Archive for the ‘Suffering’ Category
The Feast of Our Lady of Sorrows is celebrated on September 15th. This feast recalls the seven scriptural references to Mary’s heartache. For a woman who “kept all these things in her heart,” (Luke 2:51) that heart knew a great deal of pain. Heartache often goes hand in hand with parenting. With great love and sacrifice comes the capacity to hurt deeply. When our hearts are hurting, we can turn to Mary and know that she has been there and that she understands.
Vatican approval for the celebration of a feast in honor of Our Lady of Sorrows was first given to the Servite Order (also known as the Order of the Servants of Mary) in 1667. In 1814, Pope Pius VII extended the feast to the whole Latin Church. Originally assigned to the third Sunday in September, Pope Pius X moved the feast to September 15th in 1913.
There was also a second feast in honor of the Sorrowful Mother which was celebrated one week before Good Friday beginning in the 1700s. Considered a duplication of the September feast, it was omitted in the 1969 revision of the Church calendar.
The following are scriptural reflections for the seven sorrows of Mary followed by prayers Pope Pius VII approved in honor of those sorrows.
The Prophecy of Simeon: “And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, ‘Behold, this child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted (and you yourself a sword shall pierce) so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.” (Luke 2:34-35)
I grieve for you, O Mary most sorrowful, in the affliction of your tender heart at the prophecy of the holy and aged Simeon. Dear Mother, by your heart so afflicted, obtain for me the virtue of humility and the gift of the holy fear of God. Hail Mary…
The Flight into Egypt: “When they had departed, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, ‘Rise, take the child and his mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I tell you. Herod is going to search for the child to destroy him.’ Joseph rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed for Egypt.” (Matthew 2:13-14)
I grieve for you, O Mary most sorrowful, in the anguish of your most affectionate heart during the flight into Egypt and your sojourn there. Dear Mother, by your heart so troubled, obtain for me the virtue of generosity, especially toward the poor, and the gift of piety. Hail Mary…
The Loss of the Child Jesus in the Temple: “After three days they found him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions, and all who heard him were astounded at his understanding and his answers. When his parents saw him, they were astonished, and his mother said to him, “Son, why have you done this to us. Your father and I have been looking for you with great anxiety.” (Luke 2:46-48)
I grieve for you, O Mary most sorrowful, in those anxieties which tried your troubled heart at the loss of your dear Jesus. Dear Mother, by your heart so full of anguish, obtain for me the virtue of chastity and the gift of knowledge. Hail Mary…
Mary Meets Jesus on the Way to Calvary: “So they took Jesus, and carrying the cross himself he went out to what is called the Place of the Skull, in Hebrew, Golgatha.” (John 19:16-17)
I grieve for you, O Mary most sorrowful, in the consternation of your heart at meeting Jesus as He carried His Cross. Dear Mother, by your heart so troubled, obtain for me the virtue of patience and the gift of fortitude. Hail Mary…
Jesus Dies on the Cross: “Standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary of Magdala. When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple there whom he loved, he said to his mother, ‘Woman, behold your son.’ Then he said to the disciple, ‘Behold your mother.’ And from that hour the disciple took her into his home. (John 19:25-27)
I grieve for you, O Mary most sorrowful, in the martyrdom which your generous heart endured in standing near Jesus in His agony. Dear Mother, by your afflicted heart obtain for me the virtue of temperance and the gift of counsel. Hail Mary…
Jesus is Taken Down from the Cross: “When it was evening, there came a rich man from Arimathea named Joseph, who was himself a disciple of Jesus. He went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus; then Pilate ordered it to be handed over.” (Matthew 27:57-58)
I grieve for you, O Mary most sorrowful, in the wounding of your compassionate heart, when the side of Jesus was struck by the lance before His Body was removed from the Cross. Dear Mother, by your heart thus transfixed, obtain for me the virtue of fraternal charity and the gift of understanding. Hail Mary…
The Body of Jesus is Placed in the Tomb: “Now in the place where he had been crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb, in which no one had yet been buried. So they laid Jesus there because of the Jewish preparation day; for the tomb was close by.” (John 19:40-42)
I grieve for you, O Mary most sorrowful, for the pangs that wrenched your most loving heart at the burial of Jesus. Dear Mother, by your heart sunk in the bitterness of desolation, obtain for me the virtue of diligence and the gift of wisdom. Hail Mary…
Let Us Pray:
Let intercession be made for us, we beseech You, O Lord Jesus Christ, now and at the hour of our death, before the throne of Your mercy, by the Blessed Virgin Mary, Your Mother, whose most holy soul was pierced by a sword of sorrow in the hour of Your bitter Passion. Through You, O Jesus Christ, Savior of the world, who with the Father and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns world without end. Amen.
