Pain radiated through my legs as our parish priest anointed my Lyme disease-ridden body on my eyelids, ears, nostrils, lips, hands, and feet, following the rubrics of the Extraordinary Form of the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick. I was filled with gratitude for this special grace that helped me face two years of multiple chronic illness.
As he packed up his things in our living room that hot August afternoon, he looked at my family gathered around me and insisted, “In all of this suffering, you are not being punished. Sometimes God allows things we do not understand.”
In the Gospel for today, Jesus tells His followers that the Galileans who suffered atrocities and those who died in an accident did not experience this because they were any more sinful than others (see Luke 13:1-9). It is often the case that those who are quite innocent bear great emotional and physical burdens. We all suffer in this life to some extent; the difference for us as Christians is how we bear our sufferings.
As my illnesses lingered on, I grew in certainty that they were not punishments. Moreover, I started to see them as a privilege, a blessing. Christians who bear horrible sufferings are part of a blessed group, a group within the communion of saints on earth who are closest to Jesus on the Cross (see Catechism of the Catholic Church § 961)
The suffering is like a fertilizer for the spiritual life. The Lord is our Gardener who tends to us in our suffering and uses it to bear much fruit. In my two years of suffering close to Christ, I bore witness to great fruits in the lives of those nearest to me. My family grew in love of each other and compassion. My husband and I grew stronger as I learned to be okay with being taken care of and he learned to anticipate my many needs.
But mostly I learned that when we enter into the pain of Christ’s Passion, we experience more fully, even on earth, the joy of His Resurrection.