Today marks the 7th year of my spinal cord injury and thus my 7th year in a wheelchair. Never, before last year, have I actually recognized this occasion or made a big deal about it. But I now see it as an opportunity to share what I have come to realize through my disability. In my original reflections I noed that the most important thing I have learned is that suffering is the key to salvation. It is the key to attaining knowledge and wisdom of God. It is no mistake that I share this anniversary with the feast of St. John of the Cross who writes:
“[t]he apostle Paul said of Christ: In him are hidden all the treasures of the wisdom and knowledge of God…Would that men might come at last to see that it is quite impossible to reach the thicket of the riches and wisdom of God except by first entering the thicket of much [interior and exterior] suffering, in such a way that the soul finds there is consolation and desire. The soul that longs for divine wisdom chooses first, and in truth, to enter the thicket of the cross.”
This is a concept lost on the world which sees suffering as a great evil that must be avoided or eradicated at all cost. We encourage women and couples to have abortions and use contraception to avoid the burden of ‘unwanted’ children. We lobby for the right to ‘assist in the suicide’ of terminally ill or severely disabled patients to relieve their suffering and the suffering of their families. We kill disabled infants who are a burden to parents and the health care system. And now we want to create and destroy human embryos for scientific research because of the ‘hope’ it gives to those suffering with certain diseases and disabilities.
Christ endured the most agonizing suffering and death on the cross so that we might have eternal life. Until we enter into eternal life we must first endure life on this earth which is often filled with suffering of all kinds. Sufferings to be united to Christ on the cross. Many times I forget this and become discouraged, frantically searching for God, wondering where He has gone, and I am reminded again that He is there in the midst of my sufferings. He is in the constant pain in my neck and shoulders, the car in front of me driving 10 miles below the speed limit, the person who insults me and bruises my pride, and the loss of a friend or loved one; He’s in my shortness of breath, my frustrations with the world, and all of the struggles of my daily life. Christ is there because He suffered first – He suffered to give meaning to our sufferings.
“If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” (Mt. 16:24-25)
“For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities; for when I a weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinth 12:10)
“In this you rejoice, though now for a little while you may have to suffer various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith, more precious than gold which though perishable is tested by fire, may redound to praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” (1 Pet 1:6-7)
It is good to do what we can to comfort and heal those who are afflicted, keeping in line with the dignity and sanctity of all human life. But for those sufferings which cannot be avoided, we look to Christ on the cross, and His mother at His feet, to give us comfort and strength.