We know that all creation is groaning in labor pains even until now;
and not only that, but we ourselves,
who have the first fruits of the Spirit,
we also groan within ourselves
as we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. (Romans 8: 22-23)
This passage from St. Paul to the Romans is a reminder to all of us that we are works in progress. I recall being young and looking at people who were ten years older than me and thinking that they had it all together. Now, I know better. There is no magic age at which a person figures everything out. Every age, every stage of life has its own challenges. One may gain wisdom with age, a better sense of perspective, and a greater reliance on and trust in God, but life doesn’t actually get any easier. It isn’t supposed to.
This life is meant to be a testing ground, a place where God shapes us and transforms us into the people we were meant to be and prepares us for heaven. I have heard it said that when it hurts the most, that is when the greatest spiritual transformation is taking place. I believe that is true. Just as labor is necessary to bring forth a child, on this earth we often find ourselves in the midst of spiritual labor to bring forth a new version of ourselves. As St. Paul says, “we groan within ourselves as we wait.”
In my own life, I have found that the trials are somewhat cyclical. There will be a time of great testing. I will feel as if there is no way for me to make it through. I spend time desperately praying, searching for answers that seem nowhere to be found. My emotions run the gamut from anger at God to begging for the cross to pass to acceptance of what is and praying for the strength to do what needs to be done. In time, I once again reach a period of equilibrium where I feel on solid ground. While I am thankful for those periods of respite, I also fear them because I know another trial is just around the corner and I do not know what it will entail.
I have also found that the trials are particularly designed to expose and strengthen my personal areas of weakness. I imagine that they wouldn’t be considered trials if they weren’t. If I pass the test at one level, I am given a harder test the next time around. If I fail, I find I am frequently given a second (and third and fortieth) chance to learn the much-needed lesson. God keeps working at me, trying to form me into what I should be. I believe that He does this with all of us.
One of the most beautiful images in scripture is that of us being clay in the potter’s hands. (Isaiah 64:8) In order for a lump of clay to be turned into something beautiful and useful, it must be worked and kneaded and shaped and fired. God is working on us, creating something amazing, but the process can cause great pain. We need to trust that the outcome will be wonderful beyond our wildest imaginings.
On the afternoon of June 1st, my hometown of Springfield, MA was hit by a F3 tornado. Many other local towns and cities were hit as well. New England isn’t known for its tornadoes. Blizzards? Yes. Tornadoes? No. Yet, remarkably, there was relatively little loss of life. While the few that were lost will be deeply missed, the toll could have been much worse. Yet, the physical and psychological damage will take a long time to recover from. The initial shock has worn off now. The reality has begun to sink in.
My home was unscathed. Our biggest issue was loss of power for a day. We were incredibly fortunate. Less than two miles from me, streets are closed and whole houses are missing. The world outside my window is peaceful. Life for us goes on. Yet, so many of my friends and neighbors are hurting.
It seems like every day there is news of a tragedy. It is easy to gloss over. We may sympathize. We may even donate money to help. But there is no great impact. It is very different when the tragedy hits home. As my local newspaper stated, “life changed in a minute.”
I cried as I read the stories and viewed the photos of the destruction in the newspaper. These weren’t unknown photos. These were people and places I knew. The National Guard was brought in to help keep the peace and prevent looting. The city was shut down.
After staying close to home the past few days, I ventured out today. To see so many houses marked as condemned is heartbreaking. Cathedral, our local Catholic High School, was destroyed, as was the Catholic Middle School. Several other schools suffered considerable damage as well.
As is often the case, tragedy often brings out the best in people. So many have volunteered to help, people were being turned away. Neighbors were helping neighbors clean up. Electrical workers labored around the clock to get power restored as quickly as possible. At Mass, we prayed and collected money for our fellow parishioners who had lost so much. Fundraising drives and collections of goods are taking place everywhere. Outside a home marked “condemned” was a huge sign thanking all the emergency personnel who helped so much. Local colleges have stepped forward, offering spaces to the closed Catholic schools.
Still, there is much to be done. I know many of you will see this article and move on. After all, it isn’t your home, or your neighbors, and there are so many hurting people in the world. One can’t help all of them. But, if you are still reading, I would ask you to first, please take a moment to offer a prayer for those who are suffering as they attempt to rebuild their lives. Second, if you are able to donate, please send a donation to: American Red Cross Pioneer Valley Chapter, 506 Cottage Street, Springfield, MA 01104. It will be greatly appreciated. Thank you.
