Have you ever thought of becoming a saint, only to find physical or mental suffering get in your way?
“If only this backache were gone, I could volunteer more, but I’m useless now.”
This is not how the saints think.
The saints, as bestselling author Joan Carroll Cruz shows us in Saints for the Sick: Heavenly Help for Those Who Suffer, embrace sufferings in order to become more Christ-like. After all, Jesus did not come to earth to engage in pleasant community-building activities, but to suffer and die for us.
Our salvation is worked out in suffering, first and foremost in that of Jesus Christ, and secondarily in our own. In 1 Peter 4:13 we are told: “If you partake of the sufferings of Christ, rejoice that when his glory shall be revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy.” The saints found their joy in suffering for the sake of Christ.
Indeed, suffering is essential in order to be purged of everything that is not Christ-like. Even in good works, vices such as vanity can enter, but one who accepts suffering as a gift of God flies to perfection. Self-will is obliterated, and paradoxically, one finds abiding peace of soul. All that is not of God is taken away, and we are enabled to share in the divine life of the Trinity.
Perhaps the clearest example of this is St. Lydwine of Schiedam, whose very name is derived from the Dutch verb “to suffer.” St. Lydwine, who was born in 1380 in the Netherlands, was an ordinary young woman until falling on some ice and breaking a rib. Many more sufferings would follow, including an abscess, infection, tumor, neuritis, severe toothache, insomnia, nosebleeds, cleft forehead, epilepsy and an ulcer.
St. Lydwine suffered extraordinary pains in an extraordinary manner, and her heroic virtue in so doing was outwardly manifested after her death in 1433. The wounds and deformities that had for years disfigured her body had vanished, and her remains exuded an odor of sweetness.
Sweetness of disposition characterize all of the entries in Saints for the Sick, including many recent examples. More than half of the subjects in the book died in the year 1900 or later, which serves to encourage us to imitate their patience in suffering all the more. Holiness is not something to be admired remotely but to be embraced personally. We are all called to sanctity, regardless of how many technological advances may distract us from that reality.
Despite living in a time of many distractions, Blessed Chiara Luce Badano, who died in 1990, was not herself diverted from the love of Jesus Christ. She was diagnosed with a very serious form of cancer at a young age, yet remained upbeat through chemotherapy and two operations. She asked rhetorically, “What is [my] pain in comparison with the nails in the hands of Jesus?” She refused to indulge in self-pity and instead focused on Christ crucified. Just before her death at 18, she told her mother, “Good-bye, Mom. Be happy because I’m very happy.” She was beatified by Pope Benedict XVI on September 25, 2010.
Another notable example from recent times is that of Venerable Stephen Kaszap (1916-1935), who may become the first canonized Boy Scout. He suffered from a severe skin rash called erysipelas, along with lung problems and a throat tumor. He remained faithful to the end, with his last journal entry reading: “We will meet in heaven! Do not weep; this is my birthday in heaven.”
In addition to such recent examples, names in the book that are already familiar to most Catholics include Gregory the Great, Teresa of Avila and Francis de Sales. What may not be familiar are the specific ailments of these saints, which are described for us. In all, 94 biographies are presented for our edification, including those of saints who suffered from mental illness.
In her previous book, Mysteries, Marvels, Miracles, Joan Carroll Cruz described spectacular events, such as bilocation and multiplication of food. Her latest release also presents amazing occurrences, but they are more heroic than dazzling. We are reminded that saintliness does not mean exemption from illness; it means accepting such trials as being the will of God.
Sick and healthy alike will benefit from reading Saints for the Sick. Those who may be tempted to think their particular affliction is somehow a curse will be consoled, and those who are ungrateful despite their own good health will experience a holy shame. All will be fortified in the faith of Christ crucified.
Register correspondent Trent Beattie writes from Seattle, Washington.
SAINTS FOR THE SICK
Heavenly Help for Those Who Suffer
by Joan Carroll Cruz
TAN Books, 2010
254 pages, $16.95
To order: tanbooks.com