Patience. Suffering. These two words are perhaps the two most-dreaded words for post-modern human beings.
We struggle much with patience, and we hate the slightest mention or imagination of suffering. As a matter of fact, our consumeristic society wants to do its best to provide its consumers with whatever their hearts desired! Many companies, organizations, consultants, and different people try to win our attention by providing the most effective, fastest, or most efficient way to get what we want as we want them to be. If we have to wait or go through some inconveniences, it is the unspoken but expected goal to minimize the discomforts as much as possible.
We dread waiting, having to be inconvenienced, be hurt, or conceive the notion of having to suffer. Nevertheless, many of life’s most valuable and essential lessons were learned when we had to suffer, endure, overcome, and wait for things in our lives. Characters were formed, strengthened, and deepened when we had to learn to sacrifice, wait, and be willing to bear trials or hardships for something greater, out of grasp, or worthwhile than what can easily attain at the moment.
One of my former parishioners, her name was Martha, taught me much about patient suffering. As a matter of fact, she taught me how to find small moments of joy even in the midst of suffering. She would always joke, “Father, I am struggling with patience at this moment,” or, “God is testing my patience lately.” Even though those statements seemed light-hearted, they gave witness to her strong willpower and immense endurance as she fought against vicious cancer that brought her much pain.
Martha was a convert to the faith. She became Catholic after falling in love with the faith while interpreting sign language at my first parish as a priest. She always felt that this was her talent to give back to the Church in service of those who would have to struggle with not having enough support because of their hearing or verbal disabilities. She loved serving the Church in many different ways, but most important of all, as a sign language interpreter at Mass and other parish functions.
I remembered her first request when I first came to the parish as a brand-new priest! She told me, “Father, you have a lot of passion when you preach! I just ask that you slow down a little bit so I can remember to sign what you said. I hate to miss or misinterpreted your original thoughts.” When her cancer returned, she would always joke when she forgot or thought that she could not interpret the whole message because her cancer drugs were affecting her memories. Yet, little did she know that I secretly admired her as one of my simple, daily heroes.
Even when I left the parish, we would still keep in touch. She would send cards, messages, notes, and sometimes money to help the poor in Viet Nam, too. Martha had little but she had a heart of gold that remember others who are also suffering. She would ask me to pray for her as she struggled with being patient with God and her cancer treatment. At times, she felt useless and hopeless, especially when her cancer came back vicious and she had to be homebound. She could not do the one thing — signing — that she loved the most! Being at home, at times, intensified the loneliness and struggles. She asked me to pray for her, which I did at Mass when I prayed for the sick.
I remembered asking her to pray for me when she endured her battle with cancer. I told her that her sufferings were not meaningless, because she did not suffer alone! I asked her to join her suffering with Christ Jesus in praying for me and for sinners around the world. I truly believe that many things that happened in my priestly ministry were gifts from her patient suffering and powerful prayers.
Our last interaction was a note from her a few weeks before she passed. She simply wrote, “Father, the pains are getting more unbearable at times. Sometimes, I get frustrated, angry, and hopeless. I still struggle with patience. However, I still remember what you said and continue to pray for you!” To be honest, I broke down and cried when I read that note. Martha gave me so much… Even though they were insignificant things according to the standards of the world, they were the greatest gifts that come from the heart. Martha was one of my simple heroes in the faith!
We, as Catholics, believe that the Son of God willingly endured sufferings for us, hence showing us that we are worth loving. With His redemptive love on the Cross, He showed us the way of true love by laying down His life for ours; therefore, we can unite our own sufferings, trials, and hardships with His very own by conforming to our will to His. Even though it makes no sense why would the loving God allow His subject to suffer, we believe that He does not take away our humanity with all its blessings and shortcomings. Nevertheless, instead of letting us be defined by evil, He showed us that He can make all things good if we trust in Him.
How beautiful it is to know that we are not alone, even in our earthly trials, hardships, and struggles! The Savior knows and He understands what we are going through in our very own lives. Therefore, even though we are still struggling with how to make sense of what is going on in our lives, we are not abandoned by God. Contrary to much popular thinking that He likes to smite and punish people, my God does not like to hurt others. Of course, life is not fair nor is it perfect! We do not always get what we want, and things do not always go the ways we desired; however, we are not abandoned by Him even if our whole world abandoned us.
The standards of this world are ever-changing, temporary, and fluctuate like crazy. People who often preached much about acceptance, tolerance, and love are often the most intolerant, judgmental, and abusive people in the whole world. It often leaves us hopeless and resentful because it is imperfect and unjust. Nevertheless, we are not hopeless or useless because we know where our joy is found and who is the foundation of our loving faith and hope!
Our Savior had given us the real example of true, self-giving, and sacrificial love that changed the world because it changed hearts deep from within. He showed us of what it means to love even when others misunderstood and could not comprehend His loving plan and intentions for the world. He patiently endured the evil sufferings inflicted upon Him so that we would know our true dignity as sons and daughters of God, destined for greater things that are transcendental and eternal with our Creator.
Therefore, even if we are misunderstood, our patience tested, suffered in life, and gone through trials and hardships, we are not alone for what we are going through is not meaningless. Even though we might not have all the answers and get what we want at the moment or in the short while, our patience and trust in God will produce real character, strength, faith, hope, and love that speak louder than any political or social campaign, ideology, revolution, or propaganda because it is enlivened and testified with the truth.
Perhaps I am not giving you enough human, rational explanations why patience and suffering are worth enduring; nevertheless, I am sharing with you one powerful, life-changing example (from many) that changed my life because someone dared to live, unite, and offer what she was going through for the love of her God and for those who were in need of her prayers. Like many other silent heroes of the faith, Martha willingly bore all things for the love of Christ and offered her sufferings for our sake, especially those who were hopeless or struggling. Even though like Martha, many of us may never know how much our prayers affected others, we can see that we are all products of prayers because, without the humble, personal, and unitive sacrifices, we would not be where we are today.
At those moments when we thought we could not go on, were lost within ourselves, or were about to give up, something pushed us forward and made things right… I believe that was the result of the prayers of those who patiently suffered and united everything they had to Christ Jesus, and without knowing us, offered the merits of their prayers for those in need. Therefore, let us not forget what our prayers can also do to those who could benefit from our acts of love when we are going through our own trials and hardships with patient suffering.
Simply put, let us be grateful for the grace received through the prayers of others, and in turn, become humble intercessors for others who are in need by how we unite our everything with Christ Jesus for the salvation of all, conversion of sinners, hope for the hopeless, and grace for the lost. Let us not forget that, even with everything that is going on in our lives, every action, suffering, hardship, and trial is an opportunity for prayer and grace. Without a doubt, prayer is beautiful and full of grace even if we have to learn the transformative reality of patience and suffering.
Please pray for me as I am for you.