Sustaining faith through suffering

By Father Dennis Meinen
View from the Scooter

“If a tree falls in a forest,” goes the philosophical riddle, “and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?” (A man might say, “If a man speaks his mind in a forest, and no woman hears him, is he still wrong?”)

The words of Jesus in Scripture also challenge us to come up with the right answer: “Unless a grain of wheat falls to the earth and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat. But if it dies, does it produce much fruit?”

Those who suffer from a chronic illness know that it is a big part of their life, especially the final crises of their earthly years. And for those who carry a cross of serious disease, calling them to surrender everything they hold dear, the words of St. Paul, when he said, “By patient endurance you will save your life,” and the following words of St. Peter, hold the key to the question: What is the meaning of my suffering? Of our suffering?

The words of Simon Peter in his first letter (Chapter 1:6-9) should help everyone facing a debilitating disease. St. Peter opens with a statement that at first glance does not seem to console those who suffer.

He begins by saying, “There is cause for rejoicing here.”

Rejoice in my Parkinson’s disease? Rejoice in my Muscular Dystrophy? Rejoice in my Cystic Fibrosis? Rejoice in my Multiple Sclerosis?

But then Peter explains the beneficial outcome that comes from suffering. St. Peter tells us to rejoice, although for a little while we may have to suffer through various trials. Then, Peter talks about faith. I hope that the faith of those who suffer will sustain them on their journey. Peter says that one’s faith is more precious than the passing splendor of fire-tried gold.

Then, he entices us with Christian eschatological (the study of the Christian destiny of humankind as it is described in the Bible) visions of our soon-to-be reward: “Although you have not seen him you love him; even though you do not see him now yet believe in him, you rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, as you attain the goal of [your] faith, the salvation of your souls.”

Peter even says that so many of the things we love, even fire-tried gold, are perishable. In the end, God will judge us for the love and service we showed to other people. It sounds as if Jesus was tapping the shoulder of a politician who wants to be president, telling him that he does not condone hatred of family or strangers. Rather, by using a common form of Semitic rhetoric, he brings into bold relief the two possible options: either put Jesus first, where he belongs or put him somewhere else.

I pray that God will someday say to those who suffer, “Welcome good and faithful servants. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world.”

Father Dennis Meinen serves as chaplain at Holy Spirit Retirement Home, Sioux City, for Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts in the diocese and Calix and Faithful Friar of the Garrigan 4th Degree Assembly of the Knights of Columbus, Sioux City.


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