The Gospel for this week (John 11:1-45) shows Martha, a dear friend of Jesus, in great pain. Her brother Lazarus has just died and she holds Jesus accountable. “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” Still, she trusts that He can make it right. “But even now I know that whatever you ask of God, God will give you.” Jesus listens to her pain and allows Martha to experience her own suffering. He doesn’t discount or dismiss her feelings. Her faith is rewarded and her brother is brought back to life.
Today, I had the privilege of hearing Rev. Mark Stelzer, S.T.D. preach on the topic of pain and the spiritual life. He began his homily by stating that “pain is the touchstone of spiritual growth.” That can be a very hard statement to accept.
Fr. Mark acknowledged that we all experience pain of various forms in our lives. The sources of our pain are many: the absence of what we most desire, the end of a friendship or a romantic relationship, the loss of someone we love through death, illness, addiction, or unemployment. Yet, we have been taught from a young age to avoid it as much as possible. Our first inclination is usually to run from pain. If we can’t remove the source of the pain, we seek distractions. We do whatever we can not to think about it. We can also turn to more destructive means of coping such as drugs or alcohol.
When we are in pain, we often get angry – at others, at ourselves, and at God. Then we feel guilty for being angry. This is a no-win situation. In addition, if we do not pay attention to our pain and process it, it will always resurface. “What we don’t resolve, we only repeat.”
Fr. Mark asked us to take a different approach with our pain. What if instead of running from our pain, we paid attention to it? What if we listened to our pain “to know what God is saying to us?” What if we acknowledged that our pain, whatever its source, is not the final word? What if we trusted that even in the midst of our pain, God loves us and is working in us?
Christian writer Anthony Destefano also emphasizes the important role pain plays in our spiritual life. In “The Invisible World,” Destefano states that “the main reason God permits suffering is because he knows He can change it – somehow, in some way – into a greater good.” In suffering, we have the opportunity to die to ourselves. “The old self has to be willing to give way to the new self.” It is in the moments of the deepest pain that we grow and mature as human beings, but to do that we have to be willing to face the pain and experience it. We can’t run.
Destefano continues, “When Christ used suffering to save the world, he transformed it into a weapon to combat evil. It’s because Christ united himself to our suffering that we can now unite our suffering to him and use it to help others.” He encourages us to offer our suffering up in order to help others.
No one enjoys pain, but it has an important role to play in our spiritual development. If we ignore or bury the pain, we will never reap the benefit of it. St. Faustina once wrote: “If the angels were capable of envy, they would envy us for two things: one is the receiving of Holy Communion, and the other is suffering.” (Diary, 1804) We need to trust that our pain and suffering has value and serves a higher purpose even when we don’t understand.
As someone who has suffered from depression for many years, I was excited to get my hands on a copy of “Holding on to Hope: The Journey Beyond Darkness” by Sr. Kathryn J. Hermes. It is a follow-up to her best-selling book “Surviving Depression” which resonated with so many. “Holding on to Hope” is the next step in the journey. Rather than merely making our way through the darkness, it “is about learning to be receptive to God connecting with us do that God can indeed heal us – heal us, I repeat, not cure us – of depression or erase the sorrows of failure or restore lost loves.”
Each chapter in the book includes several elements designed to provide healing for mind, body, soul, and spirit. These include Images, which are stories of interactions with God; Scripture References, “the divine element of the healing plan;” reflection questions for personal or small group use; Contemplative Exercises; Resting, which invites us to “rest” in God’s word and allow God to do His healing work in us; and Inner Healing Exercises (written by Sr. Helene Cote) which “offers truly helpful and powerful ways to integrate the topic of the chapter into your everyday life. Those who enjoy meditation will love this book. There are many beautiful guided imagery exercises designed to engage the reader with God’s Word.
“Holding on to Hope” is meant to be used over a long period of time, perhaps in conjunction with a spiritual director. Despite how much we might want it to be the case, very few people are healed of long-standing pain in a short period of time. It is a process. One particular poignant reflection is on the words of Jesus, “Do you want to get well?” (Jn 5:6). Sometimes we are so stuck in our pain we can’t even hear Jesus asking us that question or allow Him to come into our hearts to do the work that needs to be done. What is wonderful about Hermes’ reflections is that she, too, has been in that darkness. One can relate deeply to her experience and learn from it.
This review was written as part of the Catholic book reviewer program from The Catholic Company. Visit The Catholic Company to find more information on Holding on to Hope. They are also a great source for first communion gifts and Baptism Gifts.
