Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of July 23, 2007
Tender hearts feel life's agonies, heaven's ecstasy
The sufferer must lay their agony at the foot of the cross
My Glass is Half Full
By MARK PICKUP
Recently I was a guest on a radio talk show for the Catholic Relevant Radio network in Green Bay, Wis., We discussed various topics including the perils of euthanasia and assisted suicide to people with incurable diseases and serious disabilities. Our discussion concluded with Pope John Paul II's witness to the world, in his disability, for a culture of life.
From my perspective, his identification with the disabled people of the world was never more profound than his last public appearance at the window of his papal apartment. It was Easter morning 2005.
Debilitated from years of Parkinson's disease, and having been hospitalized twice in quick succession with severe respiratory problems, the pontiff was wracked with septic shock and kidney failure. He still insisted on trying to deliver the traditional Urbi et Orbi blessing.
Solidarity with the disabled
The holy father was clearly in pain and could not give the blessing. He was unable to speak. To me, it was his most eloquent statement of solidarity with the disabled of the world.
I was reduced to tears and remembered his 1984 apostolic letter, Salvific Deloris (The Christian Meaning of Suffering). Almost 20 years after his apostolic letter was published, Pope John Paul lived its truth.
John Paul II had written, "The world of suffering possesses as if it were its own solidarity. People who suffer become similar to one another through the analogy of their situation, the trial of their destiny, or through their need for understanding and care, and perhaps above all through the persistent question of the meaning of suffering."
The pope said that God's love provides the ultimate source of meaning to all that exists: "Love is the richest source of meaning of suffering, which always remains a mystery. Christ causes us to enter into the mystery and discover the 'why' of suffering, as far as we are capable of grasping the sublimity of divine love."
The pope pointed to the cross, and said, "This answer has been given by God to man in the cross of Jesus Christ." He reminded us that "suffering seems to be almost inseparable from man's earthly existence."
It was at the foot of the cross that I found meaning to my own protracted suffering that has spanned more than two decades.
I look to the example of Christ's passion, crucifixion and resurrection. By uniting my lesser suffering with his sufferings for all mankind, I am discovering that suffering has a mysterious connection to human transcendence. The object in abject suffering must be Christ - not myself.
Gift of surrender
I discovered in suffering the gift of surrender. In surrender, man finds fertile ground for faith that foreshadows spiritual illumination.
My intangible mystery is inextricably linked to the purpose for which I was born: Union with Christ! With Christ as my interior guide and master, I can begin to grasp the light of his victory over suffering and death and cease groping in my own darkness of defeat and despair. Grasping comes from faith, groping from unbelief.
The Agony in the Garden culminated with Christ's words, "My Father, if it is not possible that this cup pass without my drinking it, your will be done" (Matthew 26:42). So too, I was/am called to continually surrender my life and destiny to the will of God - whatever that might be.
I must be content with the consolation that this fire of suffering has a refining influence that begins here on earth and meets its completion in eternity. My temporal suffering is an indispensable ingredient to the glory that will be revealed to me. It is through the transforming grace of Christ that my eternal glory is possible. Apparently, the agonies are necessary to change a stiff-necked and stubborn man - like me - to become more like Christ.
Throughout his disability and suffering, Pope John Paul's heart remained tender to the voice of God and to the cry of humanity. He epitomized St. Paul's exhortation to "offer your bodies a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God, your spiritual worship" (Romans 12:1).
People suffering catastrophic disabilities or incurable illnesses must resist the temptation to become bitter or harden their hearts toward God. Hard hearts are oblivious to the sublimity of divine love.
It is only God's love that gives context and meaning to suffering as the sufferer lays their agony and sorrow at the foot of the cross in union with Christ's sufferings and sorrows.
His outstretched arms welcome you and me with all our agonies, into his tender embrace of divine love.
Tender hearts feel life's agonies, but they also experience heaven's ecstasy. Stone hearts only know the agony.
The answer to the why of suffering lies in the redemptive love of Christ Jesus as we humbly surrender to God and pray, "if it is not possible that this cup pass without my drinking it, your will be done, your will be done." Then we unite our sufferings with Christ.
"But rejoice to the extent that you share in the sufferings of Christ, so that when his glory is revealed, you may rejoice exultantly" (1 Peter 4:13).
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