Hope in the Midst of Suffering (Part One)

President of the Executive Board of the World Apostolate of Fatima in Africa

About a century after the death of Christ, a deacon named Euplius was tortured at Catania in Sicily, simply because he was a Christian. The dialogue between the judge and the deacon was taken down by the court stenographer, and has survived to this day. It wonderfully illustrates the Christian attitude to pain and his hope in a life beyond the grave. While he was being tortured, Euplius said: “I thank you, Christ; protect me while I suffer this pain for you”.

“Get rid of this madness, Euplius”, pleaded the judge, Calvisanius. “Adore the gods and you will be set free”.

“I adore Christ. I despise demons. Do what you will, I am a Christian…”
After long and severe torture, the judge appealed to him: “Sacrifice if you wish to be freed, worship the gods – Mars, Apollo, and Aesculapius”. “I am now sacrificing myself to Christ, who is God”, Euplius replied. There is no more that I can do. Your attempts are in vain”.
Again and again the martyr cried out:
“Thank you O Christ. Christ come to my assistance for you I am suffering this torment”.
And when his strength finally failed him, and he could no longer make any sound, he kept repeating with his lips these and other words until he died.

What was it that kept the martyr strong in his resistance against the temptation to worship false gods despite the horrible torture? It was his faith in Christ, and his (martyr’s) hope of attaining eternal life. It was that kind of hope which Pope Benedict XVI in his Encyclical Letter – Saved in Hope – refers to as “redemptive hope”. In this article the writer will provide the reader with examples of men and women whose lives of courage in adversity are lights of hope for the sick and suffering in this dark world of sin.

The well-known Trappist monk writer Rev. Fr. Raymond O.C.S. produced a book which has a very special significance for those who are sick. The title of the book is “Your Hour”. It is the story of seven people who had to carry a particularly heavy cross of illness. Most of them, indeed, had to carry it through the very gates of death. The individuals described here met their destiny with fortitude and clear awareness of the tremendously important mission they were fulfilling in life. It is this sense of purpose that Fr. Raymond is anxious to instil in the hearts of all who suffer.

The striking thing about the people in this book is that their ailments were incurable, and they knew it. Rev. Fr. Carl Miller, a Jesuit missionary for 22 years in India was brought back to the United States suffering from cancer of the pancreas. Shortly before he died he could confide to a friend: “My best work for India began when I arrived at St. Joseph’s Infirmary”.
Joan Gasser was a student nurse in a large city hospital who suddenly became the victim of the fatal Hodgkin’s disease. She was fully aware of her condition; yet she could tell a friend with a smile: “I feel as if I were just coming alive”.

John Leonard was the hard-working father of nine children suddenly prostrated by spinal bulbar polio, and destined to spend the next and last eight years of his life gasping for breath in an iron lung, yet never losing his deep trust in God. Here also is the story of how a truly Christian family reacted to the birth of a mongoloid child. Here is the account of a busy pastor, the victim of inoperable cancer, who each day said this prayer:
“Most Holy Trinity, I thank you for the pain of the past, I love you for the pain of the present Please send me such pain in the future as will make you loved by myself and others. Help me to mean what I say”.

The last chapter in the book is concerned with Mary Ellen Kelly, of Marcus Iowa, who died May 9, 1961. For years she was the victim of rheumatoid arthritis, completely dependent on others, yet she organized a solidarity for bed-ridden patients and reached an ever widening audience by her writing until the day she died.

Lozano Garrido (1920-1971), a Spanish Journalist spent 28 years in a wheelchair. He entered the Catholic Action group when he was 11 years old. During the Spanish civil war, he distributed Holy Communion to the imprisoned. His long illness began in 1942 and just one year afterward, he began to need a wheelchair. Twenty years later, nearly 10 years before his death he lost his sight.

From his wheelchair, with progressive paralysis affecting more and more of his body, he became a recognized writer and journalist. His professional life led to many publications, including reports to the Associated Press and nine books on spirituality. When his right hand became paralyzed, he learned to write with his left, and when that hand too lost movement he would dictate his words. He died in 1971. In 2008, Pope Benedict XVI approved the decree of heroic virtue attributed to him.

Unfortunately, there are many who regard any form of physical suffering as an absolute evil. They have forgotten that suffering is the inheritance of the children of Adam. All the apostles, the martyrs and the saints have taught us by their lives that we cannot live in the love of Christ without suffering. “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains only a single grain; but if it dies it yields a rich harvest” (Jn. 12:24).

Throughout the history of the Church from the time of the Roman persecutions until the present, Christians have been called upon to suffer and die for their faith. All the apostles except John the beloved Apostle suffered martyrdom. The martyrdom of the apostles and their contemporaries is a proof of the historic reality of the Gospel story. For the apostles were willing to attest in their blood what they had seen, what they had heard and what they believed.

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