Topic: Suffering

Br. Michael James Rivera, O.P.'s picture

The Lord God is My Help

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Why did Jesus endure such agony in his passion and death? To save sinners, and to show us how to endure suffering and persecution.

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Br. Peter Junipero Hannah, O.P.'s picture

True Grit

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Latin CrossDuring my two-week home visit following Christmas this year, I had occasion to witness the Body of Christ active in a very gritty, grubby, and difficult way. As a celibate religious, I have undertaken a path of discipline in prayer, study, and common life which is built to aid the Christian in being “perfect” (Matthew 5:48). It involves many trials and difficulties, from the often toilsome nature of study, to the unpredictable itinerancy of new pastoral assignments, from the daily perseverance required to seek out silence and contemplation, to the head-spinning and body-draining activity of parish work. But the week following Christmas, I visited my sister and her husband, proud parents of two little ones, an adorable two-year old girl and a goggle-eyed (and boisterous) six-month-old boy. Difficult, grinding, and gritty work is parenting. And holy.

One of the great beauties of the Catholic faith is the way it honors difference, diversity, and complementarity.  And one place I have seen this most vividly is in the complementarity of the celibate and married vocations. As a celibate I live a life not many people do, and which is also easy to idealize: those white-robed holy men who spend all their days in the perfect peace of contemplative prayer, dipping down now and then to bring Christ to the world. There is truth in the fact of the alternating rhythms of prayer and activity in a Dominican’s life; it is a rhythm I love, exult in, and live out day-by-day. But illusions of “perfect peace”-perpetually-maintained vanish quickly upon entry as a novice. Numerous and eccentric personalities in close quarters for extended periods do not for perfect peace make. The friar has to learn constantly to readjust his personality to the eccentricities (sometimes delightful, often unnerving) of those around him. It is partially for this reason that religious life is called a “school of charity.” Prayer, too, has its vicissitudes of sensible consolation and peace, alternating with stale and flat periods where the Lord withdraws from the soul to teach perseverance amidst feelings of desolation and abandonment. The ideal of religious life remains an ideal; but perfect charity is only acquired by constant effort in cooperation and made possible with God's grace, self-abnegation, patience, and conformity to the Lord’s Cross. The free gift of God in Christ Jesus is anything but a lawn chair with a Dos Equis on the beach; it is rough, untidy, exacting, toilsome, dramatic. It is God’s sanctifying action upon hearts gone astray and needing purification to see God face-to-face in eternity.

So too parenting.  It is easy, on the one hand, to idealize “domestic tranquility” (especially if one is familiar with 19th century British literature or, for that matter, 1950s sitcoms).  It is refreshing, soothing, and sometimes even inspiring to picture home life as a congenial and happy arrangement where father and mother love each other and their children, have only minor disagreements swept away with a quick resolution and a smile, and are adept at managing children who are—if not angels—kindly, docile, and amiable souls.  At its best moments perhaps something like this shines forth.  But day-to-day reality is messier.  As my sister and brother-in-law demonstrated to me over this Christmas break, parenting involves constant attention to needy creatures who are simultaneously adorable and attention-consuming, endearing and unnerving, too cute to imagine and exasperating to the point of exhaustion.  Sleepless nights.  Medical anxieties.  Endless demands.  Non-stop needs arising from an infinity of unpredictable situations.  My sister has told me two things which capture the essence of her situation: as a stay-at-home mom (for now when they are very young), she has never been happier or more fulfilled in her life; at the same time, she has never experienced this degree of mental and physical exhaustion, combined even with periods of certain loneliness, her husband being a hard-working and dedicated father, but whose schedule as a physician’s assistant can be so demanding that meals and time at home become irregular.

St. Paul tells us that marriage is a holy vocation which images the relationship of Christ to his Church (Eph 5.32).  Both are beautiful.  And both are messy.  The Church as mother gives her children new spiritual life in baptism, nourishes them with spiritual food in the Eucharist, and continually calls new members into her fold, making the earth a home of God’s true peace.  But she does this by her union with Christ the Head, who for love of his Bride, the Church, underwent torture, the shedding of blood, and death.  As Christ lays down his life for the Church, so a husband lays down his own life, all he is, for love of his wife and the provision, protection, and nourishing of his family.  The wife in union with her husband then becomes, as the Church, a “home” for the wonderful, inspiring, difficult, and exasperating task of having and raising new little human creatures.

I rejoice in the gift of my vocation, though at points it has led to exhaustion, loneliness, and an attention to external demands so unrelenting that one wonders where new fuel comes from. But I know, too, that this sacrificial kind of love is both more real to the demands of life, and more closely approximates the way our Lord loved his Church even through trial. Real and lasting joy can only come at such a price. For this reason I marvel all the more at the beauty of God’s design for the human family. I have found myself frequently in a position of bringing to married couples a certain witness to the primacy of spiritual values in life. The time I devote to prayer and “things spiritual” puts me in a good position to share with married couples the beauty, challenge, and importance of our relationship with God; both its joys and its trials. On the other hand, I am constantly blessed to see up close in marriages a living picture of the marvelous gift of family, married life, and new children—full of joy and its trial.

My sister and brother-in-law are living out their vocation to marriage in a way that, to me, is beautiful and inspiring, witnessing as it does to the very way Christ relates to his Church. Its beauty shines forth all the more when I see my brother-in-law exhausted from work, yet coming home to treat his wife with kindness and dignity; my sister stretched to the point of exhaustion, yet still giving herself to her husband and children; and of course my niece and nephew--too cute to imagine, yet growing by fits and starts through the travails and joys of childhood. Love that proves itself in the midst of suffering is more authentic. For this reason I am thankful every time I witness to the beauty and drama of married life. The love demanded is inspiring because it is real, because it is gritty, and because it requires real courage. In other words, it is like Christ’s.

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Br. Chris Brannan, O.P.'s picture

The Labor Pains of our New Birth

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Br. Chris' preaching on 1 Peter 1:3-5, for Vespers on Sunday, February 19, 2012.