Back in seminary, as we were coming close to ordination we were exhorted by the spiritual director of the Seminary to find a spiritual director in our diocese and to be faithful in meeting with him. I remember well being surprised at the main criteria we were told to look for. I expected to hear that he be orthodox, wise, prudent, and so forth. And I am sure our seminary director of spiritual formation presumed we knew that, for he did not list any of those as the main criteria. No he said something far different than I expected. He said, “In looking for a spiritual director I would counsel you, above all, to strive to find a priest who has suffered. Such a one will be a surer guide for you.”

I suppose it is hard to simply define what it means to have suffered. Here in America there are not many priests who have recently come from a gulag. But suffering comes in different ways and I have found it is possible to tell those who have been tempered by its schooling. There is a true wisdom that comes from suffering.

In the reading from Sirach, in Wednesday’s Mass we read this:

Wisdom breathes life into her children and admonishes those who seek her….She walks with him as a stranger and at first she puts him to the test; Fear and dread she brings upon himand tries him with her discipline until she try him by her laws and trust his soul. Then she comes back to bring him happiness and reveal her secrets to them and she will heap upon him treasures of knowledge and an understanding of justice.  (Sirach 4:11-18 selectae)

Scripture also says,

  1. Sorrow is better than laughter, because when the face is sad the heart grows wiser. The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning, but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth.  (Eccles 7:4)
  2. With humility comes wisdom. (Prov 11:2)
  3. Before I was afflicted I strayed, but now I obey your word. (Psalm 119:67)
  4. Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God (2 Cor 1:3-4)

Perhaps we wish it were different but most of us know that our sorrows and crosses have usually been our best teachers. There is a test in every testimony. The text above says wisdom puts us to the test, fear and even dread are brought upon us and discipline is insisted upon. Only then does wisdom open her treasures and reveal her secrets.

Where would I be today without my crosses? What knowledge and wisdom would I lack without the challenges and difficulties that caused me to ask questions and passionately seek answers. When you suffer, platitudes aren’t enough, slogans won’t do. You have to go deeper, search for real answers and often learn that there are no simple answers. Suffering also unlocks an acceptance of paradox and an appreciation that all is not as it seems and some of God’s greater gifts come in mighty strange packages. Suffering can also teach silence and waiting. Great wisdom is found in these virtues. Suffering bestows insight, trust and serene peace. Only after years of suffering could Joseph stand before his criminal brothers and say, “You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good.” (Gen 50:20). Suffering does that, it teaches the deeper things, the harder things, the better things.

 In seeking counsel, look for those who have suffered. It is not the only thing, to be sure. For some have suffered and only grown resentful and despairing. But there are those unique and beautiful souls who, tempered by suffering, and steeled by faith have come to a place where wise counsel has found a stable home. Seek them. And, dare I say, seek to be among them, as one of their number.

 

12 Responses

  1. Mark Biscuit says:

    Amen! Very True!

  2. Fred says:

    Wise words, Father. Thank you.

  3. Sarah says:

    I wish I could be so picky. When our former associate pastor was reassigned to a different parish he could no longer provide spiritual direction for me. I tried to contact an order of nuns who does spiritual direction locally, but never heard back from them. I prayed for close to a year (not consistently, I’m afraid) for a new spiritual director and when we got our new associate pastor he was able to take me as a directee. I really don’t know enough of his history to know how much suffering he has been through, and feel uncomfortable asking. God is working through him, that much is clear. We so desperately need more priests and nuns and monks to provide spiritual direction. Those who are qualified to do it are stretched too thin to provide it everywhere it’s needed.

    • Spiritual Directed says:

      Spiritual direction, along with confession, is a special emphasis undertaken by the priests of Opus Dei. They’re always open to that sort of thing. You might try seeking them out in your diocese. If you’re in Msgr. Pope’s diocese there’s a large Opus Dei presence (Catholic Information Center, The Heights and Oakcrest Schools).

      • Sarah says:

        Thanks! This is helpful information to have. I’m no where near D.C., but have certainly heard of Opus Dei and will keep them in mind if/when I need to find someone else.

  4. J says:

    I recently wrote, in a letter to a former student whom I sponsored when he received the sacrament of Confirmation:

    “I remember thinking, when I was in 8th grade, how old an 18-year-old must be, how a high school graduate must be a man…and how surprised I was to find myself a high school graduate, nor feeling old, and then an 18-year-old and not a man. Of course, in some ways and on some days I thought myself a man, but mainly I was at that time convinced that not age but suffering, if anything, made me what I was—whatever that was.”

  5. cesar says:

    Some of the great saints of the Catholic Church endured so much suffering from all sides, yet their ground was firm solid as they were founded in Jesus.

    Thanks for sharing a beautiful entry, God bless us all.

  6. Beth says:

    Thank you again Father.This is excatly what I needed.The Bible study lesson I was studying for this Sunday is on suffering.God was teaching me more about suffering when I read this today.We serve such a wonderful,loving God that is always helping us.Thank you Father for letting God work through you in helping others.Thank you again for this wonderful post.

  7. R Webb says:

    Where can I get this song on a CD with this artist singing it? “Sounding Joy” … who is singing this? What a great voice. Have been listening to this over and over.

  8. Katherine G ERT says:

    Thanks for sharing this. I’ve been trying to use my own experiences to help others. I’ve had spiritual direction myself numerous times, and several different directors (as priests were transferred). I’ve found it to be much more beneficial than anything else. Most of the time any issues I am having are spiritual ones, and only a priest can help out with that (or a nun, too, you get the idea).

    Having met many different patients in my years of being in the healthcare field, I’ve seen everything from patients who deal with what they are going through quite well and have learned a lot about themselves from bearing crosses, to patients that fight bearing the crosses on a daily basis. It’s both humbling, and sad, at times. But my patients have taught me a lot about life and death and they continue to teach me all the time. Each new patient brings a new experience and different point of view for me. I often compare healthcare with the priesthood – priests get to see all different walks of life, too. Thanks for all you do, and thanks for being there for us when we need guidance. It’s good to hear that you guys need it from time to time, too :)

  9. Andrew H says:

    unfortunately i feel i am amongst those who have suffered only to be left “resentful and despairing”. I despair frequently because of what i have been through and where i am now. i hope to some day emerge from this despair, but i often feel that it will be the end of me :(

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