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Seeking the Lord’s Help in Suffering

I recently read a book about Franciscan Spirituality relating to our care for the environment. I am not going to focus on that topic today but I mention the book (Care for Creation by Delio, Warner, and Word, Cincinnati: St. Anthony Messenger Press. 2008) because it included a particular quote from St. Francis that I want to use to reflect on suffering. St. Francis prayed,

“Lord…make haste to help me in my illnesses, so that I may be able to bear them patiently” (81 – they cite the quote as from “The Asissi Compilation,” 83, in FA:ED, vol. 2, p.185).

I was immediately struck by what was not in the quote. St. Francis did not ask for his illnesses to be taken away. Isn’t that the way we generally start our prayers when we face suffering? Even Jesus prayed in the garden, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me” (Matthew 26:39a). Yet, Jesus did not end the sentence there. He concluded, “yet, not as I will, but as you will” (Matthew 26:39). Following Jesus’ example, I think is good for us when facing a new suffering that we begin our prayer by asking God to take away the suffering if it is not meant to be. Then, we submit to God’s Will.

I emphasized “new” because, in providing this quote, the book says Francis offered this prayer about year before his death. At that time, he was facing illnesses that made him intolerant to daylight so he had to stay inside (81). It seems these illnesses had been ongoing so maybe St. Francis had already come to accept them as God’s Will. Does that mean he had given up on God’s help? No, he still asks for God’s help. What we need to think about is the type of help he prayed for. He prayed for God to help him “bear them patiently.” What help do you need to face any suffering in your life? I know I need help to bear sufferings patiently.

Right now, an example of suffering where I need help with is the Coronavirus. From the beginning I had concerns about the Coronavirus. I certainly didn’t want to get it myself but I also didn’t want it to become a pandemic. However, “patience” about the Coronavirus wasn’t a problem for me at that time.

Even when we started precautions like suspending distribution of the Precious Blood and the Sign of Peace at Mass, I was not happy but I was patient. Even when Masses were first suspended, patience wasn’t my problem. I figured it would be over relatively quickly.

It wasn’t over quickly. It did begin to try my patience as time went on with Masses being suspended in my diocese for three months. It was a good day when we resumed public Masses with precautions in place.

Was that the end to my problem with being patient about the Coronavirus? My patience did get a little better but, now two months later, we remain under the same precautions. Our attendance at Sunday Mass is ranges between 30 to 50% of normal. I long for the day when everyone will be able to come to Mass without fear of the Coronavirus. Lord, make haste to help me bear this waiting during the Coronavirus patiently.

Going back to what I said about asking God to take away our sufferings, why is it that we are reluctant to face sufferings?

The obvious, and understandable, answer is that we don’t like anything that hurts or keeps us from living the way we want. For those who do not get the virus, suffering from the Coronavirus comes more in the latter part. We can’t live the way we want.

Suffering can be good. The suffering of Jesus on the Cross certainly is good because it saves us from our sins. In fact, Jesus’ suffering is not just “good.” It is redemptive.

The sufferings we face as individuals can have value. For instance, when one faces a terminal illness, choosing to put the time of our death in God’s hands can be a powerful witness to our faith in God while choosing assisted suicide says we think we know better than God.

Suffering can actually make us stronger. Paul writes, “Three times I begged the Lord about this, that it might leave me, but he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” I will rather boast most gladly of my weaknesses, in order that the power of Christ may dwell with me. Therefore, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and constraints, for the sake of Christ; for when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10).

Does the Coronavirus make us stronger? It can in the sense that it can help us realize that things we thought were important we don’t really miss. It can free us up to give more to God.

It can also teach us about the value of sacrifice. During the shutdown, we gave up things we enjoy. Even now, with precautions still in place, we can’t do all the things we enjoy. This can mean suffering. Does this suffering have value when we accept it in faith?

Yes, by our willingness to wear a face mask, practice social distancing, and refrain from activities we enjoy to practice social distance, we have flattened the curve. States with these requirements in place have fewer cases now. How many more would have gotten sick without the precautions?

The Coronavirus is a cross that we each must bear in our own way. Let us take up our Cross and follow Jesus (cf. Matthew 16:24).

So we pray, “Lord, help all of us to accept our sufferings, to bear them patiently, trusting that you are with us.”

Peace,

Fr. Jeff

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