Saturday, January 26, 2008

A Catholic Perspective on Prayer and Suffering: Part I

"Christian prayer is not an exercise in self-contemplation, stillness and self-emptying, but a dialogue of love, one which "implies an attitude of conversion, a flight from 'self' to the 'You' of God". It leads to an increasingly complete surrender to God's will, whereby we are invited to a deep, genuine solidarity with our brothers and sisters."

~ From "Jesus Christ, the Bearer of the Water of Life", Pontifical Council for Culture, Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue

Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta would do nothing without first praying and adoring God in the Blessed Sacrament. She was the contemplative active, which Pope John Paul II called us to be to spread the gospel message in our world. Prayer for the grace to know and to do God's will in our lives must precede all our actions.

Many other saints have instructed us to do the same. The power of prayer and offering up one's daily sufferings and trials can be just as, if not more, powerful than action, especially during times of illness. It provides a leverage which helps others carry their burdens or removes the burden entirely. Oftentimes, it results in miracles for others -- including the conversion of the hardest hearts.

Some of the saints suffered from chronic pain or terminal illness which prevented them from leading a physically active life, but offered up their sufferings as a prayer to God. Much of St. Teresa of Avila's life was plagued with pain, particularly at the age of 23, when she contracted a mysterious illness (later thought to be malaria), fell into a coma for four days, and was paralyzed and bedridden for three years prior to her miraculous healing. She ceased her vocal prayer at this time and later explained, "Prayer is an act of love, words are not needed. Even if sickness distracts from thoughts, all that is needed is the will to love."

During her time of illness, St. Teresa was fortunate to be surrounded by family to care for her. Just think of how many poor souls there are today without friends and family in hospitals, nursing homes, or alone in their own homes -- those who are alienated by our society -- those who feel abandoned and unloved?

Loneliness is the sickness of our western culture and those who are ill and helpless are often treated as useless and told that their lives have no meaning or purpose, when nothing could be further from the truth.

Many people suffer often from invisible illnesses and excruciating chronic pain for which there is no real cure (there may be pills to slightly numb the pain, which are dangerous and addictive, have damaging side effects, and may even be potentially lethal, but often there is little or no relief.)Nevertheless, they have powerful opportunities to offer up their pain for God's purposes -- especially for an end to abortion and euthanasia and all sins against human life. They have hope because God offers them a special and a powerful way to serve Him. In fact, a few years back, when I worked as a sidewalk counselor and prayer warrior at the abortion mill, I asked friends who were dealing with chronic pain/illness to serve as prayer warriors for the precious pre-born infants, the mothers, the families, and the abortionists and workers at the abortion mill. Such beautiful acts of (behind the scenes) suffering combined with the activities of those sidewalk counselors and prayer intercessors at the abortion mill resulted in turn - arounds and saved lives.

This is what members of my own family did on their death beds as their time to return Home to the Father drew near. They offered their sufferings in union with those of Christ, and, as each one of them drew nearer to death and slipped into unconsciousness, I prayed not only for them, but with them, reminding God of the purposes of their suffering, as they had earlier reminded me. You see, while they were alive, both of my parents were chronically ill senior citizens living in Texas at the time, nothing could keep them away from their prayer time at the abortion mill, which was just as important to them as their Bible Study. They prayed daily for the conversion of the souls of all those who were trapped in the culture of death, especially for their own family members.

Sacrifice and suffering are not just for the elderly, but there are many children, teenagers, and young adults who suffer from a wide variety of painful diseases which prevent them from leading a "normal" life. They, too, have an important purpose in this life. They, too, have been called by God to live a life of holiness in their own special way -- to do His work of conversion, as they unite their sufferings with His.

Although not all of us are called to live a life filled with pain and physical suffering, we are all called by God to do penance and prayer for the conversion of souls. The best way we can fulfill this in our lives is to perform each one of our vocational duties to the best of our ability everyday and present this priceless gift to God.

Here are some of my favorite saint quotes on the importance of prayer and uniting our suffering with His:

" Prayer is the best weapon we have. It is a key opening God’s Heart."

~ St. Padre Pio

How often I failed in my duty to God, because I was not leaning on the strong pillar of prayer.

~St. Teresa of Avila

Let him never cease from prayer who has once begun it, be his life ever so wicked; for prayer is the way to amend it, and without prayer such amendment will be much more difficult.

~St. Teresa of Avila

One must not think that a person who is suffering is not praying. He is offering up his sufferings to God, and many a time he is praying much more truly than one who goes away by himself and meditates his head off, and, if he has squeezed out a few tears, thinks that is prayer.

~St. Teresa of Avila

The Following Quotes are from Blessed Mother Teresa:

"On the Cross Jesus said: ‘I thirst.’ From the Blessed Sacrament Jesus continues to say to each of us: ‘I thirst.’ He thirsts for our personal love, our intimacy, our union with Him in the Blessed Sacrament. His longing for us to be with Him in the Blessed Sacrament is infinitely greater than our longing to be with Him."

"Without prayer I could not work for even half an hour. I get my strength from God through prayer."

"God speaks in the silence of the heart, and we listen. And then we speak to God from the fullness of our heart, and God listens. And this listening and this speaking is what prayer is meant to be: oneness with God, oneness with Jesus."

"Perpetual adoration is the most beautiful thing you could ever think of doing. People are hungry for God."

"Work cannot substitute for prayer."

"We need to be able to pray.We need prayer just like we need air.Without prayer, we can do nothing."

"The Cross will be for us as it was for Christ: proof of the greatest love."

"Prayer is powerful beyond limits when we turn to the Immaculata who is queen even of God's heart."

~ St. Maximillian Kolbe

See also The Necessity of Prayer, by St. Alphonsus. This is essential reading for all those who wish to develop their prayer life and it is not long.

A Short Catechism on Prayer


God has made human beings so noble that every suffering which purifies us and every effort which raises us up gladdens us while making us better.

~St. Augustine

Let us understand that God is a physician, and that suffering is a medicine for salvation, not a punishment for damnation.

~St. Augustine

If we suffer with Christ, we will be glorified with Him. The fulfillment of the promised happiness is certain for those who share in the Lord's Passion.

~St. Leo the Great

Let us strive to face suffering with Christian courage. Then all difficulties will vanish and pain itself will become transformed into joy.

~St. Teresa of Avila

The cross is the greatest gift God could bestow on His Elect on earth. There is nothing so necessary, so beneficial, so sweet, or so glorious as to suffer something for Jesus. If you suffer as you ought, the cross will become a precious yoke that Jesus will carry with you.

~St. Louis de Montfort

Suffering is like a kiss that Jesus hanging from the cross bestows on persons whom He loves in a special way. Because of this love He wants to associate them in the work of the redemption.

~St. Bonaventure

To suffer and not to suffer for God is torment.

~St. Gerard Majella

Let us lose nothing of what God bestows on us. Difficulties and sufferings will disappear, but the merit we acquire through our fidelity will remain forever. Let us therefore build our eternity through all the things that pass away.

~St. Jane Frances de Chantal

Suffering is a great favor. Remember that everything soon comes to an end . . . and take courage. Think of how our gain is eternal.

~St. Teresa of Avila

In Part II, we will take a look at what Scriptures tell us about prayer and the importance of prayer in Our Lord's life.

~ Jean M. Heimann, copyright 2008