by Ken Rolheiser
Skipping stones, suffering and shooting stars

“If there is meaning in life then there must be meaning in the suffering … suffering ceases to be suffering at the moment it finds a meaning.” (Victor Frankl).

Before I skip a few stones over the cloudy water of suffering, let me take us back to an earlier freedom I hope we all enjoyed.

"Know you what it is to be a child? It is to be something very different from the man of to-day. It is to have a spirit yet streaming from the waters of baptism; it is to believe in love, …to be so little that the elves can reach to whisper in your ear; it is to turn pumpkins into coaches, and mice into horses, lowness into loftiness, and nothing into everything, for each child has its fairy godmother in its own soul; " 

“…it is to see a world in a grain of sand, and a Heaven in a wildflower, hold infinity in the palm of your hand, and eternity in an hour; it is to know not as yet that you are under sentence of life, nor petition that it be commuted into death.” Francis Thompson.

Thompson also left us this gem: "Nothing begins, and nothing ends, that is not paid with moan; for we are born in others pain and perish in our own." Life’s pain, we must conclude, is worthwhile for what is gained. 

To skip another stone, Malcolm Muggeridge says, “This horror of pain is a rather low instinct and… if I think of human beings I’ve known and of my own life, such as it is, I can’t recall any case of pain which didn’t, on the whole, enrich my life.”

The next pebble belongs to Albert Schweitzer: “Whoever is spared personal pain must feel himself called to help in diminishing the pain of others. We must all carry our share of the misery that lies upon the world.”

Our secular world sees little value in pain, since drugs can eliminate much discomfort. “The belief has long died that suffering here on earth will be rewarded in heaven. Suffering has lost its meaning.” Elisabeth Kubler-Ross.

Malachi 3 says: “He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver.” A woman once asked an artisan of silver, “How do you know when the silver is fully refined?” “When I can see my image in it,” he replied. 

The Lord has a plan for our suffering. When we can see Christ’s image in our suffering, then our pain and agony, united to Christ’s suffering, is working to redeem us all. 

I’d like to conclude with the example of Sister Thea Bowman who was diagnosed with cancer in 1984. Thea chose to use pain medication so that she could continue to do the work God called her to do. 

As a black nun, Thea continued speaking out against the invisibility of black people and was asked to address the American Bishops less than a year before she died of bone-cancer.

Thea was conflicted in her prayer: should she pray for life or death? She resolved that by praying, “Lord, let me live until I die.”

Asked by Father John Ford what he should say at her funeral she quoted abolitionist Sojourner Truth who said, “I am not going to die. I’m going home like a shooting star.”

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