Sunday, December 16, 2007

What's with Catholics and suffering?

It's said the Church was born on Easter morning, the day Christ rose from the dead. But it is suffering that made the Church grow.

Here are a few verses from the holy sciptures regarding suffering. You won't find these verses in those plastic boxes that were so popular in Christian bookstores in the 80's. God's promises or Promises of God I think they were called. Like mini flash cards to learn and memorize how much God loved us by the promises He gave us. More of the "Name it, Claim it" theology. Suffering wasn't a word that was mentioned in any of those verses.

I never would have known there were so many verses about suffering while ascribing to the Evangelical paradigm. Suffering was not brought up in too many sermons, at least not as something to be received with joy. I'm sure a few of these I'd read and come across but they weren't the ones that I tried to memorize. Suffering was, for the most part, something we tried to get rid of right off the bat, by prayer...never something we were told or taught to "embrace" as our cross, or as a way to draw close to Jesus. Of course we should try to ease the suffering of the poor, the pain of those in our lives we should help to relieve because it is the right thing to do and we know suffering isn't "plunked on us" from God. It's only right to relieve as much suffering in the world as we can, however, not to try every means to 'get rid of it' without understanding how close it can bring us to Christ. When we join our suffering to His, how efficacious it is for not only ourselves, but those we love.

The attitude seemed to be, back in the other non-denom fellowships we were attending: "Jesus died so we don't have to" "Jesus suffered so we don't have to" "Jesus did it all, so we don't have to 'work' for anything" Yet how does that comply with the words Jesus told his disciples? How did these latter day independent "churches" start getting off track so wildly? The 'mainline' traditional Methodist church my family belonged to, didn't share the same thoughts on suffering as the Assembly of God, or the other two independent ones we were part of for years.

Methodists I knew, didn't run to the nearest prayer meeting to "pray it away" (though they also didn't believe physical miracles were for the church in modern times, which wasn't correct either.) Of course, we're to call the elders to lay hands on us if we're sick, as we learn in the bible, but to know that there's God's will and our will, and that spiritual healing is also just as important if not more important; then to offer our suffering for others' salvation is the beauty of Catholic teaching = something abhorrent to Evangelicals - but my mom, more than I, seemed to suffer with a deep faith while seeking some relief and answers from medical science. She had a certain joy, never saying "this shouldn't be happening to me" though in her times alone, she may have, but she was not a whiner or one to mope if things did not go 'her way.' She was not 'consumed' with 'getting rid of her suffering' but still smiled in her hospital room, when her last days were upon her, when Shy Drager syndrome succeeded in killing her after only 5 years from the diagnosis. (SDS is a devastating and rapid progression of symptoms similar to Parkinson's disease.) She had a knowing and an understanding much more "Christian" than what I was learning in my 20's and 30's from some pastors and well-meaning but sorely misguided souls adhering to a certain paradigm found in evangelicalism. The minute we think WE can control God and have Him in our "little plastic box" is the day we're in BIG trouble!

It's only been since we returned to the Catholic Church, 3 years ago, that I began to learn what suffering is and how it is to be lived THROUGH, with our Lord, Jesus, and with our Lady of Sorrows, the title she loves most, for it is the title her Son gave her that he loves most. Something to think about. I typed in Google search, "Suffering and Catholic teaching" and this is what popped up. May we learn to embrace our suffering, not become masochists, which is perversion, but to be followers of Christ. Jesus suffered all his life, all the way to the cross to suffer for us. Who are we, as Jesus' followers to ever think that we should not?


Tiber Jumper said...

Thanks for the post Susie. I like this line:
"Jesus suffered all his life, all the way to the cross to suffer for us. Who are we, as Jesus' followers to ever think that we should not?"
I don't know why that didn't "cross" my mind during all those years of thinking that somehow we didn't deserve to have this cancer diagnosis given to us. Jesus lived with the sure knowledge of a torturous painful death in just three years of the start of his ministry. Should I assume I don't have to?
So sorry to hear about your Mom. I have taken care of a lot of people with Shy Drager and it is devastating.
God bless.
Holy Mary Mother of God pray for us now and at the hour of our death. Amen

Joyful Catholics said...

Thank you so much, TJ. When I watched you and Deb again last night, I had to post these thoughts on suffering.

It was the most horrible thing to watch my Mom deteriorate before my eyes, as that disease just took over her body and speech. It was indeed very hard on my dear step dad, too. He suffered as a caregiver for he loved her so deeply. He died of brain cancer only 4 years later.

There was a sign that my sister-in-law posted above my mom's bed in her hospital (in Sun City West AZ.) that read: "She may not be able to move about, but her mind's as sharp as ever!" It's strange the way people can be. If you can't talk, they somehow correlate that to you're not being able to understand.

It was tragic that she had to suffer, but she was a beautiful Methodist Christian, who lived her faith most graciously, and more "Catholic" maybe in her acceptance of her suffering than I'll ever truly appreciate. I was sadly in a bad state spiritually during her last months. I was in the "prodigal pig sty" you might say. I harbored a lot of resentment about everything. I regret I wasn't Catholic then knowing what I know now. But I pray she's praying for me, and it's my hope to see her one day the way I remember her, vivacious, witty, and resplendent with hospitality. I am sorely not nearly as wonderful as she, but I hope to mature to be as selfless.

Pray for my mom. Her name's Elizabeth. She went by Betty. She'd be so glad to know we finally are back in the Catholic Church. Maybe Jesus has made her aware of that? I hope so. She was troubled by my life in 1991 and with good reason.

Thanks, again TJ.

Marie said...

When we unite our suffering to Christ it is God who ennobles the suffering soul and makes it One with the Beloved.

Even in the midst of my pain my soul sings praises to God for the Gift of JOY He has given me.

When suffering pray for JOY then believe you have received it and LIVE it:).

Jesus said to pick up your Cross and follow Him. He didnt say toothpick.

Your mother must have been a very special lady for you have much down to earth wisdom.

Peace & JOY to you:)


Joyful Catholics said...

Thank you Marie. You are very sweet. You are right to pray and ask for JOY...for the JOY of the LORD is our Strength!



teresa_anawim2 said...

I shared this just last week with my spiritual director.
During the week before Holy Week I found myself in the emergency ward of the hospital with excruciating stomach pain.
I found myself doing something totally opposite of what I grew up doing. I used to pray that the pain 'be gone' ..rebuke it, reject it, deny it and believe the 'promise' about the wish above all things that I would prosper and be in health know the rest.

This time I found myself automatically thinking of Our Lord's pain which He suffered on the cross.
I began praying for those sufferers whose voices I heard in the other cubicles.
I began to pray the the Lord would use my suffering and pain to help someone else.
The pain was still there, but the focus was not on self, but on the Body of Christ. My prayer has changed.
My spiritual director just chuckled and said matter -of -factly.."You're now praying as a Catholic".

Joyful Catholics said...

What a difference it makes to "pray as a Catholic!" I've found that it really does change us. To not focus on the pain, but to offer it up for souls...thank you Teresa.