Trusting God in Suffering

It seems that of late the Lord has sent a lot more prayer requests my way for people suffering from serious illnesses and disease, particularly of advanced stages of cancer and lymphoma. I hold them in a particular place in my heart and in my daily prayer; perhaps because I have lost three loved ones to cancer. Perhaps because I also know the power of prayer in having members of my family who are cancer survivors. No matter what the illness, it places the family in the crucible of anguish and uncertainty; wanting to trust in God and hope in him, and at the same time, the waiting gives time for our fears and worries creep up to haunt our faith.

In these very moments where faith is attacked by the violent churning of doubt and questioning, our best defense is the simple utterance (perhaps it takes every drop of energy we have):

“Jesus, I trust in You!”

One of my go-to scripture passages when the siege of or worry waits outside my door:

“Have no anxiety about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests by made known to God. And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” – Philippians 4:6-7

That one’s a bit long for me to remember verbatim, but I have memorized this shorter one from the Prophet Isaiah 26:3:

“You keep him in perfect peace, whose mind rests on You, because he trusts in You.”

HEALING THE MAN BORN BLINDThe word of God in the Bible never promises that the faithful will not experience hardship and suffering. We can just open to the Book of Job and find the contrary to be true. Job in his faithfulness was allowed by God to be tested and tormented by Satan. In order to understand our own sufferings we need to ask why this was so. Jesus himself gives us the answer in this Sunday’s reading from the Gospel of John 9:1-41, a narrative of Jesus healing a man blind from birth:

As Jesus passed by he saw a man blind from birth.
His disciples asked him,
“Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents,
that he was born blind?”
Jesus answered,
“Neither he nor his parents sinned;
it is so that the works of God might be made visible through him.

It is only natural when one is has no choice but to deal with an infirmity to ask, “why me?” In itself, this is not a bad question, but it needs to be placed in a broader context, that of an invitation by God to be part of the revelation of His divine glory, so that the works of God might e made visible through him. This requires an attitude of abandonment to God; a reaffirmation that he truly knows every hair on our head, and our every ache and pain we feel.

There is no guarantee in our abandonment that God will heal us the way we wish, but his invitation is a great opportunity to do a couple of things:

  • A purification of our own fidelity. Affliction is a great lens for knowing how to prioritize our lives. It helps us to see where we need to heal broken relationships and where we need to spend our time and energy.
  • Our attitude in our affliction can be very inspiring for others. Look to the saints and see how they dealt with their affliction. They used it to glorify God, sing his praises, and point others to the hope of eternal salvation.

One example is the life of Blessed Chiara Luce Badano, a vibrant teen fully living out her Catholic faith, was struck with an aggressive form of cancer. When diagnosed at the age of 17 with osteosarcoma, she spent hours in silence, only to emerge from her ‘garden of Gethsemane’ saying, “If you want it, Jesus,  so do I.” She lived the remainder of her short life as a sign of God’s love with radiant joy.

Her words, in a way, reflect the words of Job when he was stripped of everything he had:

Then Job arose, and rent his robe, and shaved his head, and fell upon the ground, and worshipped. And he said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return; the LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.” In all of this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong. – Job 1:20-21

This prayer of Blessed Miguel Pro could be made our own, or at least inspire us in our own encounters with suffering:

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 love Thee; but increase my love. Heart of Jesus, I trust in Thee; but give greater vigor 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. Amen.

Related:

Sunday reflection: John 9:1-41, by Ed Morrissey, reflects how affliction can be a blessing.

 

Salvifici Doloris, by Blessed John Paul II

 

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Fourth Sunday of Lent: Are We Willing to Allow God to Use Our Lives?

A question that arose in reading this Sunday’s Gospel, “Are we willing to allow God to use our lives completely, even our suffering?”

The beginning of the ninth chapter of the Gospel of John begins in a narrative of Jesus and his disciples walking along, and as they pass by a man, blind since birth, the disciples pose the question:

“Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”

What a question!

In the culture of Jesus’ time, it was firmly believed by the Jewish people that when bad things happened to someone, it was a punishment for sin, and even could be passed on to one’s children. For example, in the discourse on the Ten Commandments, we hear: “I the Lord, your God, am a jealous God, inflicting punishment for their fathers wickedness on the children of those who hate me, down to the third and fourth generation (Ex 20:5).  We hear again, “…I…am a jealous God, inflicting punishments for their fathers’ wickedness on the children of those who hate me….” (Dt 5:9). It was also thought that when a person was richly blessed with children and success, it was because they found favor with God. The narrative of the Annunciation, the angel Gabriel says to Mary, “Hail, favored one! The Lord is with you” (Luke 1:28).

