Maybe we should rather ask: Why NOT me? Why should we be spared from suffering? Why should we be exempt from suffering?
The Christian faith is the only one that believes in a God who suffered, in the person of Jesus Christ. Jesus suffered for our sins and turned suffering into new life through His Resurrection.
Another question we should ask when we suffer is: What will I do with my suffering? Will I allow it to trigger in me resentment, guilt, anger, and a sense of powerlessness? Or will I rather find a way, through the power of the suffering God, to turn my suffering into love? Could I not allow Him to induce me to be more compassionate, more indulgent, more loving, and to accept the love and care others want to give me?
Did God abandon me?
One of the most human reactions to a disease that persists despite prayers asking for healing that seem not to be heard can be a profound feeling of God’s absence. We wonder why our prayers seem to fall on deaf ears. We do not understand why God remains silent while we are suffering.
When he was suffering on the cross, Jesus Himself expressed such a feeling by repeating the words of Psalm 22: My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? In the suffering of His passion, Jesus cried to His Father. Here we find in Jesus a reflection of our own powerlessness before suffering and our unmet need for relief.
It is part of God’s mystery that we go through these times of pain when there seems to be no consolation, when we seek comfort and do not receive any. Saint John of the Cross, a 16th century mystic, describes this experience as the “dark night of the soul,” a time when any sweetness coming from our sense of God’s love and presence disappears for some time.
Although God does not cause or desire our suffering, He allows it. In these times when we feel alone and disturbed by our disease, we can seek to find God’s presence in the kindness of others, the skill and care of health professionals, and moments of grace when we feel a strength and love that go beyond our own strength. God is close to us, even when we do not see Him. It may be in these moments, more than in any others, that we live our faith as the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen (He 11:1).
The Church has always had concern for the sick, in the footsteps of Jesus Christ, the supreme physician of bodies and souls. We can find in the New Testament many stories of healings worked by the Lord: healings of paralytics, lepers, hemorrhaging women, the blind, etc. He allowed Himself to be touched by all kinds of diseases and sickness. He even rose the son of a poor widow, and His close friend Lazarus, from the dead.
Furthermore, He Himself accepted our human and mortal condition. He was born in a manger among poor people and animals, rejected by innkeepers. He had to flee with His parents and live as a stranger in a neighbouring country. He suffered humiliations, rejection, and threats. He experienced tiredness, long walks under the sun, and cold nights. He felt loneliness and lack of understanding from His own. He saw His friends sleep and leave Him alone in the throes of agony. He suffered the passion and carried the cross for our sins. He finally died in atrocious physical, psychological and spiritual sufferings, wondering too why God His Father had abandoned Him.
The Church, in her catechism, tells us that illness and suffering are grave trials in which human beings experience their powerlessness, limitations and finiteness. On the one hand, illness can lead to anguish, self-absorption, sometimes even despair and revolt against God. It also is a source of growth in maturity and discernment of what is essential in life. Illness often leads to a search of God and a return to Him.
Christ invited His Church to follow Him and heal the sick. The Lord’s disciples healed the sick by anointing them with oil (Mark 6:12-13). The Church uses the rite described in James 5:14-15 in the sacrament of the sick, one of her seven sacraments, called anointing of the sick, and specially intended to comfort those who are tried by disease.
A time of illness or a trial of any kind can be felt as a hard blow, a cause of physical and moral suffering, and bring its share of losses and grief. One can experience loss of enjoyment of life, temporary or permanent loss of autonomy, loss of control of one’s schedule and sometimes of decision-making. One can be deprived of part of oneself, and this can affect the psychological, emotional, behavioural and cognitive levels, mental or psychological well-being, and sometimes one or several body parts, etc. All these losses can lead to other consequences, all of which cause feelings of grief: loss of employment, of a social or family role, of financial independence, of some relationships and perhaps of one’s living environment.
How should we receive and cope with these temporary or permanent losses, which sometimes happen gradually? It is essential to trust the caregivers and follow the intervention plan proposed by the health system, but it is also important to take time to consider and name the losses, grieve about them, or sublimate them. Our immediate circle may be very helpful and give great support with their love and the countless services they have to offer us for a shorter or longer time. Our loved ones may also be overwhelmed by the events and feel powerless. To find our way through this trial, find meaning in all this suffering and grieve as we need to, we often need help and understanding, a reassuring presence in which our family and ourselves can trust.
