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


james hastings said...

Hi Jean,

I came across your blog while out blogwandering.
I wonder if I may ask a question. Where do healing and miracles come into your theology of suffering?



BH said...

Unfortunately most people just think to "pop a pill" and all their problems will be over. Jesus gives us gifts of all kinds including healing and miracles, but we must be open to receive them. What they don't realize is suffering is one of these gifts, always for our own good, sometimes it can be the difference between our salvation or eternal damnation.

james hastings said...


All those quotes on suffering must have taken you some time to assimilate. Why take so much time focussing on suffering?
If you have written other pieces on healing and miracles and these are happening in your parish, then my apologies and you have got the balance right.
But, otherwise, this kind of over-emphasise on a suffering theology is very anti-Catholic.
Not wishing to offend, just making a point!



Susan said...


What a beautiful post! I know that the suffering you and your own family has had to deal with - you have all been beautiful witnesses for the faith to me.

God love you!

Jean M. Heimann said...

Dear James,

It would take a book to reply to your questions, but here is a small portion of what the Catholic Church has to say about healing.

CCC 1421: The Lord Jesus Christ, physician of our souls and bodies, who forgave the sins of the paralytic and restored him to bodily health 3, has willed that his Church continue, in the power of the Holy Spirit, his work of healing and salvation, even among her own members. This is the purpose of the two sacraments of healing: the sacrament of Penance and the sacrament of Anointing of the Sick.

Personally, I have witnessed people being healed: spiritually, emotionally, and physically. However, the ultimate healing (complete healing)occurs in the next life.

Here are a few of my favorite books on suffering:

1. Amazing Grace for Those Who Suffer edited by Jeff Cavins and Matt Pinto

2. His Suffering and Ours: Words of Hope for Pierced and Wounded Hearts, by Kathryn Mulderink

You can read my review here:

3. Joy in Suffering by St. Therese of Lisieux

Here is an excellent online article about suffering by Fr. Paul O'Sullivan, O.P. (E.D.M.)entitled "How to bear suffering."

This particular post was a reflection on prayer and sacrifice, not on healing.
I have written a great deal on both topics.

Thanks for your question.

God bless you!

Leticia said...

You did a beautiful job here, Jean, this post reveals a true spiritual adulthood, suffering makes you grow up, doesn't it? James, Our Lord chose to redeem the world through His passion, and, as strange as it sounds, we complete what's missing in His passion with our suffering gladly borne, according to St Paul. Sometimes you just have to imitate the Saviour in His passion, as well as the miracles. God decides which you will have and when.

james hastings said...


I think you'll find the phrase "we complete what's missing in His passion" is directly opposed to official Catholic teaching. Jesus' sacrifice was complete.
The challenge is not for us to imitate the Saviour in His passion; the challenge is for us to imitate the Saviour in His healing.



Jean M. Heimann said...


"The challenge is not for us to imitate the Saviour in His passion; the challenge is for us to imitate the Saviour in His healing."

That's odd -- I certainly don't recall any statement like that in the the Catechism of the Catholic Church or in a Catholic Bible nor have I heard any homilies or teachings on that. Of course, I don't pretend to know everything about the faith. To me, that statement sounds very much like Protestant theology.

On this earth, not all of us are healed, and for those who aren't, God wants us to offer up our sufferings to Him for a higher purpose - to unite our sufferings with His for the conversion of sinners and for the sake of purification.

In Peter 2:19-21 - Peter instructs that we have been called to endure pain while suffering for Christ, our example. God actually calls us to suffer as His Son did, and this is not to diminish us, but to glorify us, because it is by our suffering that we truly share in the eternal priesthood of Jesus Christ.

In Luke 9:23 - Jesus says we must take up this cross daily. He requires us to join our daily temporal sacrifices (pain, inconvenience, worry) with His eternal sacrifice.

In my three years of study as an Oblate with the Community of St. John, the emphasis was not on healing (other than the ultimate healing that occurs when we are taken into His eternal Kingdom) but on the importance and meaning of suffering in our lives.

