Let us face it. Some sufferings are easier than others. We can suffer through something we don’t enjoy with relative ease because we know the outcome, know that it too shall pass and things will be back to normal. Sometimes we are very willing to take on suffering, whether it be out of love to help someone, or out of ego for the accolades we will receive. While these types of sufferings may be uncomfortable or even a pain in the neck, they are managed.
What about suffering that is unbearable, that we did not volunteer or ask for, that is long term and the outcome uncertain? What about watching loved ones suffer through something out of their control, out of our control? We all know those who bear great pain and suffering loudly, boorishly, and with great turmoil in their own lives and those who love them, but we also know those who bear great pain and suffering graciously, with great patience and great dignity. Both of these suffering types might have truly have great faith in God. The difference may be partially attributed to personality, but I believe it is due more to a lack of knowledge about suffering. When linked to our faith, linked to God in a personal manner, suffering takes on the form of grace in the soul.
Fr. Benedict Groeschel, a Catholic Priest widely seen on EWTN (Eternal Word Television Network). In 2004, Fr. Groeschel suffered severe injuries after being struck by an automobile in Orlando, Florida. With head injuries and broken bones, he experienced a 20 minute period where he had no blood pressure, heartbeat or pulse. Then, a few days later he suffered a trauma triggered heart attack that was nearly fatal. After months of recovery he was left with limited use of his right arm and difficulty in walking. Later that same year, he returned to preaching and giving retreats full time. He was quoted in the New York Times, fours years later: “They said I would never live. I lived. They said I would never think. I think. They said I would never walk. I walked. They said I would never dance, but I never danced anyway.”
The following is an excerpt from an interview given by Fr. Groeschel after the 2004 accident: “Bishop Sheen used to say that there is nothing worse than wasted suffering. And that is certainly true. I was taught by the sisters long ago in Catholic school to unite my sufferings, works, and prayers each day with Christ, and I continue to do that through the heart of Mary. It gave great meaning to me while I was in the hospital and idle, unable to work for the salvation of souls, to be able to offer the pains and the patience required by them as a prayer for the world.
“You have to be careful with suffering. One has to be careful not to enjoy it, or focus on it, or expand it too much. Then suffering becomes the goal. The goal is not suffering; the goal is loving patience, offered to God as best one can. And the humility to admit that we don’t do this very well. One of the things I learned from my illness is that over and over again we have to tell God that we really trust Him. Trusting in God is not one action; it’s an ongoing way of life.”
—Fr. Benedict Groeschel, C.F.R.
From an Ignatius Insight interview after his near-fatal accident in 2004.
Two things stand out to me. First is that suffering has a goal, which is loving patience. Through our suffering we learn to wait on God’s timing, to trust in His will. He doesn’t pretend that is easy, just desired as the goal to be obtained.
Second, is that we need humility to suffer graciously and with dignity. We must admit that we don’t cope perfectly with our suffering, that we sometimes fail, want to give up, or get mad at God for our suffering. We must admit it and humbly ask His forgiveness and help in overcoming it.
While some suffering is fleeting or short lived, and some is deeply felt and long lived, loving patience is the goal, and humility is the by product. When we unite our suffering to God, to the suffering of His Beloved Son on the Cross, we see beyond our suffering to His plan for our life. That plan has a goal also, Eternal Life with Him whose loving patience with us seeks only to draw us to Him. When we are able to suffer in union with Christ we are in full communion with Him. Life Eternal is our reward.
My heart goes out to all who suffer, whatever the cause. I pray the Lord will bless you through your suffering and draw you into a deeper fuller relationship with Him.