It is that time of year again. We have turned the clocks back and returned to standard time. In my home state of Massachusetts, it now gets dark at 5 p.m. By the time of the winter solstice, it will be getting dark at 4 p.m. For those of us who suffer from seasonal affective disorder, it is time to get ready for the darkness – not only the actual extended night outside, but the emotional interior darkness that goes along with it.
Depression is hard to describe to someone who has never experienced it. Those who have been blessed to have escaped this particular affliction often say things like “Think positive,” or “Snap out of it,” or “Choosing to be depressed in a sin because you have lost your trust in God.” They mean well, but they truly do not understand.
When someone is depressed, nothing has much meaning. There is little or no hope. You feel worthless and that life is not worth living. The darkness descends upon you and it feels as if there is no escape. You either want to sleep all the time or have difficulty sleeping.
Depression is not a choice. While it can be brought on by a traumatic event, just as often it is brought on by a chemical imbalance in the body. Some people are just naturally prone to it. Especially in women, hormonal shifts due to monthly cycles or pregnancy can be brutal. Lack of sleep has an impact. Lack of natural light can also be a huge factor.
Depression can hit suddenly. I have compared it to being hit over the head by a two by four. I can be fine one day and wake up the next feeling nothing but despair. Perhaps the hardest part is not knowing when the darkness will lift.
How then does one cope? I am not a mental health professional. These suggestions come only from my personal experience of suffering from depression for nearly twenty-five years, but I hope that they may be of help. Also, please note that children can suffer from depression as well. If your child is having difficulty, please do not ignore their symptoms.
1) Seek professional help – there is no shame in asking for help. Some cases of depression are so severe that they require medication. If you are at risk of harming yourself or someone else, seek immediate care. Even with milder cases, simply having someone to talk with on a regular basis can be a tremendous help.
2) Keep busy – Keeping your mind occupied with other things helps keep the negative self-talk at bay. Accomplishing a given task can also help alleviate the feelings of worthlessness, at least for a while.
3) Take care of yourself, body and soul – eat well, exercise, and pray. These three things can go a long way in maintaining emotional equilibrium.
4) Invest in some full spectrum light bulbs – I always thought one needed a light box to get any benefit from light therapy, but they are costly so I resisted the idea. Last year I discovered that full spectrum light bulbs can help achieve similar results. These light bulbs are available at department or hardware stores and cost only a bit more than regular bulbs. They come in various styles and can be used in most light fixtures. They made a huge difference!
5) Know that this, too, will pass – It doesn’t seem like it when you are going through it, but the darkness will end. The light will come again. Keep believing in that fact.
by Michelle Buckman
Sophia Institute Press, 2010
Every now and then, a novel comes along that is so powerful and so well-written that it will stay with you forever. “Rachel’s Contrition” by Michelle Buckman is that kind of novel. Part of the Chisel and Cross imprint from Sophia Institute Press, it is Catholic fiction at its finest. If you are looking for light-hearted escapism, this is not the story for you. Rather, this is a story that delves into the deepest and darkest parts of humanity. Throughout the course of this book, the reader must face the evils of jealousy, murder, rape, and the inner workings of a mentally ill mind.
Rachel is a mother whose small daughter has died tragically. She is buried in her grief, unable to see any light at all. She has lost everything. Her husband has sent her away and her surviving son, whom she sees only sporadically, seems to hate her. She lives in a drug-induced haze where memories from both past and present come to haunt her. Into that haze walks Lilly, a young teen suffering from her own secrets and pain. With Lilly’s help and some divine intervention in the form of St. Therese’s autobiography, “Story of a Soul,” Rachel begins the long road back.
One interesting feature of this novel is that Buckman focuses on the dark side of St. Therese. Her little way is there and Rachel does learn from that and attempts to put it into practice. But that is not what comforts her. Rather, in St. Therese, she finds someone who understands the darkness. St. Therese wrote, “But it was night, the dark night of the soul. Like Jesus during his agony in the garden, I felt myself abandoned and there was no help for me on earth or in heaven. God had abandoned me. . . I wish I could express what I feel, but it is beyond me. One must have passed through this dark tunnel to understand its blackness.”
Buckman writes of that darkness with such realism. One can only presume that she herself has walked through it. “Rachel’s Contrition” is a novel for all who have been deeply wounded by life. It is a painful story with no easy answers, but it offers the promise of healing. It is a glimmer of light in the midst of the dark. It is a novel that will twist your heart and leave you breathless. You will not want to put it down until you reach the final word at which point you will once again be able to exhale.
The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith.”
