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.
“Holiness is one of the most beautiful gifts a human heart can offer to God.” – Mother Teresa. We know well that life is a precious gift of God to all of us and what we make out of our lives is our gift to God in return. I was told that in the culture of the United States as also of India, when you go to visit a family, never go with an empty hand. I wonder what gift we need to carry when we go to our eternal home (heaven) to our Father. We know well that we cannot carry anything but our pure soul and the good things we did here on earth. We fatigue a lot to earn so many things just to leave them to others as the proverb says “When he dies he will carry nothing away” (49;17). Each one must now reflect what gift we will be carrying to our Father once we are done with our pilgrimage here on earth. What good do we possess or cultivate? Humility? Forgiveness? Patience? Love? Charity? Kindness? Sharing with the needy? Endurance in suffering? What is the gift that I will present to God?
We begin this month remembering and honoring our ancestors who lived before us and returned to the Father. November 1st, we honor All Saints and November 2nd, we commemorate All the Faithful Departed. St. Bernard says the lives of the saints assure us that holiness is possible, they teach us by their lives and their writing how to serve God, and they can intercede for us when we need God’s help. Honoring the saints and millions of others who have tried to live a good and holy life, including those who have fallen along the way, but who have gotten up and kept on going. Saints are people who lived their lives according to the design of God and helped others also live their lives well. When we live our life fully and help others as to live well, then we become holy ones in the eyes of God.
Live: Whether we know it or not, we all have a vision for our lives. We all have a philosophy that sets out how we want to live and what we want to accomplish. It’s this vision that guides many of our decisions and actions. At the heart of our vision is the desire to do what makes us happy. As we mature, our vision gets refined and sharpened. It also becomes increasingly selfless. Our life is not just made of what this world has to offer us. Remember that we are the children of God and that heaven is our true home. We need to tell ourselves that we are more than our job, our skills, our wealth or education. We are precious to God and He delights in us. This is the call to live our life fully, meaningfully and joyfully.
Let Live: As we journey on earth God is asking us to love our neighbor as a commandment. God asks us to take the risk for the sake of His people. Our Founder, St. Louis Guanella, and Mother Theresa didn’t try to solve all of the world’s problems: they simply lived their life in radical service and love of their neighbor. Hindus, Muslims, and Christians alike saw in them a role model. They invite us to let others live with a simple program of life, “Spread love everywhere you go. Let no one ever come to you without leaving happier. At the end of life, we are going to be judged on the basis of our love for one another.” Fr. Guanella invites his followers to attain holiness with this simple program of life, “in doing our daily duties with love, we embrace holiness.” I would like to quote a passage from The Imitation of Christ. “How many people will remember you and pray for you once you are dead? So do all you can now, for you do not know when you will die or what you will face after death. Gain merit for eternity now while there is time and concern yourself only with your eternal salvation.” (Ch. 23; 8).
One of the more meaningful and fulfilling parts of the Catholic doctrine that is not well developed in other Christian denominations is the incredible value of suffering. Sadly many Christians believe that Jesus suffered and died for us so that we would not have to suffer at all. While Jesus did suffer and die to save us and that the redeemed will one day have every tear wiped from their eyes, our path of salvation to the final, eternal reward in this life is to follow in His footsteps. Christ promised us that, if we are truly His disciples, we will suffer just as He did. Suffering for a Catholic is never meaningless; it is always meant for the sanctification of our souls and to prepare us for heaven, no matter what form it takes: sickness, financial troubles, emotional turmoil, family strife, religious persecution, natural disasters, government oppression and so on. Whether we will it or not, we must suffer. There are some who suffer like the good thief, others like the bad thief. They both suffer equally. Only one knew how to make his suffering meritorious and accept them in spirit of reparation. Jesus said to him, “This day you will be with Me in Paradise.” The other, on the contrary, cried out, uttered blasphemies, and expired in the most frightful despair. There are two ways of suffering: Suffering with love and suffering without love. The saints suffered everything with joy and patience, because they loved. We suffer with anger, because we do not love. If we loved God, we should love crosses and be happy to be able to suffer for the love of Him who lovingly suffered for us. The Cross is consoling! But, we must love while we suffer, and suffer while we love. On the Way to the Cross, only the first step is painful.
Our greater Cross is the fear of Crosses. Most men turn their backs to Crosses. The more they run, the more the Cross pursues them. He who goes out to meet the Cross and embraces it courageously is purified and detached from this world. The Christian lives in the midst of Crosses as the fish lives in the sea. When the good God sends us Crosses, we resist, we complain, we murmur and we are so adverse to whatever contradicts us that we want to be always in a box of cotton, but we ought to be put into a box of thorns. It is by the Cross that we will go to heaven. Illness, temptations and troubles are so many Crosses which will take us to Heaven. Our Lord is our model. Let us take up the Cross and follow Him who has gone before us. The Cross is the ladder to Heaven. The Cross gave peace to the world; it must bring peace to our hearts. Nothing makes us more like our Lord than carrying His Cross. We must never question where our Crosses come from. They come from God. It is always God who is giving us this way of proving our love for Him. One of the greatest gifts in Heaven’s treasury is an understanding of the Way of the Cross, a love for trials and sufferings. If we could just spend a week in heaven we should understand the value of our moments in suffering.
