by Ken Rolheiser
Why God allows pain in our lives

“My wife April had a stroke that paralyzed her left side and has hospitalized her since December 21, but we will be coming home soon, ready to learn how to live with her new capabilities.” (Tom Hoopes, “Why is God letting us suffer?” Aleteia January 24, 2022).

Hoopes goes on to share several meanings for suffering: First, God is demonstrating the power of prayer: they created an online form and people around the country were praying for April around the clock from Christmas to New Year’s.

April joked with everyone who served her, and helped them figure out who their patron saint is. “Did you know you have someone praying for you all the time in heaven?”

Second, suffering is meant to humble us. And we need it. April is the mother of nine, a lector, homeschooler, co-op organizer, carpool captain, confirmation catechist, and much more.

“People tell me ‘How do you do it all?’ ‘You’re so amazing!’” April wrote. “Over time, that sentiment is not good for the soul. For my soul anyway.” “[Now] I have to have people help me dress, eat, toilet, etc… I find myself very little. And it is a truly beautiful thing!”

Third, suffering teaches us how to love. Everybody has to reset priorities. We discover abilities we did not know we had. Children sacrificed their Christmas for others. Tom learned “a husband’s real vocation is to love your wife in exactly the way she needs.”

Fourth, God wants witnesses. God puts us in places where we need to be to bring hope and healing to others. God wants “joyful witnesses to Christ in hospitals,” comforting witness that offer kindness and care in a world where there is much anger and hostility.  

“The crucifix stands in the center of human experience, transforming everything, and there is no better witness than our joy when we get to participate.” (Tom Hoopes).

Pope Francis spoke on the meaning of suffering when he met with families of gravely ill children in 2015. He acknowledged that suffering is a mystery, that he does not have the answer. The real consolation is found in the mystery of the Cross.

Christ too suffered and his Father gazed on. In the gaze of parents seeing their children suffering we get an understanding. The gaze of tenderness toward the suffering child is the answer. Our Father in heaven gazes on us with tenderness and we share the mystery of the cross.

This feeling of tenderness toward your sick child is the answer, because that is the gaze of the Father. Do not be afraid to ask God: “Why?” to challenge him: “Why?” May you always have your heart open to receiving his fatherly gaze. His son also suffered.

God is drawing us to him through suffering. We may be demanding, angry, pounding on his door; but we are there. And God is gazing on us as he looked on his son – with love and compassion. In this powerful way we take part in the mystery of the cross and our redemption, and that of the world.

I recall the words of Nightbirde (Jane Marczewski) dying of cancer: “I see mercy [in the love of family around me] …in the blanket my friend left for me. …It is not the mercy that I asked for, but it is a mercy nevertheless. And I learn a new prayer: thank you. It’s a prayer I don’t mean yet, but will request until I do.”

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