On the Christian Meaning of Suffering

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Photo Credit: Isaiah Eyre Photography

BE NOT AFRAID. I decided to return once more to the 1984 Apostolic Letter written by St. JP II titled Salvifici Doloris: On the Christian Meaning of Suffering that addressed the ever present question of suffering: why, what, and how? God transformed even something not part of His original design for humanity (suffering, pain, death, dying, etc.) into a means for transcendence: faith, hope, and charity.

We fear suffering. I can emphatically state in my greatest moments of suffering and the  suffering of my loved ones, I felt closest to heaven- the veil was lifted. Our suffering, united with Christ, can become salvific. “Suffering seems to be particularly essential to the nature of man. It is deep as man himself, precisely because in its own way that depth which is proper to man, and in its own way surpasses it. Suffering seems to belong to man’s transcendence: it is one of those points in which man is in a certain sense “destined” to go beyond himself (3).”

We fear weakness. Weakness means vulnerability & lack of control. Christ chooses weakness as the vehicle for salvation. “To Suffer means to become particularly susceptible, particularly open to the working of the salvific powers of God . . . In [Christ], God has confirmed his desire to act especially through suffering . . . and wishes to have his power known precisely in this weakness and emptying of self (74).”

We fear the acquisition of virtue. Striving is the key word when acquiring virtue. Virtue acquisition takes hard work and doesn’t always “pay-off” in this life. “Suffering contains a special call to virtue . . . and this is the virtue of perseverance in bearing whatever disturbs and causes harm. In doing this, the individual unleashes hope, which maintain him the conviction that suffering will not get the better of him, it will not deprive him of his dignity as a human being, a dignity liked to the awareness of the meaning of life (75).”

We fear purgation. Purgation leads to heaven. God calls you and I to redeem ourselves and the world in our little way. “The Gospel of suffering is being written unceasingly, and it speaks unceasingly the words of this strange paradox: the springs of divine power gush forth precisely in the midst of human weakness. . . The more a person is threatened by sin, the heavier the structure of sin in which today’s world brings with it, the greater the eloquence which human suffering possesses in itself (89).”

We fear true compassion. Our culture & society throws around the term compassion. What is compassion? Compassion comes from the Latin root com (with) and pati (suffer). Together compatior means “to suffer with.” Compassion means “to suffer with” another person. “We could say that suffering, which is present under so many different forms in our human world, is also present in order to unleash love in the human person, that unselfish gift of one “I” on behalf of other people, especially to those who suffer (92).”

In the Gospels, Jesus repeats dozens of times, “BE NOT AFRAID.” It’s time to let go of the fear associated with suffering, death, & dying. And focus on living. Life is beautiful in all its forms & functions. It’s time to relearn how to suffer with each other. In the words of a man who understood and lived suffering: “In the messianic programme of Christ, which is at the same time the programme of the Kingdom of God, suffering is present in the world in order to release love, in order to give birth to works of love towards neighbor, in order to transform the whole of human civilization into a “civilization of love (96).” Let us go forth and build a civilization of love . . .

Holy Person of the Month: Blessed Chiara Luce Badano, Patron of Chronically Catholic Blog

Photo Credit: cassiepeasedesign.com
Photo Credit: cassiepeasedesign.com

After 11 years of hoping and praying for a child, Ruggero and Maria Theresa Badano welcomed their daughter, Chiara Lucu, on October 29th, 1971. Born in the small Italian village of Sassello, she was considered a beautiful and simple child; Chiara exhibited an acute awareness and compassion for the poor and suffering, especially drug addicts and persons with mental illness. The simple, beautiful child grew into a vivacious and active youth filled with zest and love for life. She enjoyed swimming, outdoor actives, and socializing with friends. In 1980, Chiara became involved in the Focalare Movement and an active member in her local youth group. Chiara, though virtuous and unique, enjoyed being a modern teenager.

In 1988, while playing tennis, Chiara experienced excruciating pain in her shoulder, and soon received the diagnosed of osteogenic sarcoma- bone cancer. During her final two years, Chaira fulfilled her name’s mean “Clear Light” becoming a illuminating presence of joy in the midst of immense suffering. After an excruciating night, she stated, “I suffered a lot, but my soul was singing.” Even in her weakened state, Chiara’s presence touched many lives. One of her doctors remarked, “Through her smile, and through her eyes full of light, she showed us that death doesn’t exist; only life exists.” Intrigued by stories of this heroic teenager, Cardinal Saldarini visited her in the hospital and asked, “The light in your eyes is splendid. Where does it come from?” Chiara replied: “I try to love Jesus as much as I can.”

Chiara in the Hospital
Chiara in the Hospital

Even after she received her terminal diagnosis and during treatment, Chiara keenly understood the value of redemptive suffering. She often repeated the phrase, “If this is what you want, Jesus, so do I.” As Chiara’s beautiful locks fell out due to chemotherapy, she prayed as each strand fell, “For you, Jesus.”  She even refused pain management wanting to remain lucid. She explained, “I want to share as much as possible in His suffering on the cross.” Chiara befriended another adolescent struggling with depression and drug-dependency. Despite how painful walking was because of a large growth on her spine, Chiara walked with this girl; “I’ll have time to rest later.”

As her impending death approached, Chiara encouraged her mother, “When you’re getting me ready, Mum, you have to keep saying to yourself, ‘Chiara Luce is now seeing Jesus.’” With her friends and family present, Chiara Luce died October 7, 1990. Her last words were: “Goodbye. Be happy because I’m happy.” Her family buried her in a wedding dress as requested.

bl. Chiara Luce Badano When Chiara died, I was one year old. Her first confirmed miracle involved a young Italian boy dying from meningitis induced organ failure. His parent’s asked for Chiara’s intercession. A panel of doctors ruled that there was no medical explanation for the boy’s full recovery. On September 25, 2010, Pope Emeritus Benedict VXI beatified Chiara Luce Badano- the first blessed from Generation X.

In the words of Chiara: “Previously I felt … the most I could do was to let go. Instead, now I feel enfolded in a marvelous plan of God, which is slowly being unveiled to me.”

Bl. Chiara Luce Badano, pray for us!

Why did I choose Bl. Chiara for my blog patron? I stumbled into her story and witness during a period of intense medical fragility and complexity in my life. I became dehabilitated. I was lost. More doors and windows were shut than opened. Then the Holy Spirit guided me to this young woman who died around the time I was born. I felt an instant connection. I felt hope. When I decided to chose a patroness for my blog, I chose her. I believe in the Communion of Saints. She helped me ad continues to intercede for me. And I want to share her heroic virtue and story with the world- even just a small corner.