Tuesday, February 11, 2014

(133) Lourdes, the Mystery of the Value of Suffering, Healing, and the World Day of the Sick



        February 11 is not only the feast day of Our Lady of Lourdes, but is also the World Day of the Sick.  Every year over 6 million people visit Lourdes, France……. 200 million since 1860 to renew their faith and find healing in the waters of the grotto’s spring.  Mary appeared to St. Bernadette 18 times from February 11 to July 16, 1858 and asked that a shrine be built as a place of spiritual, emotional, and physical healing……. soul, mind, and body……..to “come here in procession” which also symbolizes to move in this life toward God and others.

Many of the pilgrims are sick and seek healing.  About 80,000 people have been healed while bathing in the water of the Spring that Mary left.  Of these almost 7,000 cures have been documented and thousands are not even reported.  But the Church has rigorously investigated and validated a mere 69 of them through medical commissions that sometimes include agnostics.

Dr. Alexis Carrel, a non-believer and the 1912 Nobel Prize winner in Medicine, was very skeptical about the so-called miracles at Lourdes.  Yet he was curious and wanted to see for himself.  He examined Marie Bailly before and after being cured from a lethal advanced form of tuberculous peritonitis in 1902.  She was barely able to make the trip.  In 1910 he witnessed the sudden restoration of the sight of an 18-month-old boy who was born blind.  Being intellectually honest, he had to conclude that the cures were beyond medical and scientific explanation, resulting in his being ostracized by his peers at the time.  See

To be declared a miracle, the cure must be spontaneous, instantaneous (sudden), complete, definite, and permanent.  A Vatican commission of theologians and scientific experts must certify no possible natural, medical, or scientific explanation.  The criteria are so strict that if there is the slightest doubt or any indication of possible psychosomatic healing or anything psychological, the alleged miracle will not be approved.  Healing of mental illness is never approved.  Nearly all alleged miracles or unexpected recoveries (99.9%) don’t pass the commission’s criteria.  See
http://www.miraclehunter.com/marian_apparitions/approved_apparitions/lourdes/miracles1.html for a description of each of the 69 approved miracles…… multiple sclerosis, cancer, heart disease, paralysis, tuberculosis, blindness since birth, etc.  Mary also had a message; go to  http://en.lourdes-france.org/deepen/message-lourdes for an analysis of it.
.           The Miracle of Changed Lives. Most of the sick do not receive physical healing at Lourdes.  Nevertheless, they receive spiritual healing, the most important of all.   They become closer to God and resigned to His will.  In suffering one loses control and must trust in the Lord........complete abandonment to the divine will.  They gain the inner strength to bear their crosses, even becoming peaceful and joyful in it since God uses suffering to help us become saints if we accept His will and trust His providence…….that He will make good come out of it and is for our best in the long run.

            God answers every prayer…….yes, no, or not yet (wait).  Perhaps He desires more persevering prayer and sacrifice that will make him/her a better person.  St. Monica prayed for her wayward son Augustine for 20 years before he turned his life around and became a doctor of the Church.  For some being healed may be even harmful if that person now healed and healthy reverts back to his/her former sinful or worldly lifestyle. For others the benefits of suffering may outweigh the benefits of being healed if that person uses the illness as a road to holiness.  We mere mortals cannot understand the will of God.  We do know that His will is always for our ultimate benefit…….what is best for us in the long run.

   There’s deep meaning in trials and suffering.  The Lord allows them for many reasons.  Suffering and trials only make sense from the perspective of eternity.  With a positive attitude the sick person becomes closer to God and can grow spiritually as a preparation for eternity since their purgatory is here.  Suffering becomes a dynamic and very effective prayer when we unite our crosses with the Lord’s cross and offer them up to God as a dynamic prayer for the Church, the missions, for peace, for a better world, for our loved ones, etc.  This is often referred to as redemptive suffering

        That makes suffering more meaningful, more bearable to many, and even productive with a purpose.  St. Mother Theresa attributed her great success to thousands of sick people she asked to offer their crosses for her and her nuns.
    When one can spiritualize his/her suffering in that way, the malady becomes meaningful and productive as a most effective prayer for others and for our world.  When the sick person surrenders him/herself to the will of God with complete trust, s/he becomes closer to Him.  The cross becomes easier to bear.  When one has a negative attitude, the illness becomes misery.  One saintly person said:  “Don’t let your suffering go to waste”.  God will make good come out of it if not in the short run, certainly in the long run.  Some saints not only accepted suffering, but embraced it and rejoiced in it.  Interesting is that patients that spiritualize their suffering with faith, generally do better.

