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Charles Lewis: For those in pain… keep the faith

  • February 14, 2019

I am writing this for all who suffer and for those of your family members and friends who suffer with you. In particular, I am writing this for those who, like myself, realize that their suffering may not end soon, or ever end.

The idea of perpetual suffering seems completely unfair. Life was going great and now this … now this crap. 

You can no longer do the things you used to do — the stuff that gave you a thrill, the activities that made you go crazy with aniticpation of the weekend or the weekend or the start of a holiday. 

Whatever ails you may have come on suddenly or may have gradually worn you down. But no matter how you have arrived here you are now in a different world.

Suddenly, there will be all these people on canes, crutches and in wheelchairs hobbling down the street that you never really noticed before. 

At first you realize that some of the people you see reminds you of yourself, but you try to reject that thought. You are trying to move at your old speed but then you notice people much older or heavier moving with much more speed than you can muster. You look to the side or behind and there are others like you … falling behind.

Then you will get this sick feeling that you are one of them.

This is how it will go. You will quickly understand that these people did nothing to get the way they are and nor did you. The world is broken and one way we know that is through sickness and death. You will find more sympathy for them … but not for yourself, at least not right away.

There will still be that lingering feeling that they are innocent but you did something to put you where you are today. Eventually things will happen that will make you realize that you, too, did nothing. You will move from anger and perhaps self-pity to a truce with yourself and then a grudging acceptance.

None of this is to say you are giving up. Never do that. If there is a cure, if there is therapy, if there is anything to make you better then seek it out. There is no merit badge for limping or pain.

Keep in mind that through it all you are a person with great God-given dignity. Your life matters just as much as before you became sick.

Catherine of Siena, in her Little Talks With God, said: “However, this pain does not afflict or shrink the soul. Instead, it enlarges the soul.”

One day you will be attending Mass. You might think it is funny that you forego drinks with friends, parties and other social events because you are in too much pain or exhausted or both, but you will move mountains to get to Mass.

This is good. Mass should be a priority, especially now. You will be in the pews and then it will hit you. Christ on the cross, an image you have seen a thousand times, is now speaking to you in a new way.

He will tell you, if you listen with your heart and soul, that He suffered for you. Not just to clear you of your sins but also to show you that suffering has an element of holiness. Once you get this message it will never leave you. 

You will relapse into self-pity and anger but that bolt of light Christ has given you will continue to pulsate. It will get you through the dark moments if you let it.

Before I converted I thought that Catholics were a bit crazy when it came to pain. All those images of tortured martyrs, especially St. Sebastian being killed by cruel pokes of dozens of arrows, screamed masochism to me. All the talk of the Blood of the Lamb and cheerful martyrs waiting to be torn to pieces by lions, so they could finally be with Jesus, made me shiver with disgust.

Not anymore. Christ did not promise a utopia. 

In an ideal world there would be no pain. But we are not in an ideal world … that comes later.

For those of us who experience pain every day I think it is an opportunity to strengthen our faith. It will make you more prayerful, more empathetic and more of a Catholic. You will be able to sort the wheat from the chaff far more easily than ever.

God is closest to us when we suffer. He is asking us to have faith in spite of the hurdle in front of us. Think of the Jews in the desert. Some believed and entered the Promised Land. Others thought God had abandoned them and complained or built useless idols and the land beyond the Jordan was denied them.

We who are in pain are wandering in the desert. Keep the faith and the Promised Land will one day be ours.

(Lewis is a Toronto writer and regular contributor to The Register.)

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