Making Sense of Suffering
By: Nadia Masucci
When hardships came unexpectedly in my life, it humbly redirected my heart and mind to rediscover my faith and develop a personal intimate relationship with our God who is love. In February 2009, I had shortly returned to work as a High school teacher from my maternity leave. I went for a routine visit to my doctor and my entire world was turned upside down when I was given the dreaded diagnosis of breast cancer. I was overcome by shock and disbelief thinking my world was crumbling before my eyes. I had to stop nursing my youngest child because the surgeon had to perform a mastectomy, remove 14 lymph nodes, and undergo 6 chemotherapy and 25 radiation treatments. It was a time in my life when I felt utter despair and desolation. At this moment I questioned my Lord, where are you in the midst of my darkness? Why would a God so loving abandon me, His child?
As I clung on to my dwindling faith, I read God’s Word on the presentation of Jesus in the temple. Simeon takes Jesus in his arms praising God that he has seen the Messiah and turns to Mother Mary saying, “and a sword will pierce your own soul too” (Lk 2:35). I pondered on these words, “and a sword will pierce your own soul”. Why would a God who is all knowing and loving allow His own Mother to experience such grief and suffering? Yet Mary’s faithful response to God’s will impacted me profoundly. She stood at the foot of the cross in humble obedience to God’s will in interior anguish as “her soul was pierced by a sword”. Mother’s anguished soul inspired my quest to find truth as I pursued to find meaning in suffering.
In Jesus’s time, the cross Christ bore brought great fear upon His disciples. They all fled Jesus and hid themselves. Yet the cross of Christ has profound meaning and great power. It is in the very moment of complete defeat, when God hangs on a tree and takes his last breath, and cries out, “it is finished”(Jn19:30), that our Lord has defeated sin, Satan and death forever and has opened the gates of heaven. This tragedy has become for us our greatest victory. Afterwards the disciples witness the risen Lord that has conquered death. This empowered them to boldly and fearlessly proclaim this Good News even to their brutal martyrdom. It’s our resurrected Jesus that gives us hope and meaning in troubling times. St Paul explains that we are children and heirs of God and if “…we suffer with him, that we may also be glorified with him” (Rom. 8:16). When we encounter suffering we should cling onto our Lord on the cross uniting our trials as an opportunity to experience God’s glory.
Through the guidance of a beloved priest Fr. Shane Varghese, I learned the value of suffering with Christ. That all suffering when united with Christ has great value and meaning, it becomes redemptive. “Christ’s cross has given a new meaning to suffering: it can configure us to Him and unite us with His redemptive passion" (CCC#1505). Redemptive suffering is our trials offered up united to the Lord’s passion as a prayer, to spiritually repair our soul or others. In the midst of my suffering began a difficult journey that gave me great hope and an immense love in a God who is our Emmanuel, a God who walks with us even in our greatest trials. My trials would become an offering to God, to be used in a powerful way.
I distinctly remember walking into the hospital and looking at all those sick around me. I wondered in my heart if anyone was inviting the Lord in their painful situation. Is their suffering united to Christ or is it simply wasted? I began to pray, “Lord I offer up all of my pains, struggles, anxiety with your passion. I offer it in reparation for my sins, for the conversion of my family members, for my children, for our beloved priests, for our church”. God’s grace led me to use this suffering in a new perspective. It led me to ask God’s forgiveness for my sins, to repair past sins and brought me to a deeper form of love by serving God and His kingdom.
This unity with Christ on the cross, allowed me to be enveloped by an outpouring of God’s consolation. I recall opening my eyes from one of the many surgeries I had undergone. I was hooked up to an intravenous and oxygen mask, unaware of the severity of my situation as the doctor briskly carried the tumour to the lab for testing. It was in the midst of chaos and uncertainty that I experienced an incredible sense of peace and joy. Bringing my suffering to the Lord in prayer and through the prayers of my beloved friends and family, I encountered a deep peace through God’s grace. This situation could have led me to despair but being spiritually united to Christ, it became a powerful intimate union with God.
After several surgeries, I would have to undergo six treatments of chemotherapy. The oncologist outlined all the side effects of chemotherapy and told me within a week of my first treatment I would lose my hair. As a woman, it was quite devastating to hear these words. Once again my “womanhood” was at stake and being chipped away. In prayer I asked the Lord for the strength to face all of this as I wallowed in self-pity and felt a sense of hopelessness. My suffering was viewed from a self-centered point of view and was not Christ-centered. In Matt. 14:29 Peter miraculously walks on the water when his eyes were fixed on the Lord’s. When he noticed the winds, fear seized him and he began to sink. Many times my gaze was not on Christ, and like Peter, I would cry out, Lord, save me! Immediately, Jesus lovingly and patiently reaches out embracing me in His heart. Our gaze has to continually be on Christ in order to walk on the turbulent water of life’s trials.
The day before my treatment I went to a coffee shop. The young cashier serving me said to me, “Wow, you have such beautiful hair”. I was quite shocked with this comment because I knew I would lose my hair shortly. I spoke to God in my heart asking Him, “Lord, why are you allowing Satan to mock me?” I went home and wallowed in self-pity and shed many tears, again. As I sat in prayer, I became aware of God’s love and His desire for me to grow in holiness. I realized my life as being vain and attached to outer beauty and materialism. “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity” (Eccles1:2) and God wanted to purify me from this. The Lord says in John 15 that the “Father removes every branch that bears no fruit” and I knew the Lord had to prune many areas in my life. I now faced my next hurdle with great courage knowing that my hair as one of the many gifts from God that would not be spared. The Lord knows us intimately and has “intricately woven” (Ps. 139:15) us and says in Matt. 10:30, “yet even the hairs on your head are counted for”. I made this next trial into a prayer as well, “Lord, may every hair that falls to the ground save a soul”. And so this great loss of mine gained greater merit.
This journey became an opportunity for me to grow intimately in God’s love, assisted me in detaching myself from the world, egocentrism and to focus on God’s will and eternal life. Not only was I being purified from my sinfulness but it also gave me the opportunity to minimally share and imitate our Lord in His self-sacrificial love. The Lord transformed this united suffering enabling me to grow in holiness preparing my heart and soul for eternal glory. This journey of pain became in sense a journey of triumph and hope.
We are living in a difficult time, where the spirit of death is blinding our hearts and minds to believe that there is no longer value in one’s life if we encounter suffering. We avoid pain at all costs sadly inviting euthanasia to become an answer to our crosses. We fail to see the incredible redemptive value that suffering has in reparation of our souls and those of the whole world. The Lord calls us to pick up our cross daily and follow Him. It is within these united crosses that He will raise us to great heights, just as Mother’s “sword pierced soul” elevated her to Blessed among all women. In the end we don’t give up on God but give into God, trusting and believing in our victorious glorious risen Lord; and that we are the children of the Almighty King and heaven ultimately is our home.