Dealing with Pain and Suffering on Our Journey
by Deacon Thomas Frankenfield
Over the past months, many of you have sent numerous emails and letters concerning these reflections. Thank you very much; it is an honor to serve God in this manner.
Although most questions and comment are personal and can't be shared on a public forum, there is a fundamental similarity in many of them that can be summarized in the question, "How do I deal with the pain and suffering in my life?" The answer to human suffering is not easy because suffering is a mystery. What we know is that we all bear different amounts of suffering in our journey. I also judge that some appear to suffer more than others.
A Challenge to Believe
Our questions about pain and suffering are essential because they disclose a struggle with our faith and they challenge us at the root of our personal spirituality. In the storms of our life, it appears that our options are few. We can become embittered asking, "Why did God do this to me?" Another choice is to give our struggles to God and accept the suffering with faith and dignity. Thus, the most obvious answer to questions of suffering is for us to completely let go of our troubles to the Divine Grace of our Loving Lord, Jesus Christ. Our Catholic beliefs help us accept the difficulty by looking to the Sacraments, our Church, our families and our friends. All of these stand ready to help with their own unique graces.
For me, totally letting go is represented beautifully in the astonishing sculpture by Michelangelo called the Pieta. This marble statue residing at St. Peter's Basilica in Rome is a striking depiction of our Savior lying in the arms of His Mother. The dead Jesus' human life is completely exhausted from all the hours of pain and suffering. Yet, the Pieta represents Christ's dedication to the Father's will and His willingness to give every ounce of Himself for each of us. Also, it shows the unconditional love of Our Blessed Mother in this impossible circumstance. This is a clear example of Mary's unreserved fulfillment to her "Yes" thirty years earlier "May it be done to me according to your word." (Luke 1:38) Mary said, "Yes" to God then and continues to say "Yes" for all times.
The Pieta as a Personal Symbol of Faith
Even as a child Michelangelo's Pieta was a symbol of God's love in my life. My grandmother used to have a little plastic Pieta in the living room of her Philadelphia home. One day, I asked her to explain why the statue was so special. She said it reminded her of two important things; that Our Lord suffered and died for her; plus regardless of her troubles, she would be held in the loving arms of Our Blessed Mother. I have warm memories of smiling whenever I passed that statue. When my grandmother died; I asked if I could have that tiny statue. Today, I feel a sense of awe of at my grandmother's trust in God and at the faith she willing passed on to me.
The next time I encountered the Pieta was as a grade school boy on a school trip to the 1964 New York's World's Fair. After waiting in a long line at the Vatican Pavilion I entered a dark room with a moving floor and a ceiling-to-floor glass wall. I remember being very afraid because I thought I would get lost in this dark room and be left behind in New York City. Surprisingly, the moving floor rounded a corner and there was a huge version of my grandmother's statue. I felt a warm sense of comfort as I stood there in amazement of the beautiful Blessed Mother with Jesus in her arms. I knew at that moment, I was also safe in Mary's arms. So, like ice cream melting on a hot day, my fear of being lost just dripped away.
Years later, on our first visit to Rome, my wife and I were robbed just five minutes after our arrival. Like many who face difficulty, my immediate reaction was "Why did God do this to me?" I carried this negative attitude with me until that evening when we entered St. Peter's Basilica. Amazingly, the first statue I encountered was my grandmother's statue-Michelangelo's beautiful Pieta. My attitude suddenly changed. I knew everything would soon be okay. I was safe in Mary's arms again. Like may years ago in New York, my fears just dripped away.
The Real Presence of Unconditional Love
Every day and in every way, Jesus Christ is there to help us deal with any pain or suffering coming our way. Jesus' passion and death were redemptive suffering. He truly did die for each one of us personally. Moreover, gives us His real presence for all times in the Sacrament of Holy Communion. Jesus Christ can show you the wisdom of totally letting your troubles rest in Him. Jesus is there to help is regardless of our suffering. Whether Jesus sends His Mother to hold us or He sends another of His loved one like our spouse or family members, all He asks us to do is to let go and relax. Come and relax in the arms of His Mother. Can you say "Yes?"
For Your Reflection
From a Ministry Perspective:
- In my ministry do I show those who are hurting the depths of Jesus' unconditional love?
- How does my personal pain and suffering cause obstacles to letting Jesus use my talents?
From a Family Perspective:
- In our Domestic Church, am I a personal reminder of Jesus' unconditional love for our family?
- In our Domestic Church's as parent, sibling, widow or single, how can share my pain and suffering with others, so they can see Jesus' unconditional love?
I would love your feedback, thoughts, stories and ideas. Please email me.
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