Mortality and suffering are topics I don’t think about often. But lately I have been.
In May, my sister was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Upon hearing the news my thoughts turned to consider the best and worst case scenarios: best case, a full and swift recovery; worst case, suffering and death.
My sister has a newborn. She has a wonderful God-fearing husband. And she’s a light to all who know her. I would always say to my sister, who was also my roommate for six years, “you know, the sun is always shining on you, Shelly.” Things just seemed to go her way.
My sister and her young family have been caught in a storm.
I’ve been praying it will pass — that it won’t be devastating, that it will make our family stronger. We have gone to healing Masses. We’ve prayed our butts off. We’ve pleaded for the intercession of saints.
But the tumor has remained. Then God be praised, we soon discovered the tumor is benign. But the neurosurgeon explained it would eventually kill her if not removed. So she had surgery this week. It’s been nerve-wracking.
There are many unknowns. Possible side effects range from mild to severe. Her recovery could be short. Or it could be long. But she is expected to recover.
One of my sister’s favorite books is “He Leadeth Me” by Walter Joseph Ciszek, a Jesuit priest who was captured during World War II and convicted of being a “Vatican spy.” He spent 23 years in Soviet prisons and the labor camps of Siberia.
During these 23 years (can you imagine?) he suffered physically, mentally and spiritually. Facing loneliness, pain, frustration, anguish, fears and despair he turned to prayer. And through contemplative prayer he could do the impossible; accept his circumstances laboring in the Siberian salt mines (unjustly!) and draw even closer to God through his suffering. And through this acceptance of God’s will, possible only through prayer and grace, he found peace despite his circumstances.
Every person goes through suffering and will eventually die. Sometimes we choose our suffering when we choose sin and suffer as a consequence. Other times suffering chooses us through no fault of our own. Either way, suffering and death are a part of the human experience. But these trials can invite us into deeper intimacy with our Lord.
As Father Ciszek asks, “What can ultimately trouble the soul that accepts every moment of every day as a gift from the hands of God and strives always to do his will?”
Yesterday my sister had the 10-hour surgery to remove the tumor. And so far, so good. The majority of the tumor was removed and the surgery was considered a success. We will know more in the coming days and weeks but we are encouraged.
This trial has taught me that life can change quickly. If I am not anchored in prayer it is more difficult to weather the storm if not impossible.
Maybe you are facing a difficult time in your life. Maybe you’ve received some scary medical news or you’re facing a marriage separation, a job loss, or a chronic or mental illness. Be assured God is in it.
Suffering isn’t pleasant, it isn’t a good in and of itself. But we can be better united to Christ through it. The Lord suffered on the cross and Our Lady was pierced by seven swords. There is no suffering greater than the suffering experienced by Jesus and Our Lady.
Perhaps one of the most encouraging Bible verses is this: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28)
May God be praised whatever our circumstances!
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