In Seeking Wisdom, Find Someone Who Has Suffered

Over 21 years ago as I was finishing seminary and about to be ordained my spiritual director gave me some advice on seeking a new spiritual director in my diocese. “Look for some one who has suffered,” He said. At the time I wondered about this but have come to find that it was true.

Suffering brings a profound wisdom if it is endured with faith. I have also discovered this in my own life. As much as I have hated any suffering I have endured I have to admit it has brought gifts in strange packages. Through it I discovered gifts and strengths I did not know I had. Through it I experienced things I would have avoided. Through I learned to seek help and not depend so much on myself. Through it I became better equipped to help others in their struggles. Through suffering my faith grew and so did my compassion and generosity for others who have struggled.

The scriptures say that “A broken humbled heart the Lord will not scorn” (Ps 51). A few years ago my spiritual director shared a strange saying with me: Everything needs a crack in it, that’s how the light gets in.” Yes indeed, the light gets in through a broken heart, a heart with fissures or openings. Rarely does the light get in through a perfect wall, a perfect and strong barrier.

This is a painful truth to be sure and it makes me want to run. But in the end I have learned that it is true. God has done more with my brokenness than my strength. And, in a paradoxical way, my brokenness has become more and more my strength. I wonder if you have experienced the same? Where would we be without our crosses and sufferings? What do we have of true value  that has not come at the price of suffering?

Let me get out the way and let a Saint explain it. This is from St. Rose of Lima whose feast we celebrated yesterday. This is an excerpt of what was in the breviary:

Our Lord and Saviour lifted up his voice and said with incomparable majesty: “Let all men know that grace comes after tribulation. Let them know that without the burden of afflictions it is impossible to reach the height of grace. Let them know that the gifts of grace increase as the struggles increase. Let men take care not to stray and be deceived. This is the only true stairway to paradise, and without the cross they can find no road to climb to heaven.”

  When I heard these words, a strong force came upon me and seemed to place me in the middle of a street, so that I might say in a loud voice to people of every age, sex and status: “Hear, O people; hear, O nations. I am warning you about the commandment of Christ by using words that came from his own lips: We cannot obtain grace unless we suffer afflictions.   We must heap trouble upon trouble to attain a deep participation in the divine nature, the glory of the sons of God and perfect happiness of soul.”
Suffer well fellow Christians. Beg deliverance to be sure but realize that even in the delay of relief, God is up to something good.

27 Replies to “In Seeking Wisdom, Find Someone Who Has Suffered”

  1. “A few years ago my spiritual director shared a strange saying with me: Everything needs a crack in it, that’s how the light gets in. Yes indeed, the light gets in through a broken heart, a heart with fissures or openings. Rarely does the light get in through a perfect wall, a perfect and strong barrier.” AMEN.

    I didn’t become aware of it until I started writing … it seems that my best has come out brokenness (that I avoid).

    I have always believed that which doesn’t break us, makes us stronger, but I love the way your spiritual director puts it — so poetic. I will copy his words for myself. Thank you for sharing them.

  2. I eagerly await the Antichrist, that I might suffer with Jesus.

    But at the same time I am a hypocrite, for I fear smaller pains.

    Yet I pray for God to humble me with His Most Holy Cross.

  3. Dear Father,
    Thanks so much for yet another wonderful post. In the book of Hebrews, we read about suffering being an ineveitable part of our sonship. We are disciplined and refined like gold in the furnace of Christ. The beauty of our religion is that it teaches us that suffering is not punishment ,rather it is the only way to Christ because our lone model is Jesus who Himself suffered. Suffering brings in a more intimate relationship with God because we arrive at the ultimate conclusion that it is only the One who created us, who can understand what we are going through. That leads to surrender. Surrender, I think leads to Widsom. Wisom, finally leads to all other virtues which are becoming of a good Christian.

  4. Great wisdom in this, but discussions of suffering always makes me wonder and put me on the putside of the discussion right away. Looking at my life, I suffer little if at all. I am never hungry. I am never cold. I have a home. My family life is stable. I grew up in a loving home. My kids have given me only minimal worry–though I can truly say that when they had hard times, I suffered mightily for and with them But that is for the present, past. I know that there is certainly physical suffering as I grow older, but really, my crosses have been so few and so small. It has led me to think perhaps that “taking up my cross” means looking about to help shoulder the cross of someone else. If we really are one in the Body, then is my brother’s suffering mine, not just to relieve but to experience? Is my pleasant situation a brokenness of its own if it leads me to self-satisfied isolation?

