Sunday, March 28, 2010

The Sanctity of Suffering

There are those who read this who may take exception to the title of the piece. It seems absurd to think that there is sanctity in suffering. Our modern age teaches us that suffering is evil and we are to avoid it at all costs. Suffering is a part of the human condition and it would most certainly be wrong to seek it out.

Recently, with the hospitalization of my father-in-law, I have seen close up the effects of suffering, not only on the one who is afflicted, but in those who have no other alternative but to be relegated to the role of the spectator.

I have witnessed other families struggling with the nearing of the end of a beloved one's life. I have seen the fear and agony of letting a much loved one go. It was touching to see their complete devotion to their dying family member as the hours and minutes ticked off drawing them ever closer to death. They did not leave the hospital once, keeping vigil in the waiting room. They smiled bravely when asked how their situation was, yet, you knew there were tears just below the surface ready to break through. But they also understood that others were in similar circumstances and never failed to ask how another family's plight was progressing. There were even times when the families would unite for a moment or two of prayer. Sad to say that these brave people lost their relative only a few days ago and we didn't have the chance to say good-bye to these wonderful people.

In our situation, Lloyd still clings to life, now led without the intrusive breathing tube. His suffering, while far from being constant, is obvious as he lay on the bed trying to cough the fluid from his lungs to clear his air way. It is heartbreaking to watch him as he struggles through the motions, occasionally bringing up some of the offending fluids. But there is also an unmistakable look of peace on his face as he either gazes about the room or sleeps quietly as his body fights to come back to life.

There are moments as I stand at the foot of his bed with other family members on either side, that I think I see signs of consciousness and recognition and my heart soars with hope. In these moments we are all united in hope that something is happening to bring him back complete and whole. Hope is all that you have at times because the situation can become quite overwhelming. It is in these moments that the words of our Savior come to mind. "Come to me all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." (Matt 11:28)

Suffering transforms all who come into contact with it whether they are the victims or witnesses to such. If our faith is strong and we truly are able to hand over to God our trials for the better, then we will find rest and goodness, not in their suffering, but in our realization that we are never truly alone in our trials. This is difficult at best since our love for the afflicted one helps us to empathize with their pain in the moment. But we must look past the pain to see what is truly happening.

When I see Lloyd's face wincing in reaction to some unknown and unseen pain, I truly see the face of Christ upon the Cross. I see the torture and agony that He bore for me all reflected on my father-in-law's countenance. Again, Lloyd becomes the teacher. In those moments all of us want to reach out to Lloyd to comfort him and remove his pain even to the point of taking it on upon ourselves so he would not have to. None of us wants to see him suffer. We feel helpless and frustrated that all any of us can do is to pat his arm, hold his hand, or gently stroke his head to let him know that we are at his side, suffering right along with him.

It is in this moment that we are doing the same thing for the Crucified Christ for He once also said, "as you did it to one of the least of my brethren, you did it to me." (Matt 25:40) And it is in this moment that we are all united in a special way to Christ. This is not some religious fantasy or the ramblings of a religious fanatic. It is the true reality of the nature of suffering. We must always seek to relieve suffering in the world but we must not go so far as to avoid it at any cost. We must realize that suffering always has been and always will be a condition of being human. It can also be a doorway to a closer relationship with God if we only trust in His ways. It may seem hard and cruel to think of it in this way, but often, the truth is hard and cruel.

As we begin our journey through Holy Week, try to keep in mind that the sufferings of Christ are still seen in the world today. But also remember that in order to see the sanctity of that suffering it is necessary to look past it and see the truth behind it. And the truth is that, through suffering, we can grow closer to God and one another by uniting this suffering with that of the pain of the Crucified Christ. Remember that Good Friday is only Good because of the Resurrection! If all there were was suffering, then it would be pure evil and our existence would be truly futile!