On the difficulty of learning to suffer well
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September 29, 2020 (LifeSiteNews) – I find that I’m not good at suffering well. I just saw the other day a quote from St. Gemma Galgani that made me think of this difficulty again: “If you really want to love Jesus, first learn to suffer, because suffering teaches you to love.” And then, of course, do I still marvel at Padre Pio's attitude who thought that any day he did not suffer was a day lost.
I admit I am not there. But I do know one thing: suffering can deepen the soul, and those who have suffered themselves can often empathize with others who suffer. I am sure there are saintly exceptions to this rule, but suffering can make you deeper. And suffering can bring you closer to Christ Who showed his loyalty and love by remaining on that Cross and by suffering so unbelievably.
The trouble is, we so quickly forget.
But many of us also have to testify that often these moments of suffering have brought enormous grace into our lives. But then, do we remember that gift when the next spell of suffering comes, or when a pain comes so vividly alive once again?
I remember reading about the Austrian Catholic writer, Enrica Handel-Mazzetti, who knew that she was “buying” the graces for her next novel by way of her illnesses and also by sacrificing most of her own social life. She was actively working with her suffering in order to gain the graces for her next work. And, looking for example at her historical novel Stephana Schwertner, she was right.
That suffering brings us a depth of heart and soul that we might otherwise never gain, can be seen in a most piercing commentary recently sent to me, a commentary that inspired me to write this post.
A priest friend of my family is currently in a difficult situation which brings with it a large amount of humiliations and discouragements. Just the other day, he wrote the following:
Today, we celebrate the victory of the Cross. Also the pagan heroes endured pain, but shame and disdain are now left to us to carry. We are fools and idiots, submitted to all kinds of detraction.
The Divine Majesty is so great that He can even allow himself to be mocked, and us with Him. The world laughs about God and us. We are fools who still hold up the Cross and who are lifted above the world by the Cross – without being pulled down by the gravity of sin. We are nailed to it – who would not flee? – and that is our victory. Like Christ, we cry out, because we burn of pain, but that cry is unlike the bitter howling of the demons who may pull on us, but cannot pull us to go along with them. To be crucified means to win. One does not feel it; one does not see it; one does not will it; but – He may be praised – we have fallen into the trap of the Divine Hunter and we are His.
No, we are His gift to her [Mary, the Blessed Mother]. He wishes to give her children whom He fished out from the world and whom He has thrown onto the land of heaven.
Tomorrow, I will regret this word, but today I tell you I am filled with holy love: because you are the Son of God, may you not allow me to depart from this wood, since on it I will walk with you to Paradise. And there, we will be blessed, because we will see her. Forever.
When I read these words aloud to my husband, tears came into my eyes. They are so true! This is our spiritual struggle with Our Lord who sometimes seems to ask a lot from us – and I think in the current situation in the world, most of us feel some of that suffering in our own lives – yet at the same time that knowledge that, through this suffering, there comes the healing. God tests us whether we are willing to accept His Divine Will by sending us things we would never freely chose.
My husband, Robert Hickson, recently quoted once more the British author Maurice Baring's 1935 novel Darby and Joan, in which is to be found a very touching insight on suffering as presented by the characters of the novel:
“One has to accept sorrow for it to be of any healing power, and that is the most difficult thing in the world.”
“I didn’t think about it in that way. I don’t think I rebelled against it, because I thought my father was happier dead and at peace, than alive and in pain; but I was just stunned. Apart from that, I have not experienced real sorrow; only disappointment and disillusion.”
“A priest once said to me, ‘When you understand what accepted sorrow means, you will understand everything. It is the secret of life.’”
Another priest recently sent to us a video of an Australian priest, Father Michael Rowe, in which he describes how he lost both of his parents while he still was a baby and how he was then raised by his grandmother. “That of course led to a lot of thinking about why we are here, why we came on this world. And for me it was going into the silence of the Mass. I somehow knew that there was somebody who cared for me.” By going to Mass, Father Rowe went on to say, “I could be at peace with God.”
It is “often in those sad things, often, that is where we find God. In one sense, that is where I found God, I found Jesus, I found His Mother Mary, and I knew, even though I had no parents, they were looking after me,” he concluded. One must watch this short video and see his eyes and hear his voice. (He also posts his homilies here.)
Here, once more, a beautiful example of how suffering brings such graces. But suffering does hurt!
My husband likes to quote Bishop Fulton Sheen who used to speak about “the tragedy of wasted pain” when passing by a hospital, where so many people do not offer up their suffering. Because, as Father John Hardon, S.J. used to tell my husband: suffering is the consciousness of pain, but sacrifice is the consecration of that suffering. We need to make use of our sufferings, at least with our act of offering it up, even though we might not see yet the deeper reason for it.
So let us then, in these troubling times, help each other to learn how to accept our intimate sorrows, to turn them into graces by offering them up to Our Lord, through Our Lady. May she teach us how to suffer well, she who endured in her lifetime so many sufferings, so many intimate sorrows.
Our Lady of Sorrows – pray for us!