…I rejoice in my sufferings for you…
An important role of the catechist, i.e. a teacher of the faith, is to help people interpret the events of human life through the lens of Christian faith. Suffering, loss, illness, injury, these things are all part of the human experience. We all suffer them, with variation in degree and type. But suffering is common to being human. How we respond to suffering is what distinguishes us as a people of faith. Our faith not only teaches us to how to suffer well, but to suffer in a way that is effective for our salvation and the sanctification of the Church. Put in other terms, through Christian faith, hope, and love, we can say with St. Paul that we have joy amidst our sufferings and peace with their ultimate meaning. Below are three means to help in this.
1. Bring your focus back to God continually. We must remember that suffering causes our focus to be centered in whatever is causing the suffering. This is normal, and not necessarily a bad thing. It is what tells us there is something wrong. However, suffering can be so intense and challenging that our focus becomes, as it were, locked in upon it. God’s presence is eclipsed.
We can only experience the pain, the loss, the injury. Our emotions can become a reaction to this singular focus and we can feel quite miserable. Often, the last thing we will want to do in the midst of painful suffering is turn to God. Remember that as a rule. But do it anyway. Look to God in your heart and say “Father, I offer this suffering to you through the heart of your son. May it be penance for my sins and those of the members of the Church.”
2. Remember that you are in God’s focus. Sometimes we try very hard to focus on God. And it is hard. We are distracted, but also God is a mystery, it is hard to know how to recognize Him sometimes. Let’s say you are laying in a hospital bed and you are ill and not feeling well. You may have little mental energy for formal prayers. All you have to do is see yourself as in God’s Presence, as seen by Him, as known completely. He is close. It can be helpful to imagine the love of the heart of Jesus, poured out upon the Cross. This is the affection of God, as it were, for us. His love is our love. His heart is our heart. Allow yourself to be one with Him. In the midst of your illness you can have great consolation by recognizing God watching over and reaching out to you.
3. Invite Christian friends to accompany you spiritually. When you are quite ill, or suffering intensely, you are going to need Christian friends to remind you of your faith, and to help you place your hope back in Jesus. This is because it is easy to forget when you are unwell. If you are in the hospital or sick at home, ask a friend or two to be your spiritual companion along the way. Invite them to come be with you, to lead you in prayer, to pray over you, and to read the Holy Scriptures to you.
Make your hospital room or room at home into your own little sacred place, where God’s presence is continually invoked, where He is honored and praised. Invite clergy to be present so that you may give your confession, receive Holy Communion, and the Sacrament of Anointing. Have a Deacon or Priest bless your hospital room. Ask them to pray with you, and to sit in silence, in God’s presence with you. Do not allow the suffering to isolate you. Remember, as a rule, that it has that tendency. So, be prepared, invite people into your life.
People who are ill or sick, or injured in some other way should be the object of our compassion, of course. But we also need to remember that they are meant to be more than the object of our pity. They have an integral place in the Body of Christ. They are at the center of the apostolate. The catechist must help the suffering see how they can be great advocates for the Church’s mission of evangelization. It is through their prayers, and the uniting of their sufferings to Christ, that the Church is made holier, and more effective in her mission.
The featured image on this post is from The New York Public Library on Unsplash. Taken in Tulare County, California. Farm Security Administration (FSA) camp for migratory agricultural workers at Farmersville. Nurse of Agricultural Workers’ Health and Medical Association attends sick migrant woman while awaiting doctor. 1936. Photographer – Dorothea Lange