I have heard it said that suffering is evil and the product of sin. The ultimate home in eternity for most people will involve enormous suffering and it will be with evil itself. It is better known as Hell, and for certain, this suffering is a product of unrepentant sin.
One cannot go so far as to say all suffering is a product of sin because Jesus Christ suffered more than anyone ever suffered. A viewing of the film The Passion of the Christ will provide more than sufficient proof of that.
Saint Francis of Assisi suffered at his own hand as did many other saints. Francis threw himself into the thorns of rose bushes as penance when being tempted by the devil. To this day, those rose bushes have no more thorns. Saint Pio of Pietralcina suffered with the wounds of Christ, as did more than sixty other saints and blesseds - including St. Francis of Assisi.
Suffering can bring about holiness (it worked for Saint Francis, after all.) Holiness will not be the result if you are a whiner and an accuser of God as in, “God, why did You do this to me?” Does anything there sound even vaguely familiar? Scripture instructs us to thank God in all things, as I have said in a recent editorial and as I repeat often to as many who are suffering as I can.
When suffering is introduced into your life and you thank God for it and you offer it to expiate your sins and the sins of others, suffering becomes beautiful. I have found in my second bout with my terminal cancer, as I did with my first, that God was offering me an opportunity to be in an environment into which I never would have gone without cancer. In the fifteen days I spent in the hospital for my stem cell transplant, I got to meet many people: doctors, nurses, patients, and their visitors whom I never would have met any other way. They were the ones God wanted me to evangelize.
If you ask anyone who has had serious chemotherapy treatments, they will all tell you that the treatments are no fun. I especially did not like the constant nausea and its accompanying ramifications. But in thanking God and offering it up, I was able to keep a smile on my face and help others try to understand the “offering-it-up” process. I passed out about fifty of my books and gave away forty pounds of Betsy Ann Chocolates, the best chocolates in the world. (You can find them on the internet.) Folks were impressed that I gave them the best. It helped me get their attention.
Through the gifts, my smile, and plenty of enthusiasm, I was able to complete the mission God had in mind for me. There were many patients in my condition and some were frightened by fear of death, some asking God why, and others who simply suffered silently. I believe I was the only one there having a good time. Yes, I was sick and exhausted beyond understanding, but I had a mission. I work for God and because of that I was able to rejoice and do my job. It is called grace.
If any of you plan on paying serious attention to prayer later rather than sooner, I am here to testify to the fact that when you are very sick, it becomes almost impossible to pray. Your power of concentration vanishes along with your energy. Don’t wait for some future moment when you envision being able to miraculously accomplish all you should have been doing throughout your life. No, store up your treasure in heaven now and grace will get you through the tough times.
It was wonderful knowing that the Lord and the Blessed Mother were with me all the way. What great consolation! The fear of death never entered my mind. I had received Last Rites the day before I was admitted for the transplant and felt very comfortable with the seriousness of my procedure. If I were to die, I had no doubt that all the promises that were made to me (and to anyone who cares to listen and respond) through the various prayers I had been saying and devotions I had been practicing, would be fulfilled. I did not die this time, but God gave me a sneak preview of what lies ahead if I run the race to the finish. It feels great to be ready to die.
In all my evangelizing these past twenty-one years, I have always encouraged everyone to live the message of the Blessed Mother of Medjugorje: daily Mass, fifteen decades of the Rosary each day, fasting on bread and water on Wednesday and Fridays, monthly confession and conversion of the heart each day. Throw in tithing, forgiveness, loving thy neighbor, first Fridays and Saturdays, Stations of the Cross, taking care of widows and orphans and a myriad of other prayers and you are on your way to loving God.
Even so, we all must keep in mind that suffering is a part of life and dying is not easy. It is difficult for the person to whom it is happening and difficult for those around the dying person. Being ready takes preparation now and a lot of grace. If you put off preparing for the journey to heaven the odds of everything going perfectly for you at the last minute are going to be long ones indeed. If you don’t beat the odds so heavily stacked against you, then the real suffering begins and never ends and there is no beauty in that suffering.
We do not dwell enough on the possibility of ending up in hell and that is the reason that so many people go there. As human beings who are full of pride and convinced that we are in control, we think we can play the odds with our eternal salvation. Should someone suggest those same odds be applied to, say, our 401k plan, we’d be horrified. Yet we do it without hesitation with eternity. The failing of theological instruction of modern man has put us in a very dark time as Saint Pio put it. Hell is such an unwelcome word that it cannot even be found in the Apostles’ Creed these days, even though the Catechism still employs it.
We live in very precarious times where suffering is avoided at all costs and pious preparation for heaven is ridiculed and exchanged for a false belief that the mercy of God will take care of all things. You will find no saints expending just minimal effort toward capturing the grand prize for running the race to the finish. Suffering is part of that race and you either embrace it or fall by the wayside of the very narrow path to heaven, as others pass you by.
Complaining about suffering has never gotten anyone into heaven – and has never actually relieved any suffering, so why be a complainer? It does not please God and it certainly will not do you any good. Complaining about suffering will generally make you and everyone around you feel worse and that is the last thing you need.
Make suffering your friend and know that in doing so, grace will be close behind. Unite your suffering with that of Jesus Christ for the salvation of sinners and your relationship with your Father in heaven will improve - maybe so much so that one day we will live with Him there.
Doubt is the enemy of holy suffering and the converse is faith. Faith can see you through all the distractions. Faith can give a girl her modesty back and God knows we have almost lost all sense of modesty. Because of the lack of faith men have exchanged true love of a woman for lust and so we suffer the wrong kind of suffering.
As our government turns inexorably toward socialism and Marxism and now we hear out loud the threat to nationalize our oil companies (because Chavez did it!!!) do we stop to think how we have gotten to this point? I believe this kind of suffering is brought on by sin and affects the whole world. This kind of suffering we can do without.
But the suffering of daily life and the aches and pains that lie therein are there for a purpose. They increase with age and if you allow faith to increase as well, you will suffer to your advantage and be able to offset the terrible and dreadful suffering that Satan has waiting for us should we provide him the least opportunity.
Suffer well, my friend, suffer well.