Life & Soul Life and Soul

How to… Make the most of suffering

Monday is World Day of the Sick, a feast day which has now been going for 25 years. When John Paul II instituted it, he had recently been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. “Illness,” he wrote, “which in everyday experience is perceived as a frustration of the natural life force, for believers becomes an appeal to ‘read’ the new, difficult situation in the perspective which is proper to faith.”

Under that perspective, it is clear that we must do what we can to relieve suffering. For the sufferers themselves, John Paul wrote, it was also an opportunity: “shining pages have been written of heroism in suffering accepted and offered in union with Christ.” Indeed, the saints have often written of how we can respond to suffering – starting with St Paul’s explanation that “In my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions.” We can offer our suffering in union with Christ on the Cross and, as Mother Teresa put it, “Pain, sorrow, suffering are but the kiss of Jesus – a sign that you have come so close to Him that He can kiss you.”