I recently listened to a talk by Jeff Cavins, a brilliant former protestant pastor turned Catholic speaker, writer, editor, teacher, and so much more. This particular talk that moved me deeply was titled “15 Things to do in the Midst of Suffering” and I highly recommend it to anyone seeking comfort during physical, spiritual, or emotional suffering. Actually I would recommend it to any and all because even if you are not suffering now, chances are at some point in life here you will be. It is always good to be prepared and this talk will help you do just that. It will help you to see how suffering can make us stronger and draw us closer to God. I won’t list all of the 15 points because I really hope at least 1 person reading this will look into it and actually listen to the talk.
The one point I do want to talk about is offering up our suffering for others. Mr. Cavins talked specifically about what it means to “offer up our suffering”. Being willing to take up our cross and bear it even when it seems like too much to handle. But also hoping and praying along the way that our suffering is not in vain and that other souls will bear fruit or be comforted because of our pain. Offering up our suffering for others takes the focus off of us and forces us to focus on the needs of others, just as Christ asks us. We are called to be more like Christ, which also means to suffer like Him. If we are willing, we are also pulled closer to Him during the suffering because He knows how much it hurts and He does not want us to go it alone.
During the last 5 months I have been up close and personal with suffering. The obvious suffering that comes with losing a loved one but in this case I think and extra dose of it in the form of “what if” or “if only” or “what could have been”. Losing a baby before birth leaves a hole a mile wide. A hole filled with wondering what her life would have been like, who she would have been, what she would have looked like, how we would have been as a family of 5, why us?, why now?, and on and on.
Father John Riccardo says that people are drawn into their faith because of a major life-changing event. Be it getting married, having kids, losing a loved one, physical ailments, etc., something happens in a person’s life that makes them question who they are, why they are here, and what purpose their life has. We have certainly been in that life-changing situation more than once and our faith journey is evidence of that.
When we got married we didn’t immediately get involved in matters of faith. We figured we’d iron all that out before we had kids but that was where it stayed for a while. We floundered, it was ugly, and I can safely speak for both of us in wishing that we had figured some things out sooner rather than later. But this is probably just exactly where we should be. I digress.
Once kids came along we got a little more serious about this whole faith thing. Going through infertility issues early on I suppose could be considered suffering, although in hindsight it hardly compares to now. But we did eventually start to ask some questions and dig a tiny bit deeper into what faith meant to us individually, as a couple, and as a family. We were growing and trying, though it was probably a weak effort. All we knew was that we wanted our kids to grow up in a faith-filled home because if we didn’t at least give them that, chances are they would never get it. They were starting to ask hard questions and we didn’t have any answers for them. How do we know God is real? What happens when we die? Good, important questions that I also had. I wanted answers too!
It wasn’t really until we veered off on the road less traveled and decided to homeschool our kids that our faith really got a much needed jump start. As we delved into the world of homeschool families we quite frankly had no idea how to answer some serious questions regarding our faith and specifically our Catholic beliefs. Most of the people we were meeting were protestant and held some very different beliefs and opinions of the Catholic Church. Each time a well-meaning friend asked a hard question I began to do some research into what the Catholic Church teaches and what other denominations believe and started to realize that I was not only thankful to be Catholic but I was shocked that more people were not. I learned or relearned they whys and hows of things that take place in our society and was disappointed to see how far we have come from the true meanings of Christmas, Easter, etc. An ongoing history lesson taught me so many things, like how the Catholic Church was THE ONLY CHURCH for 1500 years! I was shocked to realize that based on the feelings on one man(Luther), there are now over 35,000 religious denominations that men continue to create all the time.
So where am I going with this? I would like to offer a challenge.
One of the reasons that Mark and I have grown in our faith as much as we have is because we were challenged by some really great people. We were asked hard questions that we wanted to know the answers to. It would have been easy to say something like, “Oh, that religious stuff is for smarter people than me to understand” or “I think as long as we love Jesus and are all trying to be good people then God will understand.” That’s all well and good, but do you grow and learn when you push things off like that? No. You grow and learn when you try or when you are forced to. Obviously, losing Sophia has been a major force in shaping our faith.
Well, since we were sort of forced into learning, I am challenging you to choose to learn and choose to try to understand something about your faith that you don’t understand or are not sure of.
Maybe you need to start with something simple like “How do we even know God is real?” or “Why does it even matter if I go to church?”
Maybe you are faith-filled but you are not sure why your religion believes something in particular. Do you even know where the church you belong to stands on important issues. Do you really know if they are teaching you the truth and not just one person’s interpretation of it? Who started your church? Did you know that the Catholic Church can be traced back to Jesus Christ himself through the successive line of bishops, all the way back to Peter, our first Pope, who was appointed by Jesus himself?
I challenge you to learn something new. Ask some questions, find some answers. I would especially challenge you to see what the Catholic Church teaches about something you believe. You may be surprised at the beauty that you will find there. I would caution though that if you want to really know what a religion teaches, go to the source. I have also learned that most of the misconceptions about what the Catholic Church really teaches are complete lies.
The late Archbishop Fulton Sheen said, “There are not one hundred people in the United States who hate The Catholic Church, but there are millions who hate what they wrongly perceive the Catholic Church to be.”
If you need a hand, here are some resources:
Catholic Answers: Search by topic.
Catechism of the Catholic Church: Handbook of all things Catholic.
Father Riccardo Podcasts: If you prefer to listen rather than read, these are amazing podcasts of homilies and talks by Father Riccardo. His ability to bring the faith and beliefs down to our level and make them make sense is amazing. “Why be Catholic” is a great one to start with.
St. Jerome said, “Ignorance of scripture, is ignorance of Christ.” If you do nothing else, pick up a bible and read it. Start with the Gospels(Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) and reread them until it really sinks in.
For years I have prayed for the conversion of our friends and family. When Mark found out he thought maybe I should narrow it down to one or two people in particular. I thought it was narrowed down from when I used to pray for the conversion of the world!
When I listened to the above-mentioned talk, my fire was stoked and I have been reaffirmed in my prayers for the souls of those I hold near and dear. If you are reading this, I am talking about you. I challenge you to learn something new about your faith. If you feel like sharing I would LOVE to hear from you.
So know this, I offer up my suffering for you. Please don’t let it be in vain.