A couple weeks ago, I picked a friend up to drive her out to a mini retreat we were both going to for the day with a group of wonderful women from our parish.
My friend (I’ll call her Jane) can’t drive anymore because just a few months ago she became suddenly very ill and can no longer drive.
She was hospitalized in the Fall because she had started having terrible pain throughout her whole body and couldn’t move. She was there two weeks before the doctors finally diagnosed her with Polymyositis, a rare auto immune disease that attacks and weakens the muscles and can cause permanent tissue damage.
Jane told me she had never been in such terrible pain as those couple weeks of agony. She couldn’t even dress herself, she told me it was so terrible. Thankfully, after some treatment and physical therapy, she’s able to move around better now but uses a walker to walk and still needs a lot of help. With the Polymyositis, she also developed painful ulcers on her hands and has to wear special gloves. I joked with her that she was becoming like Padre Pio.
My friend Jane has had a rough time but even her own physical pain is not so much compared with the emotional pain she’s gone through watching her daughter’s son, her grandson, go through the trial of battling pediatric lymphocytic leukemia for 10 years now.
While I drove, Jane opened her heart to me and shared how she wishes she could take her grandson’s place so he didn’t have to suffer anymore. She has offered up her own pain and ordeal for him and her daughter, hoping to unite her own suffering with him and hopefully help alleviate his pain. She said she knows that if she accepts this for and with Jesus it is better than becoming depressed and bitter. At least in this way, her suffering isn’t meaningless – it has a purpose.
Jane said she hopes that her illness can somehow help bring others closer with Jesus so they will see how He helps her and see that He can help them also. I told Jane that even if she isn’t healed physically (which we still hope for) she is already bringing people to Jesus by her example of acceptance and offering of her suffering to Christ. That’s the real miracle. Jane has figured out the answer to suffering and how to respond to it:
The only way to get through suffering is by embracing and offering it with Christ’s offering.
I shared some very wise insights on this by Bishop Barron that shine a different light on The Problem with Suffering.
As we begin this final lap of Holy Week and remember the Agony and Passion Christ suffered it’s a good time to think about the great example he gave us about how to respond when we go through physical, emotional or any type of struggle.
Yesterday’s second reading from St. Paul puts it best:
Have among yourselves the same attitude that is also yours in Christ Jesus,
Who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God something to be grasped.
Rather, he emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
coming in human likeness;
and found human in appearance,
he humbled himself,
becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross.