READ: Hebrews 2:17-18
“It was essential that Christ should be in every way as completely human as are we, His brothers and sisters, so that He could become a compassionate and trustworthy high priest for our relationship to God, able to provide cleansing mercy for our sins. For the suffering that Christ Himself passed through in His time of trial enables Him to help us in our times of trial.” – Hebrews 2:17-18
When I first heard news of my cancer, I suddenly gained a heightened awareness of what cancer patients and their families endure. With every treatment, with every surgery, with every painkiller, with every frightful moment that I want through, at the very same time, the Lord was teaching me a deeper understanding of those who suffer with cancer. When I received the diagnosis of Multiple Sclerosis, I was immediately brought into the world of those who suffer with MS. I was totally oblivious to this illness and its struggles before MS came my way. But as I have learned to live with MS, at the very same time, the Lord has enhanced my empathy with those struggle with neurological disorders. And when I developed Type 2 Diabetes, once more my compassion for those suffering was enlarged.
Such is the grace that goes with a Christian who suffers, a grace that counters the suffering with a greater compassion. My experience in pastoral care through these forty years of pastoring has proven to me that physical suffering can either diminish the human spirit or enhance the human spirit. Without a certain grace, suffering can embitter a soul, crippling the spirit, infecting the spirit, even, at times, destroying the spirit within. But with a certain grace, suffering can ennoble a soul, strengthening its spirit with courage and resolve, deepening its mercy with sensitivity and empathy, broadening its vision by showing both the further reaches of our humanity and the nearer presence of God, all adding to the richness of one’s compassion.
Here at Greyfriars’ Abbey, the Brothers who have suffered most also seem to be the Brothers who understand most thoroughly the nature of life and the nature of God.
Brother Andre is a most active monk, serving the Lord and others in so many ways. He is also the most tenderhearted man I know. He is rather small of stature, barely five foot two, slight of build. And he has this most gracious smile that is both somehow innocent and mischievous. If there were a poster boy for a minister of joy, Brother Andre would have to be considered for the assignment. But now and then, when most folks are busy with other matters, you can catch a moment when Brother Andre’s face winces in pain. It doesn’t last long, but it happens. You see Brother Andre suffers from severe arthritis. He walks about half-bent over, his legs crooked and wobbly, his fingers nearly frozen in a twisted mangle. He suffers, and we here at Greyfriars’ all know that he suffers but also, we have all known the touch of his understanding compassion.
To one measure or another, we all suffer. But for some the suffering is loss and nothing else; for others, suffering is loss but also a gain of something more.
Brother Anthony of the Cross