|The Carthusian martyrs of England joyfully accepted martyrdom. St. Thomas More seeing them from his own prison cell wrote to his daughter Margaret, “these blessed fathers be now as cheerfully going to their deaths as bridegrooms to a marriage." (Source)|
No one gets through life without suffering, and to understand it in the light of Christ brings meaning to what otherwise seems, in worldly terms, absolutely pointless. Many therapists see their role as eliminating their clients' suffering, perhaps because that's the desire of those who come to them for help. But if that were even possible would it be a good thing? Should Christians desire a life without pain and suffering? Can we even call ourselves Christians if we refuse to imitate the man of suffering?
In a recent conversation with my spiritual director discussing the cross, he said we are called to carry our crosses joyfully. Yikes! I'm more likely to carry mine with resignation and gritted teeth. Thinking about that reminded of giving birth. (Okay, my brain makes strange associations.) In the Lamaze technique of natural childbirth relaxation is key to less pain and suffering during labor and more effective contractions. The more one tenses up and strains other muscles, the weaker and less effective are uterine contractions. The way to effective labor is to work at accepting and relaxing into the pain.
Perhaps the same is true with the physical, mental and emotional sufferings we bear: first to accept them as joyfully as possible. "Thank you, Lord, for the opportunity to be united with your Sacred Heart through embracing my sufferings as Yours." (I'm still trying to wrap my mind around that.) And then, second, to remember that suffering can be redemptive. As my mom used to say, "Offer up (whatever it is) for the poor souls in Purgatory." It was good advice.
When my dad was dying of cancer, I remember his comments telling my mom how many souls he was getting out of Purgatory as he suffered during those final weeks. Perhaps even better advice is to offer it up for someone teetering on the moral edge. "Pray for poor sinners," Jacinta of Fatima cried after the Blessed Mother showed the children souls falling into hell "like snowflakes" in a blizzard. Suffering doubles the impact of prayer!
So here's what Cardinal Burke told health care workers about suffering, something with which they are all too familiar:
Our culture's view of human suffering makes it especially difficult to appreciate the good of a life which is heavily burdened. Our culture tells us that our life should be comfortable and convenient and it devotes itself to forming us in the avoidance of all stress, pain and suffering.
Sometimes, the cultural view takes on a spiritual appearance by claiming that our life in the body or physical life has no ultimate meaning, that our ultimate happiness lies in being freed of the body [but even as Christ rose from the dead in body and soul] so, when our soul has left the body at death we will await the resurrection of the body on the Last Day....Human suffering has always a physical and spiritual dimension, even as the suffering of Christ did....
While society may consider human suffering to be useless and a diminishment of our human dignity, we know that just the opposite is true. Human suffering, embraced with the love of Christ, brings immense blessings to the Church and the world, and sheds an ever greater light upon the dignity of every human life....In the suffering of our brothers and sisters, we see the Face of Christ and are invited to assist them in offering up their sufferings, with Christ, for the needs of the Church and of the world.The month of November invites us to think of the four last things: death, judgment, heaven, and hell. If we have our eyes fixed on eternity, today's sufferings take on a whole new perspective giving us an opportunity to do our Purgatory on earth. For a meditation on suffering, listen to an expert!
Thy will be done, O Lord. Give us the grace to accept our sufferings and offer them up for the blessing of final perseverance at the hour of death!