By: Fr. Paul Scalia
This past weekend, the Church in the DC area lost one of her great priests. Father Ron Gillis of the prelature of Opus Dei died early Friday night. He had served in this area for over forty years, forming numerous priests, laymen and laywomen. Many people can (and should) provide better anecdotes and testimonials. Nevertheless, one line, heard years ago, does capture his style. Do not be afraid to be miserable, he said. It was quintessential Father Ron: shocking, funny – delivered, of course, with a grin – and wise.
Shocking and funny, because who is not afraid to be miserable? Sure, misery loves company. But who wants to be part of it? We all instinctively cringe from suffering, from being miserable. And in itself that instinct is correct, because we are not created for suffering. In His agony our Lord Himself drew back. We draw back…but suffering finds us nonetheless. Point is, we will encounter suffering in this fallen world. Suffering is not an option – how we approach it is. We can spend our time, energy and resources trying to avoid it. Or we can choose not to fear it – or, rather, not to allow our fear to dominate.
In fact, most of us not only fear being miserable, but we also spend inordinate amounts of time and resources to avoid even the slightest suffering. In a sense, all sin can be seen as an avoidance of suffering, a fleeing from the Cross. We want to be spared some inconvenience or embarrassment or deprivation – so we lie, cheat, or steal. We escape into our technology or into other relationships. We “self medicate.” In extreme cases (abortion, euthanasia), we even take innocent life to avoid the misery that comes from seeing another suffer. It is this inordinate fear of suffering that creates so much disorder in our souls and in our relationships.
Do not be afraid to be miserable. Those who are not afraid to be miserable – who know that suffering will come, and who know also that Someone will be present in that suffering – they can be joyful in the midst of suffering and misery. They know the world is fallen and that some degree of suffering – of being miserable – comes to us all. Their goal is not to avoid it but to enter into it with Christ. They value fidelity more than the avoidance of suffering.
Father Ron was one such disciple, and he taught this by both word and action. Those who saw him as he approached death – and had long before entered into intense suffering – did not see avoidance. He did not rebel against his situation or pity himself. He maintained that smile and cheerfulness that he had in every other situation. Nor was this a Pollyannaish response to the inevitable. It was a following of Christ Who on the eve of His Passion said, “In the world you have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” (Jn 16:33).
May the Lord reward such a great witness.