"A lay Catholic perspective"

rainbow line
fish gif

Brokenness Transformed

by Cecile Flater


E VERYONE SUFFERS. We each deal with suffering in a highly personal way.

Prior to the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, people could not bring the hope of eternal glory into their suffering. Jesus, the Son of God, lowered himself to become man. Throughout his humble life he accepted rejection, poverty and a cruel and unfair death for each of us. It was not for himself that he suffered like this. Jesus came down from heaven and was perfectly able to go back at any time. Instead he choose freely to accept the cross to destroy evil. In doing so, he opened a new way of suffering, a way that leads to everlasting life. John 3:16 reads, "Yes, God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not be lost but have eternal life."

There are, I believe, three basic ways suffering can be dealt with. 1) It can be rejected. 2) Suffering can also be accepted so that life is more liveable. 3) Suffering can be embraced and united to the cross of Christ. The latter gives suffering a deeper meaning as a special call for personal salvation and for the redemption of the Church.

These ways of suffering will vary in each Christian's life. The beautiful thing, however, is finding Jesus' love in every suffering, giving us the courage and strength needed to be his disciples. United to the cross of Christ, seemingly the most useless and hopeless suffering is transformed to become fruitful and glorious.

Our third child, Anita, was born with severe physical problems. Anita also possessed an angelic, peaceful face. She was never to leave intensive care and she died at the age of four months. My initial response to her birth was, "My God, why did you let this happen to her and to me? How are we going to get through this? What did I do that made her like this?"

The wonderful sacrament of Penance began a process in which the Church opened her arms and heart to my need. Through the compassion of my brothers and sisters in Christ, I began to see that I was not responsible for Anita's particular condition, that God had a special plan of redemption for her life and had prepared a beautiful place in heaven for us to be together. Through this experience, I was carried into a place of trust in God's plan. Believing in God's mercy even in the midst of these circumstances helped me to surrender everything to him and receive peace all the more profound because of the severity of this trial. Many dear friends around Anita were unspeakably touched by the mercy of God expressed through the suffering of this little life.

What seemed to be a most terrible thing, to have and lose a sick baby, became one of the most treasured and precious times. The question, "Why me?" became "Thank you, God."

Jesus already cleared the way to heaven through his suffering, and now gives us the opportunity to follow his footsteps. Suffering becomes a privilege when its curse is removed by the cross. In his apostolic letter, Salvifici Doloris (On the Christian Meaning of Human Suffering), Pope John Paul II says:

Christ has in a sense opened his redemptive suffering to all human suffering. In so far as man becomes a sharer in Christ's suffering... to that extent he in his own way completes the suffering through which Christ accomplishes the redemption of the world. (#24)

The great need for carrying the suffering of Christ into our world can be seen as we look honestly at the problems around us. Abortion, poverty, marital separation and family breakdown are only a few of these things. Our active involvement in relieving these catastrophes is good. A compassionate response to suffering reflects Jesus's words to us in Matthew 25:40, "Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me."

The poor should never be looked down upon but revered like the Lord himself. Our community has recently been given the opportunity to bring security to the Sunday soup kitchen at Immaculate Conception Church. My husband Gary comes home with both disturbing and uplifting news. His initial reception was somewhat difficult as he faced hostility and resentment for graciously asking that all glue sniffing be done elsewhere. Now he can look forward to greeting each person at the door with a smile and warm welcome.

We have the privilege of suffering and showing love to those who are suffering. We no longer have to be afraid of suffering (although naturally we dislike it). Jesus welcomes us to share in his mystical redemption. Pope John Paul II suffered a hip replacement during the Year of the Family. I heard many people comment that he was suffering for our families. Our Holy Father, himself, has confirmed this. When our pastor, Fr. Egbert suffered from acute abdominal pain, I could not help but think that he suffered for our parish. When our brother Mark suffered from rheumatoid arthritis, I believe he suffered for our community. As we look at the lives of the saints who heroically suffered, many even to death; we cannot help but say yes to the mystery of suffering for the sake of Christ and the Church.

Suffering is an absolute necessity. If that fact is not accepted, many grave sins can overtake us _ despair, resentment or pursuit of worldly pleasure. But once united to Jesus' suffering, there is peace and creative cooperation in the salvation of the world. And, oh! What a splendid reward in heaven there will be!