This is the sixth week of a Lenten series. This week we focus on suffering.
By: Sr. Clare Hunter, F.S.E.
“Christ…. sees the mystery of suffering much more profoundly – deep at the root-tip of human existence, and inseparable from sin and estrangement from God. He knows it to be the door in the soul that leads to God, or that at least can lead to him: result of sin but also means of purification and return. This is obviously what is meant by his words about taking up the cross and following him (Mt 16:24).” –Romano Guardini, The Lord
When I was 19, I sat across from my 18-year-old friend, Karin, who was dying from cancer. When I asked her if she was angry at God she thought for a moment and said: “I used to ask Him, ‘Why me?’ And then it occurred to me: ‘Why not me?'” To me, it was as if she were speaking a different language. I had a million reasons why not her. How could she say such words? She had every reason to be angry with God. Her suffering and dying was completely unfair. Furthermore, I was aware of the tremendous outpouring of prayers from all over the world, and could not understand why God was taking so long to miraculously cure her. I was angry.
It was October 1991, and a group of friends were visiting with her and her family in McLean, Va. Instead of decorating a dorm room that September, her family had to turn her bedroom into a makeshift hospital room. By now she had lost all of her long black hair, her face was puffy and her body thinned by the chemotherapy. It was a life-changing experience to watch my friend suffer and face death. As I think back to those days, I realize that I was more uncomfortable with her sickness and suffering than she was. I could not imagine what I would do if I were in her shoes, convinced I could never accept such a fate. Death was terrifying. I spent more time trying to convince her, no, rather, myself, that she could “beat this thing.” After all, that is what we do with pain, suffering and hardship – it must be eliminated and beat. And if that fails, God had better provide a miraculous cure.
When Karin died on Easter Sunday, April 19, 1992, I was aware of profound graces and miracles that had come about not only in her own life, but in the countless lives touched by her illness, suffering and death. That Easter Sunday, as she prepared to meet Our Lord, she requested to die as a Franciscan Sister of the Eucharist. That afternoon, she made perpetual vows, dying a few hours later as Sister Mary Chiara. Karin’s life and death were instrumental in my own journey of faith, and even more, to my own “Yes” to entering religious life.
Sr. Mary Chiara’s exceptional story, (painfully condensed for this blog) has always illustrated for me the true mystery of suffering. Her suffering led her to a most intimate prayer and she allowed it to be a “door in [her] soul that leads to God.” This filled her with the capacity to know a union with God so purely, that her last desire on earth was to consecrate her entire mind, heart and body to Him. This is exactly what Our Lord teaches us on the Cross. He did not come to eliminate suffering. He came to show us how suffering becomes the essential human experience that fulfills our deepest longings: union with God.
Let us pray for the graces to allow suffering to be a “door in our souls….that means of purification and return” so that we too may end our earthly lives with the only desire to be in union with Him.