“The road is narrow,” St. John of the Cross wrote, “and he who wishes to travel it more easily must cast off all things and use the cross as his cane. In other words, he must be truly resolved to suffer willingly for the love of God in all things.”
There has never been a shortage of opportunities for people to suffer. By the very fact of existence, all of humanity experiences some form of affliction, some more so than others.
This issue’s In Focus (Pages 9-12) comes at the beginning of the Lenten season, when we are called to penance and to the sobering and prayerful reflection that even the Son of God experienced human suffering.
The people I interviewed for those articles face daily challenges with the courage of the faith that does not forsake them. Time and again the Scriptures, writings of the saints and traditions of the Church remind us that those who have come before us have suffered and that we and those who are yet to come can expect it. Though it’s inescapable, God is always with us.
In his 1984 apostolic letter Salvifici Doloris (On the Christian Meaning of Human Suffering), Blessed Pope John Paul II cited Sacred Scripture as “the great book of suffering” and as an “extensive list of variously painful situations for man.”
The letter was written in the Holy Year of Redemption (1983-1984) as a reflection and meditation on human suffering of every possible kind — spiritual, emotional, psychological and physical. Human suffering evokes compassion and respect, he wrote, and in it comes the deepest needs of the heart and the “deep imperative of faith.”
Some suffer because of grief, disappointment, worry or mental illness. Others suffer visibly in the outward manifestations of illnesses, accidents or congenital and developmental challenges. Sometimes when we meet a person with challenges, we don’t know what to say. But Judy Huber of Greensburg, Pa., has some advice for those awkward moments.
“Don’t talk to us any differently,” she told Our Sunday Visitor. “Talk to us and treat us the way you would want to be treated. We may have a challenge in our life, but we are no different than someone who is walking around, or someone who can see. We are all the same inside. We aren’t any different than you.”
Huber is blind, paralyzed, uses a wheelchair and ventilator and has round the clock caregivers. She also is the energetic and dedicated organizer of an annual retreat for people with challenges and disabilities. People who know Huber are touched and inspired by her faith and her joy in calling together those who support each other and celebrate their lives in Christ.
In Cicero, Ill., Father Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., faced with physical challenges himself, coordinates a ministry that links people around the world who are sick and disabled. They meet each other where they are, in friendship and faith.
In that encouragement and care, he said, they are able to “find God in the dark corners” of life.
Maryann Gogniat Eidemiller writes from Pennsylvania.