HOW MUST A CATHOLIC FACE ILLNESS AND SUFFERING?
Illness and suffering are part of every person’s life. We must pray to God to grant us and our loved ones good health and it is a good and noble petition. We must also ask Him to cure us of our illness if it is according to His Will.
Nevertheless, sooner or later, we shall experience suffering in our life, as all people do. Our Catholic faith provides us a great help to see God behind all things that make us suffer and helps us to take advantage of them, convinced that God knows how to draw good from physical, moral, emotional suffering, and from everything else.
Let us remember that all of us have a choice to either be pulled down by sadness, discouragement, rebellion…caused by illness and suffering, or to make good use of them for a higher spiritual good. Here are some words from the Catholic best-seller written by Rev. Fr. Francisco Fernandez-Carvajal, “In Conversation With God, vol. 2, no. 31.2 ” which give us excellent tips on how we, Catholics, must face illness and suffering.
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Illness, when it is borne for love of God, is a means of sanctification, of apostolate; it is an excellent way of sharing in Christ’s redeeming Cross.
Physical suffering, which so frequently accompanies man’s life on earth, can be a means that God uses to purify our faults and imperfections, to exercise and strengthen our virtues. It can be a unique opportunity to unite ourselves to the sufferings of Christ, who, although he was innocent, bore within himself the punishment merited by our sins (cf John 4:10).
Particularly in times of illness we have to be close to Christ. Tell me, my friend, the beloved asked, will you be patient if I redouble your sufferings? Yes, replied the friend, as long as you redouble my capacity to love (R. Lull, Book of the Friend and the Beloved, 8). The more painful the illness, the more love we will need. At the same time we will receive more graces from God. Periods of illness are very special occasions that God allows so that we can co-redeem with Him and purify ourselves from the stains of sin that remain in our souls.
If sickness comes we must learn to be good patients. First of all we must accept the illness. We need to suffer patiently not only the burden of being ill, but of being ill with the particular illness that God wants for us, among the people that He wants us to be with, and with the discomforts that He permits us to experience. I say the same of all other tribulations (St Francis de Sales, Introduction to the Devout Life, III, 3).
We have to ask God for help to bear our illness gracefully, whatever it is, trying not to complain, obeying the doctor. For when we are sick we can get very tiresome. ‘They aren’t looking after me properly; nobody cares about me; I’m not getting the attention I deserve; nobody under stands me … !’ The devil, who is always on the lookout, can attack from any angle. When people are ill his tactics consist in stirring up a kind of psychosis in them so as to draw them away from God and fill the atmosphere with bitterness, or destroy that treasure of merits earned (on behalf of souls everywhere) by pain — that is, when it is borne with supernatural optimism, when it is loved. Therefore, if God wills that we be struck down by some affliction, take it as a sign that He considers us mature enough to be associated even more closely with his redeeming Cross (J. Escrivá, Friends of God, 124).
The person who suffers united to Our Lord, ‘completes’ with his suffering what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ (cf Col 1:24). The sufferings of Christ created the good of the world’s redemption. This good in itself is inexhaustible and infinite. No man can add anything to it. But at the same time, in the mystery of the Church as his Body, Christ has in a sense opened his own redemptive suffering to all human suffering (John Paul II, loc cit, 24).
With Christ, sickness and illness attain their full meaning. Grant, Lord that your faithful may become partakers in your Passion through their sufferings in this life, so that the fruits of your Salvation may be made manifest in them (Divine Office, Vespers, Friday of the Fourth Week in Lent).
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Dear brethren in Christ, let us then ask God’s grace so that we may be able to offer our illness and suffering to Him, with patience, supernatural “joy” and maturity. May we learn to unite ourselves with Jesus on the Cross, so as to sanctify ilness and suffering and convert them into means to purify ourselves, grow in our union with God, and co-redeem with Christ for the good of all souls.
Mother Mary, Health of the Sick, pray for all those who are suffering, for all those who are sick, and pray for us.
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Fr. Rolly Arjonillo
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