From this viewpoint, we can understand how the Disciples of Jesus might ‘jump’, in a sense, to such a conclusion. Even in our day, with the terrible disasters in Haiti, and most recently in New Zealand and Japan, some groups have drawn this same conclusion, stating that God is punishing these people because they do not accept Jesus.

We would be wise to take to heart how Jesus answers this question of His Disciples. “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”

How does Jesus respond? He says:

“Neither he nor his parents sinned: it is so that the works of God might be made visible through him.”

It is interesting to note, and it is characteristic of Jesus in the Gospels, to not give a direct answer on morals, but always manages to broaden our view of God’s omniscience (all-knowing beyond the finite view that we have). He takes finite, nearsightedness, and thrusts us into a bigger a picture. Jesus is revealing a more complete picture of God. “…that the  works of God might be made visible through him.” In other words, ‘For God’s Glory.’

I can already hear many people asking, “But…how can a good God allow this innocent man to live out his whole life blind? For what?”

This brings us back to the question posed at the beginning, “Are we willing to allow God to use our lives completely, even our suffering?” Or, “For His Glory”?

Most of us have experienced those moments in prayer – for me, it often happens following the reception of Jesus’ Real Presence in the Holy Eucharist – where we pledge ourselves to Him and to His service? We might recall prayers such as, “Jesus, I am yours. Do with me what you will.” And other such prayers in our moment of gratitude and communion with our Creator and Redeemer. We sense we are in the presence of the Holy, and want to give everything. It is in such moments we can unreservedly respond to this question – ‘Are we willing to allow God to use our lives completely, even our suffering?’ – with a wholehearted “Yes, Lord. I am yours. Do with me what you will.”

The challenge is, when we exit the sanctuary where we’ve encountered our Lord in a tangible way and resume our daily routines – we find that moment of euphoria wearing off – do we still carry that intentionality of self-giving with us? Or do we begin to redefine our limits of our ‘self-giving’?

The perfect of example of undeserved suffering is given to us in the Old Testament in the narrative of God’s servant, Job.

The book begins describing Job’s character:

“In the land of Uz there was blameless and upright man named Job, who feared God and avoided evil. Seven sons and three daughters were born to him; and he had seven thousand sheep, three thousand camels, five hundred yoke of oxen, five hundred she-asses, and a great number of work animals, so that he was greater than any of the men of the East. His sons used to take turns giving feasts, sending invitations to their three sisters to eat and drink with them. And when each feast had run its course, Job would send for them and sanctify them, rising early and offering holocausts for every one of them. For Job said, “It may be that my sons have sinned and blasphemed God in their hearts.” This Job did habitually.” (Job 1:1-5)

And we know that God was pleased with Job, because He says so in his conversation with Satan:

“The LORD said to Satan, “Have you noticed my servant Job, and that there is no one on earth like him, blameless and upright, fearing God and avoiding evil?”” (Job 1:8)

Satan argues that Job has no reason not to please God because he has been given everything:

“Is it for nothing that Job is God-fearing? Have you not surrounded him and his family and all that he has with your protection? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his livestock are spread over the land. But now put forth your hand and touch anything that he has, and surely he will blaspheme you to your face.”

And thus, the story of Job’s suffering unfolds:

–          His cattle were stolen in a raid, and the herdsman were killed.

–          His sheep and shepherds were destroyed by lightening.

–          His camels were seized in another raid, and the caretakers were killed.

–          His seven sons and three daughters were killed when the house they were in collapsed.

All in one day. A disaster. What would our response be if such atrocity would befall us? How would you respond in the face of such devastation? Would you be able to respond as Job did:

“Then Job began to tear his cloak and cut off his hair. He cast himself prostrate upon the ground, and said, “Naked I came forth from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I go back again. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD!” In all this Job did not sin, nor did he say anything disrespectful of God (Job 1:20-22).

Lord, I love you. Do with me as you will.

The story doesn’t end here, but is only just the beginning of Job’s trial of faith. For, Satan complained again, that Job could endure loss, but what if he suffered personally. Physically. And God, allowed it to be so, with only the condition that Job’s life be spared. And we are told, that “Satan went forth from the presence of the LORD and smote Job with severe boils from the soles of his feet to the crown of his head.”

The story reads further, how Job’s own wife counsels him to turn from God. His best friends accuse Job of wrongdoing (sin). We too, might question, “how would God let this happen.”

For God’s glory. This is a hard thing…a very hard thing for us to take in. That a man would be born blind so that “God might be made visible through him.” That a good and righteous man might undergo what appears to be senseless suffering.

Job gives a perfect response for us when his own wife tells him to turn from God – to give up. To take back his own life that he has always lived for the Lord. Job simply says: “We accept good things from God; and should we not accept evil?”

