Even in the season of joy, we must still love those suffering
By Claire Collins
Easter, the Church’s great season of joy, is here. The Gloria has returned, our homes are decorated with plastic eggs, and bright floral colors decorate the pews of our churches.
For my family, the joy of Easter also has a somber tone. For it was in the early hours of Easter morning 11 years ago that my father succumbed to brain cancer and was invited into his eternal home. How scriptural it was for my dad to pass then, for it was Jesus who rose from the dead and completed his conquering over sin and death in the early hours of the morning on the first Easter.
Juxtaposed with Easter was the preparatory season of Lent, a season which reminded us that “we are dust, and to dust we shall return.” It was a time of penance, deeper prayer, and an overall reminder of who God is and what He wants to do in our lives, no matter what we were experiencing.
While suffering and death are in no way comfortable topics to discuss, Lent was a reminder of the reality that we all experience them in one way or another. And although we are now in a season of great rejoicing, these realities are still true for us, even during Easter.
Anyone reading this has probably suffered greatly in their lives in some capacity. No matter how much we have experienced suffering, it always seems to take us by surprise when someone we love is encountering it. We wonder what to do, what to say, what is too much, what is not enough?
The Church, in Her wisdom, offers us some concrete ways that we can mimic the life of Christ in our own lives, types of almsgivings that we can continue to practice beyond the season of Lent. These “works of mercy” give us very specific ways that we can imitate Jesus and be love to one another as we journey together. Many of them have to do with encountering and serving the people around us who are suffering. One in particular stands out: “comfort the sorrowful.”
“If you want to change the world, go home and love your family.” This famous quote by St. Teresa of Kolkata is a great reminder for us that if we want to change the world, our families and our communities are the places where we should start. So, we need to ask ourselves, who are those afflicted in our midst? How can we love them; how can we be Jesus to them in their seasons of suffering?
The Divine Physician is at work
When we consider how God might be inviting us to “comfort the afflicted” in our lives, we need to remember firstly that He is the one ultimately at work. We can trust what he is doing and how he is working, even if it doesn’t seem to make sense to us or the person suffering. It is not our job to provide them with all the answers or to remove them from their trial, because God is allowing it. We can trust that His desire to care for them is greater than any comfort we can provide.
One of my favorite titles for God is “the Divine Physician.” It is a reminder that God is Healer and that He is always in the business of bringing greater wholeness to our lives through His healing work. His grace is medicine for our souls, and He knows what procedures our hearts need in order to survive into eternity.
While God does not cause suffering, He allows it and can always bring a greater good out of it. In years of reflecting on my own journey of grief, I can attest to so many ways that God has taken the suffering my dad endured, and that we subsequently endured because of losing him, and brought great goodness and healing from it.
All of this is to say, we need to remember that God is the ultimate healer in our lives and in the lives of those suffering around us. We are merely His instruments, pencils in His hand as St. Teresa of Kolkata so famously said. All we are being called to do through our actions, gifts, and words is bring those suffering around us closer to the Divine Physician so that He can do the real work.
Do what you can
When my dad was diagnosed with cancer, the outpouring of support from the community around us was unbelievable, and even overwhelming at times. No small act went unnoticed by our family, and while it was hard to receive sometimes, we were forever impacted and grateful for others’ generosity.
We’ve all been given many strengths uniquely different from those around us. The beautiful orchestration of the Body of Christ allows for each to give according to his or her gifting. 1 Corinthians 12 speaks so eloquently of the Church: our dependence on one another, our mutual experience of one another’s sufferings and joys, and the need each of us has to use our gifts.
Some of us may be called to serve the material needs of those afflicted in our lives. In the face of suffering, even the easiest of chores and tasks can be a burdensome load to carry. We can help alleviate those burdens by meeting these needs to the degree that we can.
This can take many forms. A gift card or a home-cooked meal. Cleaning their house or doing yard work. Bringing flowers to their home. A monetary gift or donation to help the person’s financial needs. If you know the person well, you can gift them something personal and intentional.
