By Fr. Simon Herbers, C.P.
Suffering is something we all experience at some time. We know it well. We see it in ourselves or in others. In order to endure it, we attempt to find the finger print of God in it. But where is the grace? The grace is often found in vulnerability. Persons once rich in wealth, influence and power are at the end of life rich only in suffering.
Yet God can make use of our suffering: Bringing people together, touching lives and advancing the kingdom. As families visit their loved ones in the hospital, old grievances are sometimes reconciled. Grudges seem foolish in the face of fragile life. I saw the faith of many patients strengthened.
I was deeply touched by an incident I remember now as the Prodigal Daughter. ( I relate the story with permission of the Dad.) I became involved one night about midnight. A young girl was picked up by the police on the streets of Houston. She was admitted to Ben Taub Hospital. Somehow her brother found her and notified their Dad. He went to the hospital and had his daughter admitted into the care of the Hospice unit on Holcombe. He asked for a Catholic Chaplain. I responded to the call. The Dad met me at the door to the patient’s room. He was in tears as he recounted the story how, for many years; he had searched for his daughter. Now he had found her. She was deathly ill. “Can you do something for her, “he begged. I said “Jesus loves your daughter. She has been found.” We prayed with her, and ministered the Sacraments. In the morning she died peacefully.
Some of my readers will remember Fr. Daniel Lord S.J. During the years I was in college, he wrote a series of articles on suffering. In one article he wrote, “God depends on us to allow ourselves to be shaken to the bone and broken so we can be rebuilt. One patient told me how his sudden illness brought him and his family back to church and restored their faith in God.
However, we are all left with the inevitable question. Why? Why me? Why anyone? God’s blessings do not remove the pain. One of the most difficult questions for me as a Hospice Chaplain was to accept that I had no answer to why? All I could say was, “Jesus entered into our suffering.”
The Suffering Christ
I am writing this during Holy Week. I meditated on Jesus’ prayer in the garden. He knelt on the ground, crying, begging His Father to take away this suffering, if it was His will. The tears were real, as were the fears.
As a Chaplain, I usually knew very little of my patient’s pain, but I recognized that Jesus knew their pain. “Perhaps sorrow is not the horrible evil that men have thought it to be,” wrote Fr. Lord in his reflection. “Perhaps it has some beautiful and deep significance that can be read only by eyes that have looked into the blood red sun behind Calvary’s hill. If Christ can suffer humiliation, hatred and pain, can we sit beneath the cross and suffer with him? It is not easy. As children we may have rushed into our parent’s arms crying, feeling helpless. Was our suffering removed? If anything, all our parents could do was hold us and feel the piercing of their own heart as they felt our brokenness. But somehow, that softened things.
Pondering with Mary
Whether one is a chaplain in a hospital with a patient, or the loved one of an ill family member, the feeling of sorrow is universal. Consider Jesus’ disciples and his mother Mary. They endured much sorrow, especially on Good Friday. Consider the pain they felt. Consider the sorrow felt by Mary at the foot of the cross as her son, the Man of Sorrows, died and life drained from him. “Quietly she waited until, the first pink light of Easter’s dawn; He stood before her, radiant, triumphant and holding out His arms to her embrace.” That is the promise of God: Joy and redemption. Fr. Lord says that “Sorrow was for Mary, in every instance, the prelude to a deeper happiness.”
Like Mary, we must ponder and question in order to seek deeper truth. For some reason, suffering is a path we are sometimes asked to take. And when our humanity meets its fragility, the Lord depends on us to be vulnerable and broken so that we may become empty enough to be filled with Grace.