Suffering and the Christian Life

Fr John Denvir preached on the 3rd night of the Novena in Dromantine. The following is an edited version of Fr John’s sharing.

We can see clearly that St Thérèse was very familiar with suffering in her short life.

Sickly little baby. Nursed by a lady called Rose and almost died but for the prayers to Saint Joseph.

Zelie Martin died while Thérèse was four and a half years old.

Thérèse was miserable at school.  Up until eight her big sister Pauline was her teacher.  Now she went to school at the convent.  She could not manage to play games like the other girls.  The older pupils teased her and one in particular bullied her. She wrote, “I’ve never been as melancholy as I was during those five years of school. If I had not had dear Celine (an older sister) with me there I could not have spent a month there without losing my health.”

At the beginning of her second year at school Pauline, her little mother, left her to become a Carmelite nun. She writes, “Imagine my transports of grief when I overheard my beloved Pauline, in conversation with Marie, talk about going off quite soon to Carmel. I realized that Pauline was leaving me. I was going to lose my mother all over again. I cried bitterly over it.  It was the suddenness of the announcement that drove the wound so deep.” The separation of  Pauline caused her intense suffering. 

Five months after Pauline’s departure, Thérèse illness became alarming. At times she fell into a deep faint; at other times she became delirious. Ordinary things around her took on hideous shapes.  One evening her father sat by her bedside holding his hat in his hand. Thérèse cried out in terror: “Oh! That big black beast.”  (Hallucinations).  

On the anniversary of her first Holy Communion she had become tormented with scruples.  She, who had wanted to please the good God, imagined now that everything she did displeased God.  “My lightest thoughts, my simplest actions, troubled my conscience afterwards.” Therese said, “I could only find relief in telling Marie about them.” Then, Marie her only support entered the Carmelite convent. Thérèse now had no one to help her. She begged her two little brothers (Josephs) to help her and to give her the peace of mind she need.

As an adult in the Convent, she offered all her little sacrifices to God with love (difficulties of community life).  Thérèse never tried to miss little opportunities of showing her love for God.  No one ever knew to what extent she suffered.

At twenty-four years of age she contracted tuberculosis. She overheard one of the nuns say, “Sister Thérèse will not live long and I ask myself what our Mother Prioress will find to write in the obituary after her death.  She is very good but she has done nothing worth taking about.”  Thérèse had learned that it is not “great achievement” our Lord wants.  He wants our love.  “It is love alone that counts.”

The first definite sign that Thérèse had tuberculosis appeared on Good Friday April 3rd 1896.  Thérèse rejoiced at these signs.  They gave hope to her that she would soon see Our Lord in Heaven. Then suddenly, a tormenting thought came to her mind: “What if there is no Heaven at all? Thoughts like this stayed with her day after day.  She prayed, “My God I do believe.  I am ready to defend the doctrine of heaven with the last drop of my blood”.  The temptations against faith never left her.

Sometime before her death she confides in her sister Pauline, “I cannot breathe and I cannot die.  I think at present I cannot bear any more. But I am not afraid, for if the sufferings increase, God will at the same time increase my courage.”

“I believe the Evil one has obtained God’s permissions to tempt me by such extreme suffering to make me lose both patience and faith.”

Through all her agony Therese’s confidence in God never wavered: “God is not going to abandon me.  He has never abandoned me.  My God, I accept all willingly.  O how good the good God must be, since he enables me to bear all I suffer.  No, I would never have believed it possible to suffer so much, never, never, never; I can only explain it by my extreme desire to save souls.”

Word of God:   Ezra 9: 5-9;   Ps.  Tob 13:2, 4 6-8;   Luke 9: 1-6.

“Jesus called the Twelve together and gave them power and authority over all devils and to cure diseases and he sent them out to proclaim the Kingdom of God and to heal.”

– Jesus, in giving power to the Twelve knew that diseases and devils were part of daily life.  Jesus wanted healing and wholeness. This was is the Kingdom of God.
– Jesus as he anticipated being crucified he felt, deeply distressed and troubled, overwhelmed with sorrow, troubled in heart and in spirit.
– Scripture in fact, provides abundant teaching on the importance of allowing ourselves to respond with normal human emotions.  These emotional responses in no way indicate a lack of spirituality.
– Many of those mentioned in the Bible experienced great suffering: Christ, Paul, Job, David, the prophets.

New Life

So, why do we have to suffer?  I do not know.  The only way to make sense of the Cross is to kiss it.  Good Friday is not the end for the Christian.  Her intense suffering and sign of tuberculoses began on a Good Friday.
Therese’s cry before her death, “I am not dying, I am entering into life”, was a cry of Hope!  This is an Easter cry…. 
We are resurrection people.  Seasons of dying and rising to new life…. 
Results of suffering: “Cor. 4:17 “It achieves for us an eternal glory that far outweighs all suffering.”
God’s view is absolutely essential to be able to handle suffering well.  God’s Word clearly shows that suffering is a normal part of the Christian life, especially suffering for Christ.   2 Tim.  3:12 “Suffering is normal and inevitable in the Christian life.
The Lord responds to us very personally when we are suffering. Psalm 118.5 “He answers when we cry in anguish.”  Psalm 34; 15 “His ears are attentive to our cry.”
His constant presence is with us in times of suffering.  Psalm 46:7 -11 “He is with us.”   Psalm 18 “He is at our right hand.”  Psalm 37:28 “He will never forsake us.”

God never intended us to suffer alone.  He designed the body of Christ in such a way that we are to minister to each other’s needs.
1Cor 12:24 – 26 says in part, “But God has combined the members of the body… so that its part have equal concern for each other.  If one part suffers, every part suffers with it…”
Suffering requires the right response if it is to be successful in accomplishing God’s purposes.  Suffering forces us to turn from trust in our own resources. 

Conclusion

How to talk to God during times of suffering: I trust in you; You are my hiding place; I wait for you; You are my help; In you my soul takes refuge; You are my fortress…

The Lord not only teaches us how to respond, but how not to respond when we are suffering.  He mentions

Do not be afraid.  Is 41:10, John 14:27 1Peter 3:14.

Do not be dismayed, for he is our God.  Is 41;10

Do not be fainthearted because the Lord goes with us.  Deut 20:3.

Some of the ways in which we might respond to God during suffering

Acknowledge his name

Ask him to strengthen us according to his word

Be still before the Lord

Cast all our anxiety on him

Call on him

Consider all his mighty deeds

Cry out in distress to himoubled in heart and in spirit.

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