying to self. Death and dying and suffering all go hand in hand, but putting a positive spin on it, it is an amazing way to praise and worship God. Mr. Kempis talks about the cross, that the “cross is the height of virtue and the perfection of all sanctity. Without the cross there is no salvation for our souls, nor hope of life eternal.” As Catholics, we know all too well about carrying crosses, most of these are daily things that we must deal with, or people that we run into frequently and must show our good side despite their offerings to us. Then there are those times, when God seems so far away that we don’t feel his presence much less hear His loving encouragement in our hearts. We call them the dark night of the soul, it is during these times that we forget that God is ever nearer and even more so teaching us how to love and reach out for him. Kempis talks about our attitude as cross bearers, is it negative, do we growl and groan about seeking attention and pity or do we put on a happy face, patiently and silently carrying our cross with love and faith in that we are not alone and do not suffer in vain. This is a very important point he makes in that God sees our pains and moaning in this valley of tears, and counts our efforts accordingly. We can’t escape suffering, we can’t run away from it, it will surely seek us out and find us no matter what we do.
If we want to save our lives we will lose it, if we want to lose our lives we will surely be given life, eternally. God wants us to search for him and find him in the depths of our hearts, minds, and soul. He is there for us, but he wants us to choose to be there for him, this is when we don’t feel his presence and think he isn’t there. Sometimes, God backs off and lets us make our own choices given that he has been there for us and encouraging us, blessings us, and loving us. It’s like when you teach a small child how to ride a bike, for the first several lessons you are holding on to the handle bars and the seat as they learn to pedal and steer, but as the lessons progress, maybe you let go of the seat, or the handle bars, still holding on to them. Then the moment arrives when they have the rhythm of the ride and you need to see how well they have learned their lessons. You let go of them completely and watch.
God does that too, occasionally, He needs to let us go and watch what choices we make.