On the spiritual level, we generally want to redefine ourselves, find new balance in life and reconnect with what gives meaning to our existence. Spiritual needs are usually defined as the needs of a person’s spirit and are related to the quest for meaning and the search for belonging in relation to fundamental values or a transcendent being. Here is a list of spiritual needs we may feel (obviously an incomplete one, including those which visiting volunteers most often observe):
being perceived, considered, treated and recognized as a person (that is, a human being) and not as a disease, a diagnosis or a case;
experiencing or regaining a sense of belonging to a social group (family, religion, organization) and the chance to stay connected;
affirming or reaffirming the fundamental values on which our existence was based in the past: honesty, truth, justice, goodness, generosity, love;
finding again a meaning to our life in the reality we are experiencing. The meaning of life is found in our reality, every day of our life and not only when things go well;
for some people, believing in the continuity of life and opening their hearts to a transcendent dimension (something beyond oneself, higher than oneself, a reality of a surpassing nature). For us Christians, the need to revive our bond with Jesus Christ;
receiving religious support: beliefs, prayers, meditations, Church, rites, sacraments, shepherds or companions to face these realities;
regaining profound peace through reconciliation with ourselves, our life and others.
There are community organizations and associations of persons who have the same disease (in many cases). As for spiritual accompaniment, we can ask for the help of spiritual care providers where we are hospitalized. If we are at home or in a new environment, we can call on the service of spiritual accompaniment for sick and elderly persons in their own homes (SASMAD).
As for the Church, she instituted, through Pope John Paul II, the World Day of the Sick, which is celebrated on February 11, feast of Our Lady of Lourdes. The sanctuary of Lourdes receives a constant stream of sick people who testify to many cures, several of which were recognized as miraculous by the Church. Many pilgrims, even without having regained health as they were hoping, came back relieved and filled with renewed confidence, energized faith or a new sense of mission in the Church. By uniting themselves to the Passion and death of Christ, they “contribute to the good of the People of God” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, No. 1499) through acceptation of their disease and the offering of their sufferings and prayers.
“Illness, above all grave illness, always places human existence in crisis and brings with it questions that dig deep. Our first response may at times be one of rebellion: Why has this happened to me? We can feel desperate, thinking that all is lost, that things no longer have meaning…
In these situations, faith in God is on the one hand tested, yet at the same time can reveal all of its positive resources. Not because faith makes illness, pain, or the questions which they raise, disappear, but because it offers a key by which we can discover the deepest meaning of what we are experiencing; a key that helps us to see how illness can be the way to draw nearer to Jesus who walks at our side, weighed down by the Cross. And this key is given to us by Mary, our Mother, who has known this way at first hand.” (Message of Pope Francis for the 24th World Day of the Sick 2016)
Do you wish to send a particular prayer intention? Do it here!
All intentions will be forwarded to the cloistered community of Recluse Missionaries of Montreal, who have committed to bring them to their contemplative prayer every day!
The friends of mercy (SASMAD)
This new diocesan project gathers people who agree to pray for the intentions of the Service of spiritual accompaniment for sick and elderly persons in their own homes (SASMAD - Pastoral Home Care). The Friends of Mercy pray for persons who are sick, particularly those who are visited by SASMAD volunteers; the volunteers and their families; partners of the service; the parishes that are involved in care of the sick; the foundation “Les Amis de Jeanne Mance.”
The SASMAD service is in great need of prayers, as it is expanding more and more and wants to be attentive to the signs of the times, continuing to go to the periphery as we are called to do by Pope Francis, living its mission as part of the missionary shift of the Churches of Quebec. Religious communities are invited to join as Friends of Mercy, as well as our former volunteers who are ill or inactive, those whom we visit and all people of good will who want to be connected to the mission of SASMAD and the movement of the Church in ministry to the sick.
If you want to become a member of the Friends of Mercy (SASMAD), to pray and offer your own sufferings for the sick and SASMAD’s intentions, please contact SASMAD at (514) 272-4441 to register and become involved.