"A lay Catholic perspective"

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The Cross and my Life as a Priest

by Father Egbert Stang, omi


SOMEONE SAID pain is inevitable, but suffering is optional. Applying this to my own life, as I look back over my whole life, I see pain present all along but suffering as option only since I am a priest.

Being born into and growing up in a family of fifteen children, together with our parents, we experienced great poverty, some hunger, many illnesses, hard work, and trying to survive. We lived three miles from town and two miles from school. This meant a lot of walking, poorly clad, and at best, primitive transportation. Looking back on that time of my life, I thank the Lord for the valuable experience of being poor, and also that the gift of faith that was lived in our family, not only carried us through, but brought us close to God.

Suffering became an option in my life as a priest. Focusing on the life of Jesus and how he suffered for our salvation, and on the lives of the saints who followed in his footsteps, helped me to slowly realize that suffering has a purpose and a meaning in God's plan of salvation for the world.

Through pain, tiredness, failures, struggles, temptations, and brokenness I gradually began to realize that I too am a sinner like everyone else and that I too need salvation.

My six years of walking with the widowed, separated, and divorced was a key time for my conversion and growth. I was able to get in touch with the true self and let go of the false self. I began to realize that I had feelings like everyone else; it was okay to cry; though believing that God forgave my many sins, I also needed to forgive myself; suffering was a powerful means of salvation in the lives of others, but also in my own life. I began to realize that this slow, painful, and lifetime journey, would reconcile me with God, with my true self that God created, and with every person I met.

Many years ago, I read a talk that the Holy Father gave to those who suffer. He gave what he called "three little lights" to help deal with suffering:

The first little light is to see suffering present in our lives whether it is physical, emotional, psychological, moral, family or church related. I must not exaggerate it or minimize it.

The second little light is to accept suffering in faith, that God allows it and turns it around to work good out of it. This is not a blind resignation, but faith assures us that the Lord can and will draw good out of evil. Suffering accepted in faith gives rise to serenity and hope. I am to be as active as possible and assume responsibility for myself.

The third and most important light is oblation. The offering of suffering, made through love of the Lord and others, leads to a very high degree of charity that absorbs me into the love of Christ and of the Holy Trinity for humanity.

These three little lights have been a tremendous help for me personally and in my ministry as a priest. They have carried me through struggles, temptations, two major surgeries, and continuous conversion. Though I still struggle with suffering, I am no longer afraid of it. On the contrary, I find it so meaningful! I see that suffering is the greatest ministry that I can do as a priest, for my own salvation and that of others. Jesus saved the whole world by his suffering and death and resurrection. The closer I come to him on the cross, the closer I am to the very source of salvation. Thank you, Jesus!