As we are in the Lenten season, it would be appropriate to reflect upon the greatest testament which our beloved Founder St. Louis Guanella left to us his disciples: Prayer and Suffering. It can be well understood from the words of Bishop Aurelio Bacciarini, the successor of Fr. Guanella. Prayer is the first necessary condition for the stability, progress and success of the Houses of Fr. Guanella. He also differentiates prayer and the spirit of prayer: Prayer is the common and ordinary invocation of God that we raise to Him during the day. Spirit of prayer is something more intense and deeper. Therefore for these extraordinary charitable acts not only mere human hands are needed but also the kind and strong intervention of God. Without the spirit of prayer, we would not receive God’s favors. Hence it is a requirement for every member of a community and whole of the congregation to be soaked in prayer and make the Houses of Charity real tabernacles of constant praise to God. How to make our life prayer? a) from the Altar of the Holy Eucharist, let us draw the treasures of Divine Mercy b) from the reception of Holy Communion, let us unite ourselves with Jesus with the fervor of saints, so that nothing of this world may separate us from Him c) From the Holy Tabernacle – Paradise on Earth – let us sanctify our work, our travelling and our rest by keeping our hearts and minds on the Lord, in conversation with heaven.
Suffering is a word that drips drops of blood. Unless and until one is filled with the spirit of prayer, it is highly difficult to understand the term suffering. From the very life of Jesus, we can perceive that there is no redemption without the cross, suffering. The Church of Jesus Christ floats on the blood of the martyrs. All her triumphs are rooted in suffering. The Houses of Fr. Guanella were born from martyrdom. Fr. Louis Guanella suffered martyrdom in everything: contradictions, accusations, opposition, humiliations, disappointments, hunger, thirst, tiredness, agonies of body and soul. Let us understand that suffering is the key to reach paradise. As imitators of Jesus Christ and followers of Fr. Guanella, let us strive to endure daily suffering, suffer discomforts and privations, endure and carry the crosses that faithfully accompany our daily lives. The very legacy of Prayer and Suffering teaches us a lesson to despise the world and detach ourselves from its allurements. Let us live in God by prayer and suffering as our beloved Father and Founder did.
At the invitation of our Holy Father the season of lent is a favorable time which is offered by God as ‘a sacramental sign of our conversion. Lent summons us and enables us, to come back to the Lord wholeheartedly, and in every aspect of our lives’. Prompted by Pope Francis, we shall recollect the aspect of prayer and suffering as Guanellians. He says that prayer should become the driving force to enable us to reach out to the poor, marginalized and the victimized. Prayer is the constant response of our hearts to the will of God. The attitude of penance reminds us that we need to suffer with endurance, to say no to our selfishness. Acts of charity should be the constant striving of our hearts to share our time and resources with those who have nothing or nobody.
Added to our own physical, psychological, socio-economic problems, the present religious and political situation impels us to march forward with much courage to face the prejudices and persecutions against us Christians in order to be rooted out from a particular country or territory. Generally this might arouse in us questions like where is God? Why all these to us alone? and make us lose hope in God. On a positive note this happens to us because God wants to communicate with us but we are busy doing our work. Often we are after our minds by being too much indulged in social networks, technology, media which keeps us away from the creator who is behind every sphere. Rather we are called to be after our hearts from where love proceeds and inclines us to care for the anthropological aspect of our existence. It is high time this Lent that we fast from the media, network culture and be rooted in communicating with God in prayer and receive graces to face our trials and tribulations. May this Lenten Season help us to have metanoia and a fruitful celebration of the Resurrection of the Lord.
In a very remarkable event, our Holy Father, Pope Francis, canonized Mother Teresa (St.Teresa of Calcutta) during this extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy. There are many similarities between the two saints of charity. “It is God who works”-our founder had an unshakable faith in Divine Providence. “Carrier of God’s tender and merciful love” – this is a theme for the canonization of Mother Teresa. She totally abandoned herself by saying, “I am a little pencil in God’s hand- that is, He does all of the thinking and He does the writing.” Father Guanella said, “abandon yourself confidently in the loving arms of Providence, because we are chicks under the wings of Divine Providence. I do not move a hand or take a step without being sure that God is explicitly calling me.”
Father Guanella founded the “Servants of Charity” and Mother Teresa the “Missionaries of Charity.” Charity is the foundation for both toward brothers and sisters in difficulty and in crises of any kind: spiritual, moral, emotional or material. They discovered the pearl of dignity in every disabled and marginalized person- that of being a child of God.“Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” Both cherished in their hearts this Gospel passage and gave life to the corporal and spiritual works of mercy.
For Father Guanella, “The Eucharist is the treasury of God’s love and life of the institute, a day without Holy Communion is like a day without the sun.”
