The season of colds, flus, and all sorts of winter maladies will likely last for several more weeks – or at least until our allergies kick up in the spring. No one especially likes to get sick or suffer, but we know we must all deal at times with illness of one kind or another.
The Church celebrates the World Day of the Sick on February 11, which coincides with the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes. The dual observance reminds us of the reality of human suffering – and we would do well to turn to the 19th-century priest St. John Vianney for sound advice on how to handle it.
In his “Catechism on Suffering,” the Curé of Ars beautifully summarizes the meaning of human suffering, and how the exercise of virtue can give our suffering redemptive value.
Here are a few of his key points of wisdom:
Whether we will or not, we must suffer. It’s inevitable, a fact of human life, so let’s not waste it by griping and moaning about it too much. St. John Vianney points to the witness of the two thieves crucified with Christ. Dismas, the good thief, accepted his sufferings in a spirit of reparation, thus making his pains redemptive. He was promised Paradise from the lips of Jesus himself. The other thief reviled Christ and evidently died in despair.
Be the good thief. You don’t deserve illness or injury, but offer your suffering for the sins of your life or for growth in the virtues you might lack.
There are two ways of suffering – to suffer with love, and to suffer without love. The saints suffered with joy because they loved; if we do not embrace our suffering, then perhaps we do not love God enough. “If we loved God, we should love crosses. . . . We should be happy to be able to suffer for the love of Him who lovingly suffered for us,” said St. John Vianney.
That’s a difficult task when you’re in the midst of misery, but it’s also a worthy goal to strive for. Focus on the cross of Christ, and he will help you carry yours.
Our greatest cross is the fear of crosses. This saying is similar to FDR’s “our greatest fear is fear itself.” Since suffering is inevitable, the more we fear that it might come, the less prepared we are to deal with it when it arrives.
We need courage to accept and embrace our cross the way Jesus did. “On the Way of the Cross,” St. John Vianney said, “only the first step is painful.”
Look at the saints: when they were not persecuted, they persecuted themselves. Suffering well is aided by training well. If we put up with smaller sufferings, we will be better equipped to handle bigger ones. That’s the spirit behind fasting.
Recall that connection between love and suffering well? In Story of a Soul, St. Therese of Lisieux wrote, “To love is to offer oneself to suffering, because love lives only on sacrifice.” Sacrificing our comforts for the good of others increases our love and thereby strengthens us for suffering. So those little sacrifices we can make each day – preparing dinner when you’re tired so your wife can put her feet up, patiently helping the kids with homework despite a nagging headache – build our capacity for redemptive suffering.
It is by the cross that we go to heaven. There’s that old hymn that says, “The highway to heaven still goes by the cross.” That doesn’t mean just the cross of Christ, but our own crosses, too. Christ warned us that if we are to be his disciples, we must expect suffering and even persecution; even apart from discipleship, he pointed out that the rain will fall on the just and the unjust alike, that sickness and misfortune are not reserved as punishment for sin. We all go through it.
“Illnesses, temptations, troubles, are so many crosses which take us to heaven,” said St. John Vianney. He added that “in order to get to heaven, we must suffer. Our Lord shows us the way in the person of Simon the Cyrenian; He calls his friends to carry his cross after him.” When we bear suffering heroically, we grow in virtue and in sanctity; suffering is made redemptive for ourselves above all.
The Cross is the gift that God makes to His friends. “We must ask for the love of crosses; then they become sweet,” St. John Vianney said. Because suffering can be redemptive and salutary for our growth in holiness, it is of invaluable assistance in getting us to heaven.
When we recognize that God created us not for this life but for eternal life, we can look upon our sickness, our injuries, our persecutions, and our disappointments as opportunities to draw closer to Christ – which is the essence of our baptismal call. And again, suffering is about love, as the Curé of Ars reminds us: “It is always God who gives us this way of proving our love to him.”
Gerald Korson, a veteran Catholic journalist, is a member of the Knights of Columbus in Indiana.
Logos & Emblems
Fraternal Leader Advisory
Knights in Action
Share your Knights in Action News
Please contact the
Knights of Columbus News Bureau