Remember Mary’s own words to St. Bernadette, who later suffered from many ailments including tuberculosis of the bone in her 13 years as a nun: "I do not promise to make you happy in this world but in the other."  We only have to follow her son and be faithful to Him.  In heaven all receive the ultimate healing and we’re young again in the prime of our lives.  This brings to mind the beauty of the Bible passage in Isaiah 64:4 and repeated in 1 Corinthians 22:9

“What eye has not seen, and ear has not heard,
And what has not entered the human heart,
What God has prepared for those who love Him.”
 St. Edith Stein, born a Jew and a very learned philosopher, converted to Christianity and became a Carmelite nun assigned to a convent in Holland.  When the Dutch bishops protested at the slaughter of the Jews, Hitler clamped down even harder and included even Jewish converts to Christianity for the gas chambers of the concentration camps.  The Jews had no concept of redemptive suffering and it is said that St. Edith tried to teach this concept to her fellow passengers packed liked cattle on railroad cars on the way to the concentration camp.

Fr. Walter Ciczek S.J. was a “tough guy” in his youth and often got into trouble.  To everyone’s surprise, he entered the seminary.  In the 1930s the Vatican asked for missionaries to clandestinely enter the Soviet Union and minister to the people despite intense persecution.  Since his immigrant parents spoke to their children in Polish, he knew their language well.  Thus Russian was easy for him.  Fr. Walter managed to minister in Russia for two years before finally being caught and confined to a Soviet prison and eventually the Soviet Gulag in Siberia.  He figured that he was tough and could take anything his jailers could hand out.  This priest was miserable because he depended upon himself. 

      Finally, Fr. Ciczek unconditionally surrendered himself to the will of God with complete trust……assuming that God had willed that he be there to withstand the rigors of each day.  As a result, his misery turned into joy and he ministered to his fellow inmates in the Soviet Gulag in Siberia.  After 23 years, the U.S. Government exchanged two Soviet spies for him in 1964.  For the next 20 years he wrote two books available on Amazon.com, “With God in Russia” and “He Leadeth Me” and shared his experiences in talks all over the country to help his fellow Americans to become more holy.  God used those 23 years of enslavement for good and his process for canonization is advancing.
All the saints had one thing in common.  They all had to suffer.  It helped them to become holy and eventually canonized saints.  Suffering is part of the human condition after the fall of man and eviction from paradise.  Christ suffered for us…….worse than any human ever.  Should we then be immune from suffering?  Sooner or later, each one of us will have to suffer.  Every person has his/her cross to bear.  If we live long enough, we will all become helpless and confined to a bed or a wheel chair.  Use suffering to make yourself a saint, i.e., to get to heaven.  See blogs #18, #19, and #129.
When we take care of the sick, help them physically and spiritually, or simply visit them and listen with empathy, we become better persons and grow in virtue especially when we imitate Mother Theresa and see Christ in every patient.  Thus the patient is treated with dignity and tender loving care, often referred to as TLC in the health professions.  TLC often makes the difference in the patient’s recovery. That often gives the patient the will to live because s/he feels loved.  When we suffer, we usually become more compassionate because we went through something similar.

