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Alison W Faith Formation Ink Slingers Sacred Scripture Saints Spiritual Growth

The Eyes of Suffering

The Eyes of Suffering

In the world, you will have hardship” (John 16:33). That’s a statement from Jesus, our loving Savior. So we shouldn’t be surprised that we suffer. We should expect it.

Poor Job described it so well “my eyes will never see joy”(Job 7:7).

We need not look far to stare suffering in the eye, and many times we only need a mirror. Suffering is a part of this life.

We see suffering in the eyes of the mother of a stillborn, the father of an addict, the scared abandoned child, the broken-hearted widow, the exhausted young mother, and the depressed single father. The eyes of the undisclosed addict, the wounded adulteress, the rejected hungry beggar, and the scoffed at Christian all tell a different story. The eyes of the tormented of obsessive thoughts, the pregnant teenager, the nursing home ridden elder, the stunned family of a house fire, and the cancer patient all mirror a similarity. The eyes of the worried mother, the misunderstood son, the secret porn addict, the emotional teenager, the diabetic, the lonely husband, and the pain-ridden elderly all have suffering in common. All of us, every single one has some sort of suffering.      

Something that has always been a place of comfort to me is to offer this suffering to Jesus. This mystical way of willingly offering our suffering is to share in the suffering of our Lord. We must carry our own crosses in this life. It’s ok if we stumble under the weight; our own Lord stumbled under his cross. Much redemption comes from suffering. The saints loved suffering.

They have left us with many writings to encourage us on this journey:

It is You Jesus, stretched out on the cross, who gives me strength and are always close to the suffering soul. Creatures will abandon a person in his suffering, but You, O Lord are faithful. (1508) – St. Faustina

When it is all over you will not regret having suffered; rather you will regret having suffered so little, and suffered that little so badly. – St. Sebastian Valfre

Trials are sent to some so as to take away past sins, to others so as to eradicate sins now being committed, and to yet others so as to forestall sins which may be committed in the future. These are distinct from the trials that arise in order to test men in the way that Job was tested. – St. Maximos the Confessor

In suffering love and in loving, suffer! – Blessed Maria Lopez of Jesus

We always find that those who walked closest to Christ were those who had to bear the greatest trials. – St. Teresa of Avila

We should strive to keep our hearts open to the sufferings and wretchedness of other people and pray continually that God may grant us that spirit of compassion which is truly the spirit of God. – Saint Vincent de Paul

He longs to give us a magnificent reward. He knows that suffering is the only means of preparing us to know Him as He knows Himself, and to become ourselves divine. – St. Therese of Lisieux

We Find Suffering in Scripture

2 Corinthians 1:5 – For just as the sufferings of Christ overflow into our lives; so too does the encouragement we receive through Christ.

Philippians 3:8-10 – Yes, I will go further: because of the supreme advantage of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, I count everything else as loss. For him I have accepted the loss of all other things, and look on them all as filth if only I can gain Christ and be given a place in him, with the uprightness I have gained not from the Law, but through faith in Christ, an uprightness from God, based on faith, that I may come to know him and the power of his resurrection, and partake of his sufferings by being moulded to the pattern of his death, striving towards the goal of resurrection from the dead.

2 Corinthians 12:7-10 – Wherefore, so that I should not get above myself, I was given a thorn in the flesh, a messenger from Satan to batter me and prevent me from getting above myself. About this, I have three times pleaded with the Lord that it might leave me; but he has answered me, ‘My grace is enough for you: for power is at full stretch in weakness.’It is, then, about my weaknesses that I am happiest of all to boast, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me; and that is why I am glad of weaknesses, insults, constraints, persecutions, and distress for Christ’s sake. For it is when I am weak that I am strong.

Romans 2:3 – 5 Not only that; let us exult, too, in our hardships, understanding that hardship develops perseverance, and perseverance develops a tested character, something that gives us hope, and a hope which will not let us down, because the love of God has been poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit which has been given to us.

1 Peter 5 – Keep sober and alert, because your enemy the devil is on the prowl like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour. Stand up to him, strong in faith and in the knowledge that it is the same kind of suffering that the community of your brothers throughout the world is undergoing. You will have to suffer only for a little while: the God of all grace who called you to eternal glory in Christ will restore you, he will confirm, strengthen and support you. His power lasts forever and ever. Amen.

It is easier to look back on suffering than to walk through it. It is without a doubt where we grow and change. It is without a doubt a part of every human in this walk of life. It is in moments of raw suffering that we are able to put these scripture passages and saintly words into action. It is in times when we hurt that we are becoming more like Christ. We are learning to pull ourselves through the suffering and are better able to lend a hand to help others through the suffering.