    Anyway, not looking for gratuitous suffering, for I know my share will come–just trying to make sense of the ease of my life when I know intuitively that growth comes with pain–or with pain comes growth.

  5. I wonder about our current times and the concept of accepting suffering. In the recent past, there have been books about a prior generation bringing up their children in a way so that they would not have to “suffer” as they did through war and social injustice. Yet I can’t forget that what made these people strong is that they went through suffering. Now, their children don’t suffer and do everything to avoid suffering as though it is to be avoided at all costs. Not that one should go out of their way to suffer but the idea that to suffer is wrong or bad or that no good can come from suffering. I am not sure if I am explaining this correctly but it just seems that to take the position of avoiding suffering at all costs cannot be good for us individually and as a society. Suffering seems to make one stronger. And it sure helps when you’re going through difficult times to look to God and His Son….and His Mother. They can make our crosses bearable.

    1. Yes, I think you’re right. As a babyboomer I think I can affirm that we were spoiled and have turned out to be one of the most immature and self absorbed generations in a mighty long time.

  6. “Everything needs a crack in it, that’s how the light gets in.”,

    This quote has special meaning for me, for me it’s not just a matter of how the light gets ‘in’. I went through a period of having this image of my heart being a cracked ciborium and begging God to fix my brokeness. God would keep filling my ‘broken ciborium’ with grace, but in my faults and weaknesses the graces were being wasted on me or immediately lost; or so I thought. It took me a long time to realize the graces are only lost if I selfishly try to hold on to them. The cracks are necessary for the graces to pour out to be shared with others whether done perfectly or imperfectly. Of course I’ll never be through working this out, but this thought has put me much more at peace.

  7. We have the strange dichotomy – our (understandable) desire to avoid suffering while knowing, deep down at least, that suffering is how we come to know ourselves, others, and of course God. Would any of us really want a life devoid of any suffering – no challenges, no hard choices, no hardship? I think not.

    We do have to be careful when thinking like this, however, that we remain cognisant of those who really suffer – those born into and living with grinding poverty and abuse – bonded laborers, child sex slaves, those displaced by war, etc. That is suffering on a different level; I would not wish for that, nor wish to trivialize what so many millions endure daily.

  8. The saying “Everything needs a crack in it, that’s how the light gets in” is from one of my favorite songs, by poet/songwriter Leonard Cohen’s (presumably of the Levite priestly tribe) beautiful pean “Anthem”:

    “Ring the bells that still can ring
    Forget your perfect offering
    There is a crack in everything
    That’s how the light gets in.”

    The song, like many of his works, read like one of the biblical prophets. A particularly haunting Jeremiad is “The Future”. It reminds me very much of Yeats’ apocalyptic poem “The Second Coming”:

  9. Conversely, if we pray for wisdom and graces, we will suffer in order to till the ground of humility so that the graces and wisdom will take root. The Truth of God has always been antithetical to popular secularism. Thank you so much for your beautiful teachings.

  10. Without suffering I wouldn’t have learned to hold onto God’s hand so tightly.
    I’d still be a ‘half-hour on Saturday evening’ Catholic.
    Deo gratias.

  11. Thanks, Monsignor. This discussion reminds me of a favorite passage:

    And thus we rust Life’s iron chain
    Degraded and alone:
    And some men curse, and some men weep,
    And some men make no moan:
    But God’s eternal Laws are kind
    And break the heart of stone.

    And every human heart that breaks,
    In prison-cell or yard,
    Is as that broken box that gave
    Its treasure to the Lord,
    And filled the unclean leper’s house
    With the scent of costliest nard.

    Ah! happy they whose hearts can break
    And peace of pardon win!
    How else may man make straight his plan
    And cleanse his soul from Sin?
    How else but through a broken heart
    May Lord Christ enter in?

