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home : features : people of faith

8/24/2017 9:00:00 AM
SEMINARIAN'S DIARY
Keeping the faith while suffering
BY DANIEL MCHALE


One of the hallmarks of a great quotation is its ability to succinctly convey profound wisdom. A couple of weeks ago, I was reading a blog about dealing with headaches when I came across the following insight: "Although the world is full of suffering, it is also full of the overcoming of it."

Its author, Helen Keller, was a woman who arguably cleared more obstacles than any person in history. Afflicted with the loss of her eyesight and hearing at 18 months old, she famously learned to speak and write under the guidance of her tutor, Anne Sullivan. Keller's life work of advocacy for persons with disabilities is testament to how she turned her personal pain into healing for others.

In the 20th century, Keller looked at the problem of human suffering through two prisms: her own physical maladies and her Universalist Christian faith. But how can we, as Catholic Christians in the 21st century, better understand this problem?

Perhaps you, like me, have had a well-meaning family member or friend instruct you to "offer it up" when you're suffering. This suggestion has become cliché, and when not framed contextually it can lead to confusion and even frustration for the person in pain.

However, when explained properly, this sentiment is an expression of redemptive suffering. As Christians, we believe that we must share in the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Each of us is created in the image and likeness of God, who wills that no person suffer, but due to sin in the world, He sent His Son to suffer and die as the means to redeem fallen humanity.

In this act of supreme love, Jesus provided us with the model for how to maintain faith in the Father in spite of our earthly afflictions. Pope St. John Paul II summed it up in his 1984 apostolic letter, "Salvifici Doloris:" "In bringing about the redemption through suffering, Christ raised human suffering to the level of the redemption. Thus, each man, in his sufferings, can also become a sharer in the redemptive suffering of Christ."

The ubiquity of suffering in our world, both global and local, can overwhelm us. Turn on the evening news or scroll through headlines on your phone and you hear and read about threats of war, terrorism, violence, racism and other evils plaguing our planet.

During my pastoral year of formation for the priesthood, which I'm spending at Mater Christi parish in Albany, I've gotten to know many of the parishioners and have been privy to some of the personal struggles they face in their lives, including the burden of debt, battles with cancer and the death of loved ones. As a future pastor, I must be equipped to offer consolation and hope when God's people suffer pain and doubt.

Hope is found in Jesus Christ, and redemptive suffering can have transformative power for those who believe in Him. It is the ultimate paradox: to overcome our suffering, we must unite it to the very instrument which caused our Blessed Lord and Savior unimaginable pain: the cross.

Helen Keller, despite her blindness, saw clearly that personal suffering not only can be overcome, but has the power to inspire a life of good works for others. As Catholics, we are called to be more Christ-like and to give glory to God through our suffering, and by our example we will bring others to know Him.

As Venerable Fulton Sheen (1895-1979), an American bishop famous for his radio and television appearances, said: "Unless there is a Good Friday in your life, there can be no Easter Sunday."

(Mr. McHale, a native of Holy Trinity parish in Hudson, is studying for the priesthood for the Albany Diocese at Pope St. John XXIII Seminary in Weston, Mass.)





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