Tag Archives: suffering

Quote of the Day: Bernardin on the Dark Valley


Something upon which we can chew while snowbound:

As Christians, if we are to love as Jesus loved, we must first come to terms with suffering. Like Jesus, simply cannot be cool and detached from our fellow human beings. Our years of living as Christians will be years of suffering for and with other people. Like Jesus, we will love others only if we walk with them in the valley of darkness – the dark valley of sickness, the dark valley of moral dilemmas, the dark valley of oppressive structures and diminished rights.

Joseph Cardinal Berardin, The Gift of Peace, p. 49



Holy Cross Homily: A Sunday of Paradox


By Thomas Palanza, Jr.

Here are Sunday’s readings.

Life is a journey. This journey happens in a difficult world, one that is sometimes hard to live in. This difficult world frustrates us, sometimes to the point where we can’t bear it anymore. We then complain about how difficult the world is, how difficult our lifestyle is and we reject it, we seek to live a new way, a way that we hope will be easier. But then suffering comes upon us; yes, it seems to come upon us suddenly, from outside, intentionally at this moment when we are trying a new way – like it was waiting for us. And this new suffering is so much worse than before! How did we not expect the suffering would be worse? Then we wonder why we are suffering. Why did we suffer before, why are we suffering now, is there no way to live that will protect us from suffering? What is it about how we are living that is making life so hard? Where can we go for the strength, counsel, and healing that we will need to live better? When will we finally be delivered from our suffering? Who will give us a better life?

These are the questions that our first reading asks. Are they not our questions, are they not our challenges, are they not our longings? It is easy to separate ourselves from the Israelites, it is easy to see their mistakes – it is always easier to critique than to actually do. But we go through the same struggles as they did: we struggle to live well in a difficult world and we struggle to live in a loving relationship with God and our neighbors. The Israelites tried to make sense of their suffering; they believed God punished their sins with tangible afflictions. But Jesus reveals another truth – rather he deepens the faith of the Israelites. God does not inflict suffering on people as punishment for sin. The passages of the Man Born Blind and of Jesus’ Call to Repentance illustrate this well. Jesus reminds us that God does not cause suffering. The “providence” of suffering is that God is powerful enough to change even it, even death, into something good.

The punishment in the first reading is not the work of God. Suffering is the perfectly logical part of this life. That’s not what we expect of God. From God we expect the perfectly wonderful. What is the wonder of the first reading? Is it not that God uses the very thing that was bringing death to the people as the means to save them? What will cure a snake bite? Looking at a snake! This is the power of God at work, not the logic of the world. The logic of the world says snakes are deadly, but the wisdom of God says that the snake will heal. Continue reading Holy Cross Homily: A Sunday of Paradox

A Parent’s Open Letter to Richard Dawkins


By Katie Morroni

My friend J.D. has composed a beautiful, open letter to Richard Dawkins — and it’s by far the best thing I’ve read in some time.

Before J.D. and his family moved to Nebraska, I babysat for their son Max a few times — so in a very small way, I have experienced the joy J.D. mentions, evident in playing games, reading stories, and rocking their sweet then-baby to sleep. I pray Richard Dawkins accepts this invitation, or otherwise encounters such joy.

I can’t very well put forward this letter that speaks so much to my heart without adding another part of the reason why: My husband and I are preparing to welcome our first child into the world later this year! Just yesterday, I felt an actual kick for the first time, and with that has come a whole new, different awareness of the baby. So know that that’s how I approached this letter, albeit subconsciously at first. And now I can’t help but shudder to think of how our society decides if a child is or is not “worthwhile.”

You’re invited to read this beautiful excerpt below, but I think you’ll want to follow this link to read the full letter.

I have two children with Down syndrome. They’re adopted. Their birth-parents faced the choice to abort them, and didn’t. Instead the children came to live with us. They’re delightful children. They’re beautiful. They’re happy. One is a cancer survivor, twice-over. I found that in the hospital, as she underwent chemotherapy and we suffered through agony and exhaustion, our daughter Pia was more focused on befriending nurses and stealing stethoscopes. They suffer, my children, but in the context of irrepressible joy.

I wonder, if you spent some time with them, whether you’d feel the same way about suffering, about happiness, about personal dignity. I wonder, if you danced with them in the kitchen, whether you’d think abortion was in their best interest. I wonder, if you played games with them, or shared a joke with them, whether you’d find some worth in their existence.

And so, Dr. Dawkins, I’d like to invite you to dinner. Come spend time with my children. Share a meal with them. Before you advocate their deaths, come find out what’s worthwhile in their lives. Find out if the suffering is worth the joy.


“Tell Jesus not to kiss me.”


By Katie Morroni

As I’ve written here before, I’m making my way through a study on suffering with my Endow group. It’s been a beautiful process.

I like to think I’m starting to understand what it means to be united in Christ’s suffering, especially when I’m sitting back and pondering it from a semi-academic perspective. It’s a very different thing to be in the midst of a problem that seems to have no solution and think, “Thank goodness I’m united to Christ and His suffering!”

Continue reading “Tell Jesus not to kiss me.”


Remembering the Power of the Apocalypse

By Pat Angiolillo

With the troublesome crises and conflicts erupting the world over, it may seem like something more than violence is brewing in today’s world. Without declaring that “the end is nigh,” I think it is evident to faithful persons of many stripes that evil forces are indeed at work in the world and become all the more apparent in times of war and conflict.

What may be fodder for fanatics and doomsdayers is, I think for the most of us, simple evidence of persistent hatred and violence in our broken human world. It should come as no surprise to anyone that such crises generated by political and religious strife have long been a staple in the human narrative. Ancient peoples record histories upon histories of violent conflict between political powers and, with less frequency, between religious ideologies. Indeed, the Bible itself is home to such histories—conflict between warring Hebrews and Canaanites, between Israelites and Philistines, between Hasmoneans and Hellenists.

