Wednesday, 27 June 2012

The joy of suffering

Yet another case is going forward for judgement on one man's right to commission his own death. The person in question is 58 years old and suffering from "locked in syndrome" following a severe stroke.

When such tragic cases hit the headlines it seems to me that the benefits of suffering are never raised, never recognised even.

Can there be benefits attached to an existence that forces you to be reliant on other people for every personal need?

"The vertical bar pointing to the heavens is God's will. The horizontal bar contradicting it is our will. When our will is in conflict with God's will we have a cross. A cross in the mind is fear, anxiety, unhappiness. A cross in the body is pain" (Archbishop Fulton Sheen)

As Catholics we know that there are indeed profound benefits to be gained if we can approach suffering in the right way.
 I am reminded me of a talk given by Archbishop Sheen on the subject of suffering. He met with a woman who was in what we used to call an 'iron lung' - she had been subject to this treatment for some years and was due to spend the rest of her life inanimate in all but speech.

The Archbishop asked her if she knew what suffering was and she replied "No".
He then wrote to her daily over a long period of time and I have no doubt that his letters would have been a lifeline for her.

Archbishop Fulton Sheen had a great insight into suffering and, in later life, he actually experienced it himself following complicated heart surgery.

But, more than that, he wrote about it and it is a constant thread running through most of his books and talks.

Here is what he has to say on the issue of what he calls "wasted pain" -

"One of the greatest tragedies in the world is wasted pain. Pain without relation to the Cross is like an unsigned cheque - without value.
But once we have countersigned with the signature of the Saviour on the Cross, it takes on an infinite value.

A feverish brow that never throbs in unison with a Head crowned with thorns, or an aching hand never borne in patience with a hand on the Cross, is sheer waste.
The world is worse for that pain when it might have been much better.

All the sickbeds of the world therefore, are either on the right side of the Cross or on the left; they ask to be taken down, or like the thief on the right, they ask to be taken up.

It is not so much what people suffer that makes the world mysterious: it is rather how much they miss when they suffer.
They seem to forget that even as children they made obstacles in their games in order to have something to overcome. Why then, when they grow into man's estate, should there not be prizes won by effort and struggle?

Cannot the spirit of man rise with adversity as the bird rises against the resistance of the wind? Do not the game fish swim upstream? Must not the alabaster box be broken to fill the house with ointment?.......................Why then cannot pain be made redemption? Why under the alchemy of Divine Love cannot crosses be turned into crucifixes?........."

Those words say it all really. The negative processes of suffering can be re-directed to positives.


By offering pain and humiliation to the Holy Trinity

By allowing your own suffering to be a platform for others to show their love and care and charity

By resigning oneself to God's will and offering up the pain for the release of the Holy Souls

By bearing the pain and indignity in reparation for blasphemies against the Holy Name and Our Lady

Blessed Miguel Pro wrote a most moving prayer on suffering; it is not an easy prayer to say. It is even harder to abide by the sentiments in the prayer:-

Does our life become from day to day more painful, more oppressive, more replete with afflictions? Blessed be he a thousand times who desires it so.

 If life be harder, love makes it also stronger and, only this love, grounded on suffering, can carry the cross of my Lord  Jesus Christ.

Love without egotism, without relying on self but enkindling in the depth of the heart an ardent thirst to love and suffer for all those around us: a thirst that neither misfortune nor contempt can extinguish…..I believe, O Lord; but strengthen my faith….Heart of Jesus, I trust in Thee; but give greater vigour to my confidence.

Heart of Jesus, I give my heart to Thee; but, so enclose it in Thee that it may never be separated from Thee.

Heart of Jesus, I am all Thine; but take care of my promise so that I may be able to put it in practice even unto the complete sacrifice of my life.


  1. Absolutely wonderful blog. A gem of a topic and presentation,an encouragement to all.

    Thanks Richard.

  2. Another fine post, and absolutely right. As old age approaches, I think about this a lot.

    Thanks, Richard, and God bless.

  3. Thank you Chris and Momangelica. God bless.