        Euthanasia and suicide in a normal mental state are so wrong and evil because they are blatant offenses against the creator of life who exclusively has the right to end it.  They are affronts to God because they deny His loving providence and have no trust in Him.  Furthermore, they deprive the sick person of allowing God to show His love and use the suffering to work on them through grace.  They miss all of these opportunities to think, to change their lives, to get ready for eternity, to become holy and thus saints.  Anyone who makes it to heaven is a saint, although not canonized.  There’s a tremendous value in suffering although we don’t look for it.  Yes, we use medicines to control the pain and don’t have to use extraordinary means.  But we DO NOT take the road of the coward and end it all.  In Christ there is ALWAYS HOPE, no matter how bad things may be.  He will work it out sooner or later.  Guaranteed!
            There’s really a whole Theology of Suffering.  Simply google it or click on
 https://www.google.com/#q=catholic+theology+of+suffering&revid=1927082769.  Pope John Paul II wrote an apostolic letter “Salvifici Doloris” on it.    Click on
(http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/john_paul_ii/apost_letters/documents/hf_jp-ii_apl_11021984_salvifici-doloris_en.html).  Having suffered much in his life, including his recovery from an attempted assassination in 1981, the Pontiff was very qualified to write on it. 

       Take advantage of unavoidable suffering by offering it up and let God use it to make us holy and get us to heaven.  That’s what it’s all about…….get to heaven.  That’s why God sent His only son, the second person of the Holy Trinity to became one of us, to show us how to live, and save us from our sins by suffering and dying on the cross for us.  That’s why Christ continues to serve us through His Church…….the Mass, the Eucharist and the other sacraments, devotions, our pastor, those who work and volunteer in the parish to serve us, and many others in His Mystical Body.  Make sure that you take advantage of it all and be there in union with God who loves each one of us so much, all of us.


          Note: Mark Nehrbas suffered through six years of suffering in his fight against and aggressive form of stomach cancer which included two major surgeries.  Finally, a friend who belonged to the Knights of Malta, arranged for his knights to sponsor Mark for a pilgrimage to Lourdes.  After bathing in the healing waters of Lourdes, Mark Nehrbas was healed in 2017.  He has devoted much of his time sharing the insights into suffering with audiences.  On March 23 of 2019 he was the main speaker at the Steubenville Diocesan Men's Day of Renewal.  He left with me the following outline of the insights and lessons he learned from the cross.  A summary of his talk can be found at http://diosteubmen.blogspot.com article #180.

Mark and Carol Nehrbas in front of the grotto at Lourdes. 

       The Gift of Suffering: Lessons Learned from the Cross
                                   By Mark Nehrbas

Hold up a crucifix.  Talk about the importance of the body of Christ on it.

Yes, to show us how much he loved us.  But also to remind us for our path to walk in his footsteps with our suffering.  What an honor!  And how much are our brothers and sisters in other faith traditions missing when they venerate a body-less cross.

Lesson 1: God is Love!

John 3: 16-17  For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.  For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.”

This explains

·        Creation
·        The Incarnation
·        The Passion
·        The Resurrection
·        The Eucharist
And if this wasn’t enough we have all the Sacraments, the Saints, especially His Blessed Mother, and special devotions like the Sacred Heart, and Divine Mercy……..

Lesson 2: Suffering is unavoidable.

Who has had any kind of suffering in his life?

St. John Paul II describes three kinds of suffering in his Apostolic Letter, Salvifici Doloris: On the Christian Meaning of Human Suffering (for the original complete text, click on http://www.vatican.va/content/john-paul-ii/en/apost_letters/1984/documents/hf_jp-ii_apl_11021984_salvifici-doloris.html). 
1.     Definitive
2.     Moral or spiritual
3.     Physical

It’s a consequence of sin.  Prior to the sin of Adam there was no illness or suffering.  All was good!  Sin brought suffering and death into the world.

·  “Apart from the cross there is no ladder by which we may get   to heaven” (St. Rose of Lima).
·   Suffering can help us atone for our sins, but that is only the   beginning and we should never stop at that level of         understanding; or offering up our suffering.
·   God will never allow more suffering than you can handle. 

Lesson 3: Suffering provides us with the special privilege of imitating Jesus.  This is DISCIPLESHIP at its deepest level.

·  “Christ also suffered for you leaving you an example that you should follow in his footsteps.”  (1Peter 2:21).
· Imitate him in Gethsemane, “Not my will but your will be done” (Luke 22:42).
·  Unite our will with that of Christ. 
· Matt 26:36-39—“Then Jesus came with them to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to his disciples, ‘Sit here while I go over there and pray.’  He took along Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to feel sorrow and distress.   Then he said to them, ‘My soul is sorrowful even to death.  Remain here and keep watch with me.’  He advanced a little and fell prostrate in prayer, saying, ‘My Father,   if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet, not as I will, but as you will.’”

