“Our once great western Christian civilization is dying. If this matters to followers of Jesus Christ, then we must set aside our denominational differences and work together to strengthen the things that remain and reclaim what has been lost. Evangelicals and Catholics must stand together to re-establish that former Christian culture and moral consensus. We have the numbers and the organization but the question is this: Do we have the will to win this present spiritual battle for Jesus Christ against secularism? Will we prayerfully and cooperatively work toward a new Christian spiritual revival ― or will we choose to hunker down in our churches and denominationalisms and watch everything sink into the spiritual and moral abyss of a New Dark Age?” - Mark Davis Pickup

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Christ's grace transcends my suffering

I have spent most of my adult life struggling with the incurable and disabling disease of multiple sclerosis. In the midst of internal and physical crisis, I had to find a point of reference for my mounting and inexpressible grief: I looked for it in the Cross of Christ.

Not only did Christ suffer excruciating physical pain, but he suffered emotional and spiritual pain that culminated in his cry from the cross: “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me!”
There is no lonelier human moment that being at the climax of suffering and crying out into a universe that seems indifferent to pain. Any evidence of God seems to have vanished. The events surrounding Christ’s Passion were a natural and logical point for me to try and make sense of my own suffering.

I found particular solace in the writings of Saint Paul. He knew suffering too. He had a thorn in his flesh that tormented him (2 Cor. 12.7). Many biblical scholars have interpreted this to be a sickness or a physical disability. Like me, Paul prayed for deliverance from his affliction. Our “thorns” remained to torment us. The Lord said to Saint Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (verse 8).

Earlier in that same letter, Saint Paul mentioned being hard pressed but not crushed, perplexed but not despairing, struck down but not destroyed (4.8-9). It’s meaty stuff for a reader like me. I found great encouragement in his words: “Therefore, we are not discouraged; rather, although our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this momentary light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison,” (4.16-17). That ‘eternal weight of glory’ is achieved when we unite our sufferings with the sufferings of Christ.

It is because of this mysterious union with Christ that people who suffer are indispensable to His Church.

If sufferers are willing to let Christ be their interior guide and Master, new dimensions to the Kingdom of God will open to them. This has certainly been my experience after more than twenty years of serious disease that is slowing destroying my body. Strangely (yet wonderfully) my inner self is being renewed day by day, just like Saint Paul said. I am not alone in this revelation. Millions of ordinary people in each generation have discovered it too!

Christ has granted us -- and I feel awkward even writing this! -- a special grace that transcends our suffering. Suffering carries the capacity to strip aware all things extraneous to life, leaving only that which is essential. What is essential? The light of Christ illuminating human hearts is essential. It warm and melt the terrible icy grip of human sorrow and grief. That’s what is essential to those of us who suffer!

Mark Pickup

(* This blog posting was taken from a larger column I wrote for Canada’s Western Catholic Reporter under the title “Christ’s light melts human suffering: Columnist discovers Jesus’ grace to transcend pain.”

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