    -Oscar Wilde, Ballad of Reading Gaol

  12. Excellent post, thank you Father. I had a lot of medical problems as a child and even now I am being monitored. But I had a revelation as of late. The first 15 years of my life were rough, REAL rough. But looking back they were the most blessed years. And even though I squandered many of those graces and put Our Father second after I was cured and set loose on the world, those trials in the beginning helped me to limit the damage I did to my soul. I pray the reparations I am trying to make now are enough to truly apologize and show him how sorry I really am. Let’s face it, I should have been condemned many times over but through his grace and his mercy I am still here. This is a debt I can never repay but will never stop trying. Praise our King and Savior, Our Lord Jesus Christ.

  13. Suffering by itself does not produce wisdom. I know several people who have suffered, and return to their vice that caused the initial pain and suffering, and died. in 1996 (at age 46), I had to wear a colostomy bag. I was told it would be reversed if I quit drinking. I had been drinking a pint of Jack Daniels and beer daily since Vietnam, and was an alcoholic. Through prayer and reading the bible I was able to break the chains of that deadly vice, and had the colostomy reversed. I have been sober for 14 years thanks to Jesus Christ, and also to St. Joseph and St. Jude. Only through suffering with Christ can we learn the meaning of redeemtive suffering and patience. With Christ means to read scripture and pray. The soul that seeks out Christ when suffering will be enlightened with love, light and knowledge. St. Augustine said in his homily titled “Offer the bandage of consolation (538-539),” Christ gave us an example by his own suffering. God is faithful and will not allow you to be tempted beyond your strength. Make that promise while preaching about suffering to come, and you will strengthen the man that is weak. When someone is held back by excessive fear, promise him God’s mercy. Offer the Bandage of Consolation. Do not be afraid, God in whom you have believed does not abandon you in temptations. You will give us tears to drink in measure. In measure means God rebukes but also encourages, he brings forth fear and he brings consolation, he strikes and he heals. Do not reject him. He does not allow you to be tempted beyond your strength. “Surley he has carried our sorrows.” Isa. 53:4.

  14. Father Help! and HE does…….

    i was suicidal because i believed i had been responsible for hurting many people, and there was one suicide attempt that failed. Later it was revealed that those i thought i had hurt were all perverse liars abiding in the darkness that is this wicked, evil world and seeking naught but to confuse and abuse me for i would not join them in their perverseness. Thankfully Our Father reveals all…….

    Father forgive them…….

    i have spent 22 months in prison for a crime i did not commit. All i needed to do was say i committed the crime and they would have given me probation with no jail or prison time. But i could not lie and say i did something i did not do. Thankfully Our Father, HE knew i needed that time of being free from the ‘prison’ that is this world so that i could see ever more clearly how wicked and evil this world truly is, “the WHOLE world is under the control of the evil one” indeed and Truth…….

    Father forgive them…….

    After a three day barefoot walk without sleep around Atlanta, GA i was picked up by police for being a vagrant. i looked the part but i was not a vagrant. After spending time in a jail cell and being interviewed by the police i wound up being sent to a mental institution where they also questioned me concerning what i had experienced during my three day walk? i knew if i told them the Truth i was in deep trouble. Well i did tell the Truth and they committed me and held me captive for eight months. Our Father HE knew that i needed to experience the pain i would suffer during those eight months. Once again imprisoned because i could not lie…….

    Father forgive them…….

    And those things, and more, that i would never have wanted to happen in The Life given me, turned out to be the very things that drew me closer and closer to Our Father……. HE knew that such experiences would strengthen my Faith, realizing that no matter the pain “HE will never forsake me”…….

    Thankfully The Messiah suffered and died for me as He cried out, “My GOD, My GOD, why have YOU forsaken Me”!

    “Father forgive them for they know not what they do”…….

    Mercifully we need not experience Our Father forsaking us.

    Each and every person’s suffering is greater than they can bear, yet if they will but look to the suffering of the One Who wrongly suffered and died so that they might experience The Life, their own sufferings become a Light that reveals how great things The Messiah, “The True Light”, suffered for them…….

    And once forgiven they can but forgive, and endure, no matter the pain…….

    “Set free”, free indeed…….

    Father Help! and HE does…….

  15. one thing brought me to realized that in suffering iam fulfilling in what was lack in Christ Suffering in Silence and at Peace for the redemption of the world and i thank God for making me and made me one in His sufferings!

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