“To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps” (1Peter 2:21).

Lesson 4: Suffering is holy. 

In the sermon on the mount there are three times Jesus calls people who are suffering blessed:
1.     Those who mourn.
2.     Those who are persecuted
3.     Those who are insulted or lied against.

God also made it holy because he entered into it.  God affirmed this by allowing his Mother to suffer.     Remember she was perfect!

The Seven Sorrows of Mary

1.     The Prophecy of Simeon—“a sword shall pierce your          heart.”
2.     Flight into Egypt
3.     Loss of Jesus for three days
4.     Meeting Jesus on the way to Calvary
5.     Standing at the Foot of the Cross
6.    The piercing of Jesus’ side when blood and water flowed      out
7.     Laying her son’s body in the tomb

Suffering is not evil.  Suffering is a blessing!

It doesn’t feel good, but if we suffer in the right way, in Jesus, it bears good fruit.  Jesus said, “By your fruit you shall know them.”(Matthew 7:16)  (Referring to his disciples).

Lesson 5: We can find joy in our suffering!

“Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance; and endurance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the holy Spirit that has been given to us.”  (Romans 5:3).

· “I rejoice in my suffering for your sake, and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is the Church.” (Col. 1:24).
·  “Even in the midst of so much suffering I am happy because it seems as if my heart is beating with Jesus’ heart”.  (St. Padre Pio).
·  He walks with me in my suffering.  I’m never alone.
·  He also gives me brothers and sisters and their prayers are very efficacious!  The grace at times is palpable.
·   I have hope:
o   He can heal me if he wants
o   The resurrection is coming!
o   Heaven awaits those who are faithful.
o   Eternity lasts a lot longer than our time in the world.

Lesson 6: Suffering lifts our spirit and soul toward heaven.  It’s important to have an eternal perspective!

1 Peter 4:1-5.   “It helps sever our ties with the world.  Therefore, since Christ suffered in his body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude because whoever suffers in the body has broken with sin.  As a result, they do not live the rest of their earthly lives on human desires, but on the will of God.  For you have spent enough time in the past doing what pagans like to do: living in debauchery, evil desires, drunkenness, orgies, carousing, and wanton idolatry.  They are surprised that you do not plunge into the same swamp of reckless wild living, and they vilify you.  But they will have to give an account to him who stands ready to judge the living and the dead.

When we can, become more focused on our heavenly call and less attached to the things of this world.

·   2 Cor. 4: 17-18: “For this slight affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison because we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen; for the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” 
·  “The fruits of the Spirit; love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, humility and self-control grow in us.”

 Lesson 7: Suffering is the money of the economy of                                             salvation. 

· Fr. Michael Schmitz, “Suffering without Christ hurts;   suffering with Christ can change the world.”
·   We can offer up that suffering for the salvation of souls. 
·  As St. Paul says, “Now I rejoice in what I am suffering for   you; and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ’s   afflictions for the sake of his body, which is the Church.”         (Col. 1:24).
·   Pray for relatives who have left the Church.
·   Michael’s story

Lesson 8: Suffering makes us more compassionate. 

·  It’s an opportunity to become more like Jesus, who is full   of compassion and mercy. 
·  Hebrews 2:18  “Because he himself was tested through   what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being          tested.”

Entrust yourself to God:

1 Peter 4:19. “those who suffer in accord with God’s will hand their souls over to a faithful creator as they do good.

Let us pray and bring any of our suffering to Jesus in the Eucharist:

Mother Theresa quote and prayer response:

“Jesus, I’m choosing to entrust myself to you in the midst of this battle, this suffering.  I refuse to blame others or run away or self medicate or become bitter.  Instead I will entrust myself to you, and I will allow you to work in me however, you want.  Please bring about the results you desire.”

During the rest of Lent let us enter more joyfully into the suffering that God has for us, become more holy, and win more souls (and some back) for Christ! 

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