Returning back to the Gospel of John, Jesus makes mud and anoints the man’s eyes, and tells him to go wash. The man, then goes and he washes off the mud, and could see. The man’s life of blindness is changed into an array of light and color. This event has a rippling effect upon all who knew this man to be once blind. It calls into question the power of God manifest in Jesus. In the doubt of the Pharisees the once-blind man who now sees, explains, “It is unheard of that anyone ever opened the eyes of a person born blind. If this man (Jesus) were not from God, he would not be able to do anything.”

It is as though the blind man accepts all of his former hardship in exchange for what he has now. Not only physical sight, but inner sight into the wonder of God and His infinite, loving, mercy. With Job, he too says, “Lord, I love you. Do with me as you will.”

___

Related Posts:

Saints will Arise: Laetare Sunday (Fourth Sunday of Lent)

New Theological Movement: The Blindness that Leads to Redemption

Deacon Greg Kandra’s Homily for the 4th Sunday of Lent

Tears before God

“My friends scorn me as my eyes pour forth tears before God.” Job 16:20

Such are the words of the suffering soul – the one who has run out of words to describe his pain.  All that is left are tears and sobs of grief that reached the ears of a cloistered Sister:

“I was praying in the chapel when it began: the sobs of someone in need, suffering and clinging to God. They pierce my heart and I know they pierce God’s heart.”

You will want to read the rest of the piece from the Holy Spirit Adoration Sisters.

The book of Job narrates the struggles of a man, Job, who had experienced losing everything, even his health. His friends turned on him and cursed him, and endured their tempting him to turn from God. All that Job had left was to wait for the Lord in his tears.

What is our response when we encounter someone going through a tough time? How do we accompany him? The story by the Sisters above goes on to speak of the compassion that one learns through their own suffering. It is true, when we have experienced certain hurts, we tend to be more gentle with others going through similar circumstances. May the Lord help us to enlarge our hearts, too, to find compassion when one we meet is downtrodden.

___Prayer for the Virtue of Compassion___

Compassionate and merciful Jesus,

My heart longs for Your perfection.

Not only do You share in my sufferings,

You have voluntarily accepted them.

Your proficiency at perceiving my soul,

is compared to reading large fonts in a book:

Nothing is hidden from Your panorama!

Your merciful nature knows my intentions.

Considering my continuous weaknesses,

You are dedicated to the cause of my salvation.

Jesus, You are most kind and forgiving:

You are the proven Lord of compassion!

 

 

The Hidden Pearl – Blessed Margaret

“It is time”, Captain Parisio thought to himself. “Today, a son shall be born to me.” He long anticipated this day when an heir would be born, and his hope was dashed in finding out that not only was he not the father of a son, but that the daughter born to him was badly malformed, one leg shorter than the other, her head grossly disproportionate to her body, and blind. There, on a day of anticipated joy, Parisio’s heart was hardened, and no name was even given to this poor baby girl. One of the servants took pity on her, and named her Margaret, which means ‘pearl’.

Margaret was hidden away by her parents. Those who came inquiring about their new child were told that she was stillborn. At the age of six, she was locked away in a one-room cell added on to the small parish church. For the next fourteen years she remained there, hidden away from the world, with only the kind maid-servant who named her and the parish Priest for company. When Margaret was about twenty years old, her parents took her to a church in Castello, where they heard miraculous healings were taking place. Toward the end of the day, as they came to collect their healed daughter, seeing no change in her, they abandoned her there at the Church and returned home.

Margaret, after being hidden away for twenty years, was left to fend for herself. I recommend reading her whole story here.
* * *
The idea of parents hiding their children happens today. It is just as tragic now as it was in 1287. But something beautiful happened to Margaret while in captivity, hidden from the world. Through the kind family Priest, she learned of God, and the great love God had for her. She nurtured her heart with this truth, and made room to believe that even she, in all of her suffering and deformity, there was a purpose. In faith, she accepted this, and in being thrown out into the streets to fend for herself, her faith was tested. All who met her were struck by her kindness and her great love, even deep love she professed for the parents who abandoned her!
Margaret’s parents hid her away, ashamed that they could produce such a horrific looking child. Today, we think their actions as cruel. How cruel would they be, if Margaret was conceived in today’s climate, would she have been born at all? How would a doctor, seeing in the womb the malformed child, counsel his patient? Our society is impoverished. With all of its technology, and modern means, it chooses to embrace another kind of cruelty masked as compassion. Margaret’s life most likely would have been aborted.
Fortunately, the world has known such a kind heart as Blessed Margaret of Castello, who has given us a model of love with which to love those who wished she didn’t exist at all. She in her deformity truly is a pearl of great treasure.