Continue reading Remembering the Power of the Apocalypse


My Most Beautiful Cathedral


Whenever I feel a little distant from God, because I haven’t been praying well, or I haven’t been focused on my faith, my heart and mind drift back to the way I felt when I first learned about Vietnamese Cardinal Francis Xavier Nguyen Van Thuan — and his experience with the Eucharist during his imprisonment.

Cardinal Van Thuan spent thirteen years in prison, nine of which were spent in solitary confinement. NINE. The first time I ever even heard of the cardinal was reading his own words about the Eucharist in his re-education camp, and his words remain for me some of the most chilling and most inspiring I have ever read:

The Eucharist became for me and for the other Christians a hidden and encouraging presence in the midst of all our difficulties. Jesus was adored secretly by the Christians who lived with me, just as happened so often in other prison camps of the twentieth century.

In the re-education camp, we were divided into groups of fifty people; we slept on a common bed, and everyone had a right to 50 centimeters of space. We managed to make sure there were five Catholics with me. At 9:30pm we had to turn off the lights and everyone had to go to sleep. It was then that I would bow over the bed to celebrate the Mass by heart, and I distributed communion by passing my hand under the mosquito net. We even made little sacks from the paper of cigarette packs to preserve the Most Holy Sacrament and bring it to others. The Eucharistic Jesus was always with me in my shirt pocket.

Every week there was an indoctrination session in which the whole camp had to participate. My Catholic companions and I took advantage of the breaks in order to pass the small sack to everyone in the four other groups of prisoners. Everyone knew that Jesus was in their midst. At night, the prisoners would take turns for adoration. With his silent presence, the Eucharistic Jesus helped us in unimaginable ways. Many Christians returned to a fervent faith-life, and their witness of service and love had an ever greater impact on the other prisoners. Even Buddhists and other non-Christians came to the faith. The strength of Jesus’ love was irresistible.

In this way, the darkness of the prison became a paschal light, and the seed germinated in the group during the storm. The prison was transformed into a school of catechesis. Catholics baptized fellow prisoners and became the godparents of their companions.

While I feel sick to think of what all his holy man endured, I do love reading and rereading his testimony, especially this portion. It’s a shocking and beautiful reminder of the gift of the Eucharist, and how rich we are when we have God, even if we seem to have nothing else.

At another point on his imprisoned journey, then-Bishop Van Thuan was transported in chains and near complete darkness with 1,500 other prisoners on a ship. He’d previously been imprisoned, but took some comfort in the fact that he remained within his own diocese. Now, he had no idea where he was heading. The first night was one of “terrible anguish,” and he spent much of the night counseling the distraught prisoners, including one man who tried to hang himself.

It is with this context that he later wrote:

Upon my departure from Saigon, Jesus, crucified outside the walls of Jerusalem, made me understand that I had to engage in a new form of evangelization. I no longer acted as a bishop within a diocese, but … going outside, for all my life, to the very limits of my capacity to love and give of myself. …

In the obscurity of faith, in service and in humiliation, the light of hope had changed my vision.

And then, my favorite part:

I understood that at this point, on this ship, in this prison, was my most beautiful cathedral, and that these prisoners, without exception, were the people of God entrusted to my pastoral care. My prison was divine providence. It was the will of God.

Rereading and typing that now gives me goosebumps, just as it did when I first read the words. If I close my eyes and concentrate, I can almost see his “cathedral.” I hear him calling it “most beautiful.” Today, as always, I then consider my own cathedral — where I’m called to serve, who I’m called to serve.

All of the above quotations are excerpted from the spiritual exercises Cardinal Van Thuan prepared for St. John Paul II; twenty-four years to the day after he was taken by force from his home, he concluded leading the pope through these exercises. His meditations and witness — while intended for a pope — are accessible to all of us, now published in a book, “Testimony of Hope.” It’s a favorite of mine, and I recommend it for any Catholic’s bookshelf, not to mention the bookshelf of anyone struggling with suffering and searching for hope.

Maybe this comes to me today because it’s a cold, snowy day here in Colorado (yes, in the middle of May). I know for sure that I’m silly for struggling to feel the joy of Easter just because it’s a gray day, and I do know how good I have it. But I believe we all have periods of relative feast and famine along our spiritual journeys. And when I’m hungry for the Truth, I often turn to Cardinal Van Thuan.


Is there a particular book or prayer that you turn to during your spiritually lean times? Let us know on Facebook or Twitter, or by posting a comment below.


Finding God in the Dark

 I don’t know why God allows suffering to happen. I don’t know why He allowed some of the challenges I’ve encountered this year. But I do know this: He isn’t going to leave me where I am.

From Flickr User Amoslide
From Flickr User Amoslide


Have you ever experienced complete, utter darkness? A darkness so whole that there is absolutely no light source to remove it? I hadn’t until yesterday, when I went caving for the first time. Along with a group of other students (and experienced cavers!) I explored Bear Cave, which is along the C&O Canal. After crawling, squeezing through tight spaces, climbing, and clamoring over rocks, we reached the deepest part of the cave, where we turned our headlamps off, and experienced a darkness so complete that I could not see my own hand held right up to my face. I’d never been in a place so dark, but surprisingly, I wasn’t afraid. I knew that the dark was only temporary, that soon I’d emerge from the cave. Even though there was absolutely no light entering the cave, I knew that it was there, and that I would find my way to it soon with the guidance of the trip leaders.

Continue reading Finding God in the Dark


Setting Out to Find Meaning in Suffering


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.

Continue reading Setting Out to Find Meaning in Suffering