“The Mass is the spiritual food that sustains me without which I could not get through one single day or hour in my life,” Mother Teresa said and confirmed that His presence was the reason for her work.
Regarding holiness, our founder said, “Personal Holiness lived in joy produces peace and souls dedicated to God are purified through suffering so as to be holy and to make others holy.” For Mother Teresa, “Holiness is not the privilege of the few but the need for all. Holiness means carrying out God’s will with joy and faithfulness and it forges saints.”
In both of their lives, they faced countless hardships, suffering, and enormous criticism but actually opposition only served to strengthen their dependence on God and reach monumental achievements in favor of the least in society.
Let us praise and thank God for the gift of the Modern Apostles of Charity as the Church canonizes Mother Teresa and has already recognized our founder. Following their inspiration and the fire of charity we can rekindle our Religious life.“We are not called to be successful, but faithful”- Mother Teresa
This month, we celebrate the loving memory of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary which looks to eternity and gives us hope. Our mother country, India, is also leaping and dancing for joy for the celebration of her 69th Independence Day. When I thought of writing this article, my eyes moved towards our DPP’S bookshelf and my attention was drawn to “The Art of Power” by Thich Nhat Hanh, a national bestselling author who promotes peace in every step. His approach towards power is different. What does power mean to us? Why are most people willing to use power and desire so much to hold onto it?
The subject of power has focused primarily on the state’s monopoly on violence, its proper legal use, and the legitimacy and behavior of those who control it. Thich Nhat Hanh begins his inquiry into power at its very base, its most “organic level” which means with the will and our deepest intention of love and goodness.
What does power mean to us? Why are most people willing to do almost anything to get it? Most of us seek to be in a position of power in order to control our life situation, namely wealth; professional success; fame; physical strength; military might and/or political control. To facilitate and maintain power, we drain and strain our relationships. The purpose of having power or freedom means to become the best version of oneself such as being free from addiction, fear, despair, discrimination, fundamentalism, or anger.
Many great teachers and leaders like Jesus, Buddha, Mohammed, Moses and Gandhi had their profound desires for peace; relieving the sufferings of the most vulnerable in society and to bring about religious harmony and universal brotherhood.
We will change the world and our country simply by behaving like a committed Christian and living in the presence of God by focusing on our spiritual power. When we suffer in our personal lives with heavy workloads, constant stress, unrealistic expectations, and worldly attractions, we will be bound with various slaveries. Let us be happy and relaxed so that we bring joy and hope to everyone!
The last will and testament is a precious gift to the children. Before leaving this world, St. Guanella left us his legacy that our religious life should be deeply rooted in an intense spiritual life and in the exercise of charity. In his writings, he urged his disciples, “if we want the works of mercy to progress, we need people of prayer and many fervent souls able to endure suffering”.
We, the spiritual children of the Servants of Charity, Daughters of St. Mary of Providence, Lay Collaborators and above all thousands of poor, are admirers of St. Guanella and have an intimate touch with the joy of the Canonization event which took place two years ago. Our Founder’s heart that beat with such great affection and fatherly tenderness; his example of virtue; the wisdom of his direction and advice- are all a precious inheritance.
What does his Canonization anniversary say to us? What does his holiness and virtue mean for me personally? When we think about his holiness of life, he did not all of a sudden become a star but more like a laughing stock waiting for the “hour of mercy”. He underwent an incredible amount of rejection, hurt, misunderstandings, isolation, persecution, and suspicion from his superiors and civil authorities. He locked himself up in the sorrow of his heart and had the temptation to drop everything and leave for mission lands. He never gave way to anger and bitterness or closed his relationship with anyone but simply trusted in God’s Providence who called him and would strengthen him. The Servants of Charity must set their aim high and see to it that the institute is filled with needy persons- “good cannot be done except by ascending the fatiguing road to Calvary”. I am deeply touched by reading the most moving passage of his autobiography which speaks of the joy that God sows in his trails, “The same contradiction and adversity, whether in body or mind and heart, the good Lord converts them into a shower of gold, and the storms of the storm in many grains such as precious stones that enrich the home of the spiritual, living tabernacle of the Holy Spirit.”
The very purpose of the Congregation and the goal in our religious life is “glory to God and the salvation of our own souls and those of others”. The Founder would admonish that “more miserable is the religious who does not know how to grow in his sanctification by means of the spirit of penance” and of the often repeated phrase- “Pray and Suffer.” We have a responsible call to spread the ‘Good News’ and the gospel of charity henceforth there is no room for gossip, showing an indifferent attitude and creating confusion among us.
Let us all grow in the affinity and in the bond of Charity. We are in the Congregation and for the Congregation and by the Congregation, who is our beloved mother. St. Guanella founded and established our Congregation with an exuberant love and limitless labors and anguish. What gift do we want to present to St. Guanella for his Feast? To study, follow and transmit his spirit and to have a lively desire for perfection by uniting with his last will and testament: “Paradise, Paradise! Let us pray and hope “Providence will never, never abandon us!”