Jesus also said, “but be courageous, I have conquered the world.” So we have hope in our suffering. We should expect it, but we will not be defeated by it.

Job’s life was transformed into something wonderful that stands as a testament to suffering for all of us.

We have the loving option to reach to our loving Jesus. We have the option to let His grace shine on us. We have the option to let this suffering change us and help us to be more Christ-like.  

Today we will suffer, but tomorrow we look with hope to be with our loving Lord.

So today, let us suffer well.  

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Charla

Sweet Sacrifice

lambI asked my eight year old daughter what she thought sacrifice meant.  She gave me a great answer: “It means giving up something for a reason or for a person– just like Jesus gave His life for us.”  As I beamed with pride, I realized that though she might know the definition, did she really understand what it means to sacrifice as human being in today’s world?

One of the greatest problems in today’s society isn’t necessarily selfishness, rather it is the inability to sacrifice, though the two absolutely go hand in hand. Wanting something for oneself isn’t necessarily bad, but not being able to give up that which we already have, or that which we feel entitled to, for a greater purpose is a much more pervasive problem. We generally admire the virtue of sacrifice, and most people do indeed regard it as a virtuous attribute. We feel it is a good thing but recognize that it is so very hard to accomplish and many do not possess the integrity or perhaps the strength to do it.  For instance, we are too weak to give up junk food in order to be healthy; weight issues are rampant in our country.  We have difficulty sacrificing spontaneous purchases so we may never save for something better.  We do not want to give up our time to serve others, much less our very lives if it actually came right down to it.  We admire those who sacrifice, for they are most definitely strong, selfless, and loving. It is something to which we as Catholic Christians aspire.

For something to be truly a sacrifice, it must have purpose. This is where our Faith comes into play. It is all well and good to sacrifice in order to maintain a healthy weight or to sacrifice indulgent purchases, but the important sacrifices are those that bring us closer to Christ and His Cross; the other stuff is just practice. True sacrifice comes from a motivation deep within—inspired by something greater than ourselves. The Holy Spirit is the voice that utters the right things to do and the words of encouragement to do whatever it is in considered to be a worthy sacrifice.

I do believe God wants us to pray about absolutely everything. I pray while dieting or exercising or trying to stay frugal; these prayers for strength are practice. They enable me to work on becoming stronger and better for the times when it will really count. In other words, little sacrifices are important in preparing us for selfless living.

I have come to realize that there are things that I sacrifice in my life as a wife and mother. At times, those are sacrifices that are inherent of the position, so in accepting my vocation as such, I find them to be part of the job – easy yet hard. I feed and clothe my children, always putting their needs before my own. I am faithful to my husband; I do not have emotional nor physical relationships more intimate than our marriage. Those sacrifices are easy for me, though they might be difficult for others. I have certainly been tested in those areas, and that is when I am reminded that they are truly sacrifices.

I started to then think of how I am to teach my children to sacrifice in the most selfless sense of the term. We all know examples are the best teaching methods, however, we also know that we are not to be showy when we give something up. Sacrifice is most effective when performed with a joyful selfless heart. “Rend your hearts, not your garments” (Joel 2:13) So how are our children supposed to understand our examples if we are sacrificing joyfully and not showing the difficulty that is requisite of suffering? Our examples must not show dread towards our sacrifice and suffering, however, when it comes to our children, I feel it is important to communicate how hard it is for us to give something up. It makes the idea of sacrifice less daunting and absolutely attainable. It is good for them to understand that we give up things in our lives– for God, for others and for them, not to make them feel guilty, but to show them that sacrifice is hard, and when it is done out of love, it is possible, because their ordinary mom or dad does it daily. I want them to know that I sacrifice for them because I love them more than I love myself; that is why I do it and that is why Christ did it, and this is how we are to love others—above ourselves, just as Jesus loves. I tell them I am happy to give up myself for them; hopefully, this teaches them not only sacrifice but gratitude as well.

mteresaThis is possible even with our adult children. My parents were amazing examples of self-sacrifice. I most recently watched my own mother give up ten years of her life to care for my elderly grandparents before they died, the last six were of which my grandmother was bedridden and non-communicative and her care required diaper changing, feeding tube, scheduling of nurses, medications, bathing, and dressing. My mother suffered emotionally and physically through this sacrifice, but never did I doubt it was all done out of love and undoubtedly brought her closer to Christ. I realize now, as an adult, how much my parents gave up for my sister and me as well—bypassing the nice home, furnishings, vacations, and vehicles in favor of paying Catholic school tuition. It was always obvious they did this out of love for us. Even now, they go out of their way daily to help with their grandchildren. What incredible examples I have been fortunate to have in my own life.

