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The Chronic Sufferer’s Challenge

- Dan Shea, EGL 2

“You may well be content to serve the Lord in illness, for when He calls people to suffer instead of working for Him, He is calling them to a higher state.  It is most fitting that we should carry the cross with Christ.”  -Saint John of Avila

Few know what it like living day after day having to convince one’s self that unrelenting suffering has a purpose.  Some suggest it saves souls while glorifying God knowing that “suffering that comes from God is best.”  Yet that is hard to put your arms around when you are alone and no one understands the intensity of your pain, depression and loneliness.  When pain is not visible and the medical diagnosis is fraught with ambiguity, others do not relate.  Regardless, private suffering consumes one’s very being each and every hour of the day.  Thus, the sufferer must take into account what Pope Paul VI said, “You are not alone, separated, abandoned or useless. You have been called by Christ and are his living and transparent image.”

Occasionally, there are days when you suddenly get a break and everything and anything seems possible.  In one’s resolve, you begin to think how lucky you are for having been provided for in our disability.  You are grateful for your family, friends, and doctors, who try to provide solutions and solace.  Mercifully, this sustains one for a time.  Then just as suddenly as relief appeared it disappears and with it goes the glimpse of hope that allowed you to believe the end was in sight.  Ominously, the process begins anew.  It is a constant struggle of faith, love, perseverance, acceptance, joy, and fleeting relief contrasted with anger, fear, hollow smiles, sorrow, and depression.

However through focused prayer and determination one might take the advice of the Venerable Fulton Sheen who said, “Think not that you could do more if you were well…what matters is not what…we are doing, but whether we are doing God’s will.”  Eventually, the sufferer may conclude he has been chosen to a ministry he would not have chosen for himself.  He now understands that suffering’s purpose is redemption.  This bears out Fr. Richard John Neuhaus saying, “He allows us to have a share in His redeeming work, which can only be done through suffering.”  Often suffering also includes the added burden of being misunderstood.  Most people do not understand the sufferer’s challenge.

Emerson stated “It is a luxury to be understood.”  For most people to understand without having experienced another’s travail is nearly impossible.  The key to understanding anyone is genuine caring and similar experiences.  Still the common propensity is to detach from our fellow travelers and their woes.  Proper detachment frees men from caring about things of the world, to care for the people of the world.  Tragically, indifference frees men from both.

M. Scott Peck’s The Road Less Traveled, provides further evidence stating “The person who has evolved to the highest level of awareness, of spiritual power, will likely have no one in his or her circle of acquaintances with whom to share such depth of understanding.”  Plainly, one’s pain filled moccasins only fit their owner.  Accordingly, we must pray as Saint Francis, “O’Divine Master grant that I may not seek to be understood but to understand.”

The 21st World Day of the Sick will be celebrated February 11 on the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes.




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