Setting Out to Find Meaning in Suffering

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Thank you, every woman, for the simple fact of being a woman! Through the insight which is so much a part of your womanhood you enrich the world’s understanding and help to make human relations more honest and authentic.

-Blessed Pope John Paul II, Letter to Women

These words of the soon-to-be St. John Paul II, and all of his teachings on the dignity of women, are the foundation of an organization called Endow, Educating on the Nature and Dignity of Women. It’s a a Catholic group that brings women and girls together to study encyclicals, other Church documents, and the lives and writings of saints to help us understand our God-given dignity and respond to our culture’s desperate need for an authentic feminine presence. This primarily takes the form of study groups, which look a bit like book clubs. Groups meet everywhere from church basements, facilitators’ homes, schools, prisons, homeless shelters, and safe houses for abused women and children.

It’s been my joy to participate in this group for about 3 years now, first as a participant and over the last year as a group facilitator. No doubt future blog posts will speak more of this experience, but to quickly take a look back… Together, our group has studied John Paul II’s Letter to Women, Benedict XVI’s encyclical God is Love, the life and legacy of St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein), and John Paul II’s encyclical Redemptoris Mater. These teachings and saints have become companions of ours along our journeys, educating us, but more importantly, teaching us more about how to love.

Tomorrow we begin our next study, On the Christian Meaning in Suffering, which uses John Paul II’s apostolic letter Salvifici Doloris as its source document. I expect it will be one of the most challenging to undertake.

Over the last 3 years, the dozen or so women in my group have walked together and prayed together through great joys and serious suffering. On our road together, we’ve carried the pain of infertility, miscarriages, emotional abuse, an annulled marriage, leukemia, unemployment, and being mocked for our faith in the workplace, just to name a few of the challenges. No doubt untold hidden, private hurts have affected us along the way.

Lest you think our group is always grim, it’s only fair to boast of our many shared joys, including: 4 marriages, 2 adoptions of children with Down Syndrome, the birth of 2 babies (girls no doubt eager for their own Endow group someday), the anticipation of 2 more babies on the way, significant career changes, the acceptance of one of our own as a Candidate for the Carmelite Sisters (a discernment inspired — in part — directly by our study of Edith Stein), and the application of another woman to enter the Sisters of Life. There is much for us to celebrate when we meet twice each month!

Still, wading through the Church’s teachings on suffering together will no doubt make some of our pain new again, and I anticipate that more hurts will be revealed. But I’m excited too when I think of the healing that may come from this study, and the ways our relationships with each other, with our Church, and most importantly with each Person of the Trinity will grow. As we undertake the work of finding meaning in our suffering and of the suffering that weighs on us around the world, I ask for your prayers for healing and understanding for my friends and I, especially for those hurts and fears that we all carry privately. I pray too that as we work through this, we may unite our suffering with Christ’s on the cross, and that our study may enrich our experience with Christ this Lent.

If you haven’t before, I strongly encourage women and men to read the full Letter to Women. It seems to me one of the least known and yet supremely important documents of our modern Church. To learn more about Endow, including how to join or form a group of your own, please visit http://endowgroups.org or contact me with any questions.

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