The Lord replied,
“If you have faith the size of a mustard seed,
you would say to this mulberry tree,
‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you. Luke 17:5-6
Have you moved any mulberry trees lately? If you have, I’d be willing to bet that it involved a great deal of back-breaking labor and some heavy machinery. As I heard this Gospel, I thought, “Wow! If I had enough faith, I could clean my house with a lot less effort.” Obviously, that isn’t the case.
What, then, is Jesus trying to tell his Apostles and us in this Gospel? Jesus liked to use exaggeration to get his listeners attention. This is definitely one of those cases. So, despite the fact that we are unlikely to move any trees or clean our houses simply by believing that it can be so, the message is that our faith can still do amazing things.
Faith is what leads us to prayer. We believe that a higher power is in control. We know that we don’t have to do it all on our own. Honestly, I can’t even imagine trying to get through life that way. We have a God who loves us and is looking out for our best interests. We can talk to Him and ask for help. We can let Him lead us where He wants us to go.
Having that faith does not mean that life will be easy, however. I cringe whenever I hear someone preaching the (false) Gospel of prosperity with its message, “Believe in God and you will have success in this world.” Jesus never promised us success in this world. He never said that we wouldn’t suffer and would never get sick. In fact, he promised the exact opposite. He told us that following him meant picking up our cross, but he guaranteed that it would all be worth it in the end.
We all have metaphorical mulberry trees in our lives, the problems that have deep roots and simply won’t go away. Our faith allows us to believe that those problems will somehow be resolved and the tree will move. Maybe that tree is even there for a reason we can’t fully understand. Sure, it blocks our view and seems insurmountable. We wish it wasn’t there, but our faith is what keeps us going, despite the big obstacle in the way. Plus, we do know and trust that miracles do happen. Prayers do get answered (sometimes even in the way we hoped for!). Sometimes, those trees do get moved in amazing ways. Other times, they move slowly with lots of heavy labor. Jesus didn’t give a timetable for those trees moving into the sea. But, with faith and trust, they do eventually move.
What are the trees that need moving in your life? Do you have enough faith to turn them over to God? Are you able to trust that He knows what He is doing?
What do you do after you say you are sorry? That is the question my parish priest posed to the children at Mass this Sunday. His point was that often saying we are sorry is not enough. We also must do something to make up for the wrong we have caused. We must do our best to make amends.
Saying that we are sorry when we have wronged someone is important. It is one of those things parents tell children to do from their earliest ages. By way of example, one toddler smacks another over the head with their toy of choice. In most cases, the toy is taken away or given to the other child, and then the offending child is then instructed to say “I’m sorry.” Is the child actually sorry? Probably not. Feeling true contrition is something that comes with time. Soon enough, however, the child will experience it and will know what to do when he or she has hurt someone else. It is an important life lesson.
As adults, we say that we are sorry often. I said it myself a few minutes ago when I accidentally stepped on my dog’s tail. I hadn’t realized that she had positioned herself under my legs until I moved my foot. We brush up against someone in the supermarket. We say we are sorry. We realize that we interrupted someone. We say we are sorry. These are the times when it is easy to say that we are sorry. We say it. The other person acknowledges it, and life moves on.
There are times, though, when it is much harder to say that we are sorry – the times when we have intentionally wronged someone and must begin the process of reconciliation. Those are also the times when we must make amends. We must try to do something to make up for the hurt we have caused. This is the much harder task. Sometimes it is not even possible. Still, we must make the effort.
In Richard Paul Evan’s story “The Christmas List,” James Kier is a modern day Scrooge. The man has ruined several lives through his selfishness and business dealings. After his obituary is published erroneously, he gets to read the online comments – most of which are anything but good. People are happy he is dead and Kier has the opportunity to face the reality of his life. He decides to do something about his legacy, and tries to make amends with the people he has hurt. He doesn’t think it will be easy, but he has no idea how truly hard it will be. The first person he reaches out to won’t even let him get a word in. Instead, he breaks Kier’s nose and sticks his dogs on him.
In time, he is able to make some things right. For some people, however, it is simply too late. Witness the response of an older woman whom he had caused great financial loss. She does forgive him. In fact, she states that she forgave him long before. Unfortunately, paying back the monetary damages will do little good. “So you see, Mr. Kier, you can’t make amends. You can’t give me back my land. You can’t give me back my health. You can’t give me back my husband and you can’t give me back my dreams. You certainly can’t give me back my innocence.” Those truthful words cause him more pain than his broken nose. In the end, he decides to use the money he owed her to establish a scholarship in her name.
Saying we are sorry is important. Realizing that our wrongdoing has consequences for others is even more important. When we have caused someone harm, we must do what we can to make it right. It may not always be possible, but we need to make our best effort.