This idea of sacrifice permeates every aspect of our lives. We refrain from hedonistic and self-indulgent desires, and instead strive to understand how living selflessly will bring us closer to God and His Promise of everlasting life. It is good to teach our children this view of sacrifice: it is difficult and not so very fun, but we are better for it and closer to Salvation because of our ability to love Christ more than we want earthly pleasures and ease in our lives.

What ways have you been able to show sacrifice in a big way to those you love?

 

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Allison Anima Christi Bible Offering your suffering

Line-by-Line Prayer Reflection: Anima Christi, Part 5

This is the fifth in a series of posts reflecting line-by-line on the Anima Christi.

passion of christIt’s all about the cross ~ A crucifix, that is. Cross plus corpus, for in Christ’s passion is the reminder and promise of love and salvation that strengthens the suffering.

passion1“Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends (John 15:13).” Jesus freely accepted the physical, spiritual, and mental suffering that we call His passion. Had he not the choice, the free will, He would not have been fully human. He walked with people, wept with people, talked with people, listened to people, and touched all manner of people. He does this still today. He understands: “Because He himself was tested through suffering, He is able to help those who are being so tested (Hebrews 2:18).” We suffer with Him; we are redeemed with Him. Look at Jesus on the cross. He loves us.

“Son though He was, He learned obedience from what He suffered and became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey Him (Hebrews 5:8-9).” Christ is also fully divine. When we go to Mass to offer our sacrifice for sin, we present Jesus, the most perfect Lamb, because He is the same yesterday, today, and forever. His sacrifice then is efficacious right now. “Through His suffering He will justify many…He will take away the sins of many and win pardon for their offenses (Isaiah 53:11b,12b).” We cannot ignore so great a salvation. Look at Jesus on the cross. He is God.

Crucifix in my church.
Crucifix in my church.

Time spent looking at a crucifix, contemplating His passion, is a reminder of Jesus’ humanity and divinity, His love, pain, and salvation. It can strengthen we who are sad and suffering. John Henry Newman translated the line Passio Christi conforta me as Passion of Christ my comfort be and I can attest to this. When I am stricken with anger and grief over cystic fibrosis or kidnapped schoolgirls or lying politicians or fatal accidents, staring at Jesus on a cross is a deep comfort. To think of His hurt, His love, and His gift gentles my heavy heart. The book of Hebrews tells of many saints who “died in faith, not having received what had been promised but saw it and greeted it from afar, acknowledging themselves strangers on earth (11:13-14).” This is how I feel when I sit with a crucifix (or if I’m lucky, sit before the huge one at my church): I greet from afar the promise of health and heaven and come to grips with living on the earth. Further on in Hebrews (12:2), we read, “Let us fix our eyes upon Jesus, the leader and perfecter of faith.” So I stare at Jesus’ passion on that cross and let His love and salvation flood my sad self until I think I can handle cystic fibrosis and the news without bitterness. I am strengthened and comforted. “I can do all these things through Christ who strengthens me (Philippians 4:11-13).” He is God; He loves us; He suffered for us; He won salvation for us and is preparing a place for us with Him.

“Our light and momentary afflictions are producing an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison as we look not to what is seen but what is unseen, for what is seen is transitory but what is unseen is eternal (II Corinthians 4:17-18).”

Passion of Christ strengthen me.
Passion of Christ my comfort be.

 

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Charla Fasting Ink Slingers Lent Offering your suffering Prayer Spiritual Growth

I give up!

lent-newThis Lent has been a particularly fruitful time for me. I cannot remember another one in recent memory when I have remained so focused on what the season is all about. Throughout the years, I have noticed the different personas of the Lenten figure. I have been each one of these at some point in my life. Here are a few of them:

#1 There is always an exception (or two or three) to the rule. Sundays don’t count, right? What about feast days? Sure St. Patrick’s Day is exempt. It is not that big of a deal to overlook my Lenten sacrifices– oh, just this once.

#2 I can change my mind. I gave up sweets for Lent, but a week into it, I think giving up sodas would be better. Two weeks later, you know, sodas aren’t really that big of a deal for me, so I will give up pizza instead.