You can even do these things on a large scale—a meal train, a GoFundMe or other donation service, or another organized project. When my dad was sick, a friend got together a group of women to redecorate our back patio. This area became an oasis for my mom and is still to this day a place of peace, a reminder of the love of God and our community.
Maybe we are being asked to serve the emotional needs of those suffering in our lives. We can be a listening ear or a loving presence, even if no words are spoken. We can remember specific dates, like birthdays or anniversaries of a loved one’s death, and help celebrate or memorialize them. We can check in, ask for updates, or just send a quick meaningful message letting the person know we are thinking about them.
When I met my mentor in college, I told her about my dad and his passing. He was buried not far from the campus, and on the anniversary of his death, she asked if we could go there and pray with a few close friends while we watched the sunrise. She brought coffee for us, and we prayed morning prayer together. It is still such a beautiful memory for me and really showed me how much she, and the friends who gathered with us, loved and cared about me.
Meeting someone’s spiritual needs is something that all of us are capable of doing. The Church offers so many forms of prayer: the Mass, the rosary, the Chaplet of Divine Mercy, and much more that can help be a form of intercession for the person in need. Spiritual bouquets are a beautiful way to gather the prayers of the community in a tangible form. When my dad was sick, we received prayer blankets that were covered in prayer as they were being made.
A distinct memory I have from when my dad was sick was a rosary gathering that was held for my family. Many friends and members of the community gathered at the cathedral and prayed for us. There also was the opportunity for those gathered to write small notes that were given to me later. I still have those notes and hold them very dear.
Keep showing up
“My soul is sorrowful even unto death. Remain here and keep watch with me” (Matthew 26:38). These words spoken by Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane are echoed in the cry of every suffering heart. Whether or not they realize it at the time, someone suffering, and every one of us in every season of our lives, need those around us to remain with us.
You might know that the true meaning of compassion is to “suffer with.” Keeping this in mind, we must be willing to enter into the suffering of those we love who are experiencing challenging seasons. We must mourn with them, weep with them, listen to and hear them. We must continue to show up for them, say their loved ones’ names, and never forget the suffering they endure.
Suffering and grief are odd experiences. There is no manual for how to experience them. Often the emotions can be overwhelming and can hit at unexpected times. The person may not want to talk or be around others and at the same time feel totally alone and isolated.
This is why, for us considering how we can best love those around us, we must remember that the most important thing we can do is continue to be there for them and be available to them. We must be willing to be rejected, ignored, or seemingly unappreciated. We must remember that we are not loving for our own glory, but for love of the other. All we can do is keep offering, keep trying, and keep loving.
The hope of Easter
The beautiful reality that awaits us at the end of every Lent is the reminder that there is no crucifixion without a resurrection. Though God allows our suffering, he always desires to bring it to fulfillment in this life or in the next. We are reminded during Lent of our mortality, but we are reminded on Easter, and throughout this great season, of the reality that suffering and death are conquered and do not have the final say.
As time has passed, our family has experienced great healing from the loss of my dad. We can’t help but smile when someone tells us they miss him, shares a story or memory with us, remembers being touched by watching our family as he suffered. But we also have continued to live our lives and make memories, do things together as a family, and honor my dad’s memory.
You never really “move on” when you suffer in any way or for any reason. But what God can do with our suffering is take those wounds and bring glory to them. We read in the Gospels that the resurrected Jesus still had the nail marks and pierced side present in His risen body. It was Christ’s wounds that gave Thomas the ability to believe in the resurrection. In the same way, God can also make our wounds a source of His glory, bringing hope, light, and peace to us and those around us.
When we seek to comfort the afflicted in our lives, we must remember that their healing is a journey and do the best we can to play the role that God is calling us to in that process. We must seek to be attentive to their needs and meet them with care and intentionality. We must be willing to enter into their suffering with them and continue to love them throughout their journey. And in the end, we are called to be reminders to them of the hope that Jesus is always offering and the healing that He desires to bring them.