Jesus heals us through the sacraments and it is good to pray for healing, when we are ill, but it is also important to offer up our sufferings in union with Christ.

James, I have just discovered that you have also tried to stir up controversy solely for the sake of argument on other blogs.

For example, on January 11th, Standing on My Head has a post entitled " Theory of Suffering" addressing your "concerns". There are 34 comments on that post.

If you still have questions or concerns on this, I would contact a priest and discuss it with him in person.

I would also suggest that you read Pope John Paul II's encylical on suffering, which will help you understand what the real teachings on the Church are, in addition to studying the Catechsim of the Catholic Church.

This is how Fr. Dwight Longnecker responded to your concerns then:

James, we can't seem to satisfy you can we?

We say that we too believe in healing, point to the healing miracles of the saints and the healing miracles at places of apparitions, we agree with you that the Catholic Charismatic movement is a good thing, that we attend their conferences, are encouraged by their work, and that we too pray for healing in our ministry, have ourselves been healed through prayer, and have seen people healed through our own sacramental ministry. We also claim to be filled with the Holy Spirit every day and to walk in the light and grace of Christ. We minister to the sick, anoint the sick according to the teachings of the church and expect to see all sorts of healings. We go on to list many many types of other miracles that Catholic saints exhibit, and still we are blamed because we don't heal enough and don't believe in miracles enough?

Are there many Catholics who do not believe in healing and do not practice the healing gifts? Yes of course, but aren't there many many (even the majority) of Protestants who dismiss the supernatural, reject prayers for healing and never expect marvelous things to be done?

Why must all Catholics be blamed for the disbelief of some, while you are able to distance yourself from the multitude of Protestants who never in a million years would expect miracles?

It sounds, James, like you are angry about something and need to forgive someone and move on. I will certainly pray for your healing.

God bless you!

james hastings said...


I thank you for your blessing and I gladly accept all prayer for healing. More please.
I really am not angry. I do not hold a grudge against a priest or a nun or any lay Catholic. I loved Pope John Paul, and Pope Benedict seems a wise and holy man. I have no anger against the Catholic church. I actively support - financially and spiritually - several Catholic ministries such as Flame Ministries (Australia and England) and the Sisters of the Gospel of Life in Glasgow.

My suggestion that we imitate Jesus in His healing is not denominational: it comes from Jesus' own command when he talks about his followers. Mark 16: 18: “.they will place their hands on sick people and they will get well.”

I do not mean to “stir up controversy.” I accept many Protestants do not believe in healing but, as C.S. Lewis once wrote: “there is no safety in numbers.” I certainly don’t take any solace from the fact some Christians ignore Jesus’ command to heal, whatever church or denomination they are members of.

I do find it worrying your study for three years emphasised suffering and not healing. Are we not conquerors of this world - in Jesus name, not our own or from our own merits or ego. Was He not born, died and was resurrected so that the devil’s grip on this world has been loosened and we have been given power of proxy in Jesus’ name?

It is obvious not everyone is healed. But I suggest that is more a guilty verdict on the Body of Christ not believing in healing, rather than God’s decision to withhold healing.

Let me put it like this. If I don’t believe I’ll get a good job because my father had a dead end job like his father before him and everyone in my neighbourhood, then I shouldn’t be surprised if I end up in a dead end job. If the Christians, whether Catholic or Protestant, do not really believe in healing, we shouldn’t be surprised is we see Christians all around us living in sickness and lack and misery and depression. The best we can then do is try to explain this suffering - when we should be using the power Jesus gave us through his death and resurrection.

Of course, Christians do suffer - just look at China and Vietnam and Sudan and Cuba.
We expect to suffer for proclaiming the Gospel, which is what Luke 9: 23 refers to - not every physical pain, illness or calamity that befalls us.
Jean, thank you for allowing me space to say what I say.
The best closing remark I or anyone can offer is indeed Biblical, such as 1 Peter 2: “..Grace and peace be yours in abundance.“