#3 I will do it all. I am going to give up fast food and sweets and coffee (maybe not coffee) and wine (maybe not that either) and meat and… I am also going to pray the Rosary every day and go to Daily Mass and go feed the homeless and donate my lunch money and fast. I am SuperSacrificer; I will do everything for Lent, but none of it will be done fully.

#4 Sacrifice is not necessary; I am going to DO something good instead. God certainly cares more about my being a good person and doing good works, so giving up stuff is not the way to go.

#5 Make sure everyone knows what I am giving up. So, if I let everyone know what I am sacrificing for Lent, do I appear to be more pious? Fasting is admirable; I should let people know that I can’t eat or drink or have sweets. Do I sacrifice out of my own pride for show or do I mean to offer it up to the Lord?

spiritI have made these mistakes and I have learned several lessons from them. I realize that sacrifice is not about me. Once I take myself out of the purpose of the sacrifice, paradoxically, I receive so many more blessings. Not eating sweets is good for my body, but it is better for my soul when removal of the weakness is offered up in conjunction with Christ’s suffering or for a special intention.

Prayer is key to surviving Lenten sacrifices. In moments of weakness when offering up the sacrifice is just not working, prayer helps resist the temptation in a powerful way. When temptation arises (I really want to stop at McDonald’s) a prayer for strength helps. Looking to God for His blessings and help in times of wanting a cheeseburger is practice for the big temptations in life. We will become so accustomed to praying when we fear falling, it will become second nature.

Overzealousness is also problematic. We cannot do it all. Cutting out everything we find temptation in only sets us up for failure, and then we resign ourselves to weakness. If we wallow in this lack of strength, we our spinning our proverbial wheels and we go nowhere spiritually.

Again, sacrifice is not about us; it is, instead, a realization of a weakness, and then it becomes a concerted effort to overcome that shortcoming as rehearsal for the big and serious temptations of sin. If we give ourselves an out or an exception and therefore permission to deviate from the rule we set for ourselves, we have created subjectivity and will learn to avoid the big objective Truth. lentwordle
Mahatma Ghandi said: “The sacrifice which causes sorrow to the doer of the sacrifice is no sacrifice. Real sacrifice lightens the mind of the doer and gives him a sense of peace and joy.” Isn’t this what we all strive for in our Lenten journey—that peace and joy only a close relationship with God an bring?

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Domestic Church Mary Motherhood Offering your suffering Parenting Rachel M Spiritual Growth

Dishpan Hands and a Servant’s Heart

There are few chores I loathe more from my childhood than hand washing and drying dishes. Sticking your hand in a dirty sink full of water with food bits floating around, oh, I shudder just to imagine it. Therefore, when our dishwasher recently gave out, you can imagine my horror. A seven person family with no dishwasher, inconceivable!

I’m pretty sure I complained no less than 14 times before I filled up the sink that morning to wash all the dishes from the day before. I begrudgingly dipped my hand into the water and used the rag to soap up the dishes.

As I continued, I thought about how only 5 months before, our dryer had stopped working. While I waited for my husband to try to fix the dryer, and then eventually for repairmen to come, I washed two loads a day and hung them to dry on a clothesline outside. Every other day, I washed three loads, when we had to do diaper laundry. It was a lot of work, but after a few days I settled into a routine and I began to enjoy the work. I imagined Our Mother, Mary washing Jesus’ diapers and laying them out to dry. I felt my heart grow closer to hers through this additional manual labor.

So, as I finished rinsing all four sippy cups and setting them out to dry, I wondered if this too would become enjoyable. If washing our dishes could become a form of prayer for me. For you see, when we have an unexpected bout of bad luck, we have two choices, self-pity or holy fortitude. The car breaks down, the dryer stops working, the AC goes out, we can choose to use these opportunities to bring us closer to God or we can choose to let them take us farther away through complaint and self-pity.

The next time I filled the sink, I tried to imagine how Mary washed dishes. Did she take her pots to the river to wash them, did she use the water she drew from the well that morning? Was it a long trip to the well, did she carry Jesus on her back? She certainly didn’t have the luxury of running water, and if she used soap it was most likely soap she made herself. Was she lucky like me to have the help of her sweet baby, Jesus, and did he want to splash in the water as she washed?

As I meditated on these thoughts, I found that washing the dishes had suddenly become easy. It was something I wanted to do. It was an act of love and sacrifice for my family that drew me closer to Our Lord. We can take God given grace, and choose to give the glory right back to him, through service in our families.

Am I glad our dishwasher is broken? No. I am very much looking forward to when we get the delivery in a few weeks of our new appliance. But, I am glad that I had the opportunity to grow spiritually in this small way and contemplate the face of our Infant King.