I had spent the morning and afternoon at Children’s hospital celebrating Mass and visiting some patients. I was hungry, tired and ready to leave and go home. But as soon as I approached the exit, an elderly woman stopped me and begged me to go visit her granddaughter. I excused myself with a half truth. I told her that I needed to get some food and that I would be back. The lie was that I would be back.
Well, it didn’t take long to feel extremely guilty. I went right back into the hospital and chased down this woman. As we were approaching her granddaughter’s room (in ICU), she slowed down and stopped. She looked at me and said; “Now father, I have to warn you. She has a very nasty infection. It’s very, very bad. The infection is on her face and she looks horrible.” In the back of my mind I was saying to myself, “Now you tell me.” I was really feeling weak. I felt like my knees were going to buckle. Now, I was afraid I was going to throw up or faint. Well, I decided that I would visit this little girl and give her the anointing of the sick without looking at her face. That was the plan and I was trying to figure out how I would do it without being too obvious.
I put on the gown, the mask, and the gloves and walked straight into the room. I greeted everyone except the little girl. As I prepared myself for the rite, I looked at her little feet and felt a tremendous amount of warmth and compassion for this sick little girl. I said a prayer for strength, gathered all my courage and looked at her for the first time. I was shocked! She was absolutely radiant! She was beautiful! I was so upset at the old lady that I nearly told her that she looked worse than her granddaughter! But of course, I didn’t. I just smiled at her.
This little girl pulled through and as far as I know, she is doing extremely well. The family was so grateful for the visit.
The Lord loves to surprise us, even when we are wounded. Suffering brings forth so many questions, not only from those who suffer but also from those who witness a loved one suffer. Could a logical explanation or reason ever make things better, especially in a terminal case? In my opinion, the answer is no. I am very troubled when I see a child suffer. What I really want and need is that the suffering comes to an end. And so, the ultimate solution to suffering really rests in God’s hands, and his hands appear to be tied down by sin. God’s hands have been nailed to a cross.
“In you my God, I place my trust” (Ps. 91-2b).
It’s unfortunate, but I believe (although I do not seek it) that we would all agree that suffering is needed for growth, for maturity. To those who suffer or witness it, it leads very often to a surprise awakening. Nothing that is insignificant matters to a dying person. But then again, nothing is insignificant to a dying person. Everything becomes highlighted, significant, meaningful, beautiful and wonderfully made. In a very powerful way suffering brings us back to our senses. It helps others (the non-suffering) to come back to their senses too. We want our suffering to come to an end, and in this case, the end is a purpose, a goal: God, redemption, salvation, rest, home. Suffering and death brought Christ to his end too, which was also his goal.
This is the reality of our lives. We love those who suffer for us. We value them and wish to imitate them. No wonder so many holy men and women suffered in imitation of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Those who suffer save, and they typically save the souls surrounding their deathbed. Those who suffer also save priests, many priests. That’s right. They save us from being selfish and sinful. They remind us of our goal in life too.