By Fr. Amal, SdC
When human suffering is understood in its deepest meaning, it ceases to be something that is experienced in a passive manner. Rather, one becomes free to meet suffering with courage, seeing it as an opportunity for active and positive collaboration in the work of human redemption. Suffering, whether physical, spiritual or psychological, is often an opportunity when many question the existence of God, or at the very least whom this God is who allows suffering, in particular the suffering of the innocent.
This year we celebrate the 27th World Day of the Sick on February 11th. In 1993, Pope John Paul II instituted this annual commemoration as a way to bring compassion and greater attention to the sufferings of humanity, as well as the mystery of suffering itself. Don’t waste your suffering, feel fortunate to suffer, offer it up, I will pray together with you for the redemption of humanity, are all words of St. John Paul II whenever he encountered the sick and suffering.
Charles Spurgeon once said, “Health is a gift from God, but sickness is a gift greater still.” Life is a gift from God. St. Paul asks: “What do you have that you did not receive?” (1 Cor 4:7). Precisely because it is a gift, human life cannot be reduced to a personal possession or private property, especially in the light of medical and biotechnological advances that could tempt us to manipulate the “tree of life” (cf. Gen 3:24). God had an eternal purpose in allowing His own Son to suffer. St. Paul taught that this purpose was that we might understand and know God’s wisdom and love through His plan to redeem us through the death of His Son. Therefore, if God has allowed even His own Son to suffer to fulfill His eternal purpose, then we must also trust that He is working out His eternal purpose in us in the midst of our suffering. God may use our suffering to redeem someone else’s life by our testimony and example.
But, how can we be sure that something good will come of our suffering? St. Paul taught, “We know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose” (Rom 8:28). Note that Paul does not say that all things that happen to us are good, but that God takes all things and works them together for good in order to fulfill His eternal purpose. There is a story in the Gospel about Jesus walking along with his disciples and they see a man begging who was born blind. The disciples ask Jesus, “whose fault is it – this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus says it’s not anyone’s ‘fault’ but rather the man is born blind for the glory of God. The apostle Paul tells the Corinthian church that God’s power is made perfect in our weakness. When St. John Paul II once visited the sick people he said, “I am here with you to pray with you for all those who trust in your prayers.” In its brokenness the human body still reveals itself as a call to make a gift of ourselves in love.
Whenever St. John Paul II had a special intention he went to the sick saying to them, “I am entrusting the Church to you,” because in their weakness they have power. Jesus didn’t suffer so you wouldn’t have to, but Jesus suffered that you will know how to suffer. The Church is not merely a collection of Christians. It is a living instrument of redemption- an extension of Jesus Christ throughout time and space. He continues His salvific work through each member of His body. When a person understands this, he sees that the idea of “offering it up” is a calling to participate in the salvation of the world.
Suffering is also a place of purification. St. Thomas Aquinas in one of his conferences said, “Whoever wishes to live perfectly should do nothing but disdain what Christ disdained on the cross and desire what He desired, for the cross exemplifies every virtue.” In suffering we learn humility, obedience, how to love and be patient as Jesus exemplified on the cross.
You’ve probably heard the saying, “Pain is inevitable; suffering is optional.” Whether we cry or smile the pain does not change but the suffering does. When we accept our pain without resisting it and offer it as a gift, the pain becomes a means of salvation for us and for the whole world.
The month of May is a season of growth, when nature is reborn. It is the time when the earth bursts forth fresh foliage and green grass after the stern frost and snow of winter; the raw atmosphere; the wild wind and rain of the early spring; it is the season when the blossoms are upon the trees and the flowers are in the gardens. It is the time when the days get long, the sun rises early and sets late. With such gladness and joyousness of nature, it is so fitting for our Mother Church to make this month a special and significant season of renewal and rejuvenation for her faithful through devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary who is the pure threshold of divine relationship.
God willed both: to reveal Himself to man and to give him the grace of being able to welcome the revelation in faith. The desire to know and love God is a gift. It is a reflection of the mystery of the divine relationship of the Holy Trinity, a divine communion of persons. The uncreated Persons of the Trinity willed to make communion with the human, the created persons of their image and likeness. After countless covenantal promises and break-ups, finally they found a holy threshold, the ‘Blessed Virgin Mary’, to renew and re-erect the imperishable pillar of relationship with humanity through the great event ‘Incarnation’. Mary’s beauty is known in her fiat and total Amen. She is referred to as a “Woman of Assent and the Memory of the Church”.
St. John Paul II so beautifully named Mary the ‘Memory of the Church.’ The Church, as Mary, is Virgin and Mother. She is the model, the mother, and the personal summa of the Church. Mary’s fiat is the nexus whereby all mankind is able to give consent to the influx of the communion of the Trinity. Time and eternity hinged on this maiden’s ‘Yes’ to the communion of grace and holiness, which made her the ‘Woman of Assent.’ She is also the ‘fullness of grace’ that is the plenitude of Trinitarian communion. She is the daughter of the Father, mother of the Son, and Spouse of the Holy Spirit.
Understanding these divine privileges in the life of blessed mother Mary, St. Louis Guanella surrendered both of his Congregations unto her care and protection. He initiated all his religious ministries upon his strong trust in the Providence of God and unshakable devotion to the Mother of Divine Providence, Blessed Mary. Enjoying her motherly kindness and guidance, St. Louis Guanella has beautifully written a book dedicated to her ‘In the Month of Flowers.’ In his writing he has strongly exhorted his followers ‘to adorn ourselves with the holy virtues of the Blessed Virgin Mary and to embrace her footsteps to enjoy divine communion with the Holy Trinity.
Fr. Guanella had strong affection and disposition towards Mary. Sharing the same family spirit and devotion, we also need to frame our religious life upon the style and surrender of Mary. As we happily prepare to celebrate the priestly ordination anniversary day of our holy Founder, it is more fitting for us to imbibe the spiritual nourishments of our founder for our holy priesthood. Our priestly life based on the virtues of Blessed Virgin Mary would be the most precious gift and honor for him. If our mere life would become a convincing witness and message, than our words as that of our Founder.
May is normally part of the Easter season, the period of fifty days which lasts from Easter to Pentecost. The Easter season is a fitting time to recall Mary’s immense joy over her Son’s Resurrection and to rediscover her role as mother and teacher in our lives. Mary has a unique role in God’s plan of salvation and in the Church. She consented to the coming of the Savior and cooperated in developing His mission. She brought Him into the world, raised Him and lovingly stood by His side during the years of His hidden life. She supported Him during His public ministry in a quiet way, beginning at Cana, where by her intercession Jesus performed His first miracle. She cooperated in His work, even uniting her own suffering with that of her Son, standing at the foot of His cross. Mary was Jesus’ first disciple, humbly following Him during every step of His journey and mission. She trusted in God completely and lived by His grace. She is our model of true discipleship and of complete faith.
The Blessed Virgin Mary offered the disciples her prayers, motherly care, and witness. She continues to offer us her motherly love and intercession. During this month of May, let us rediscover her maternal role in each of our lives. Let us offer our spiritual mother our sincere prayers, that just as she aided the first Apostles with her prayers, she may also guide and intercede for us in our journey of faith. Let us learn from her how to love and trust God completely and how to be faithful witnesses of the Risen Lord.
Fr. Soosai Rathinam