Redemptive Suffering

by Dan Howard


Sometime in the early 1960’s when I was working as a funeral director at Glenn Funeral Home in Owensboro I was asked to take some flowers to the Passionist Monastery. I knew very little about the Passionists. I knew the monastery was on Benita Ave., ---- that the nuns were cloistered, --- which I assumed meant they were totally secluded from the rest of society --- and they spent all their time in silence praying for the Church and the world. And that was about it. 

I didn’t know anything about St. Paul of the Cross. If I had heard anyone speak about him I probably thought they meant St Paul the Apostle ---or maybe they meant to say St John of the Cross and got the names mixed up. 

I went up to the monastery, entered this small room, and a voice from somewhere asked what I needed. --- I said that I had brought some flowers and said who they from. ---- The voice thanked me and told me to leave them there, ----which I did---- and I left. 

I’m sorry to say that after that I never really gave much thought to the Passionists until about 30 years later when the Nuns moved out here. Shortly after they moved out here I came to the monastery to help Jim Wedding install a satellite dish. Sue and I met all the nuns and they all seemed so joyful and happy to meet us ---and they made us feel so welcome—almost as if we were family. (I never dreamed that one day we would be part of the Passionist family.) 

I realized that my idea of life in the monastery was not quite what I had imagined. For one thing I found out the nuns didn’t spend all their time in silence. And they may be removed from society but they are certainly not unaware of what’s going on in the world and all the needs of society --- for which they are constantly interceding. 

One thing that impressed me about the Passionists is their faithfulness to the magisterium---when so many religious orders were becoming so secular, --some even in direct defiance of the Pope, of church teaching. I also admire the fact that they aren’t ashamed to wear the habit as a witness of their vows ---when so many of the religious are abolishing the habit. 

So when Bill Bach asked Sue and me if we had ever thought about becoming Passionist oblates, although I had never heard of the Oblates, I was definitely interested in knowing more about it. 

Becoming an Oblate has made a difference in my prayer life. It has made me more appreciative of Jesus’ suffering and dying in reparation for my sins and made me more aware of His presence in my every day life. The example of the Nuns‘ acceptance of all the trials and sufferings they have endured the last few years has been an inspiration to me-- helping me to understand what it means to live in the Passion of Jesus. It has given me a better insight into the value of redemptive suffering. It’s comforting to know that in time of need, whether it’s sickness, a death in our family, or tragedy of any kind we always have the prayer support of the Nuns and the Oblates. 

As an Oblate I've learned to spend more of my prayer time in meditation and reflection--and not quite as much time always asking for all the things I think I need. The more time I spend in prayer the more conscious I become of my many shortcomings and failures. But at the same time I’m also more aware of God’s unfathomable mercy. That’s helped me to more appreciate what a great gift we have in the sacrament of Reconciliation----and has brought me to resolve to receive the sacrament more often. 

One thing I appreciate since becoming an Oblate is learning how to better pray the Divine Office, the Liturgy of the Hours. I especially enjoy reading about the saints on their feast days and the writings of the saints. I’d like to share something I recently read from the writings of St Rose of Lima. (Whose feast day is Aug.23rd) She Wrote: 

"Our Lord and Savior lifted up his voice and said: “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. ……. This is the only true stairway to paradise, and without the cross they can find no road to climb to heaven.”  When she heard these words she said that she felt a strong force that seemed to place her in the middle of a street so that she might shout to all people: ……”We cannot obtain grace unless we suffer afflictions…” She went on to say: “If only mortals would learn how great it is to possess divine grace, how beautiful, how noble, how precious. ……All men throughout the world would seek trouble, infirmities and torments, instead of good fortune, in order to attain the unfathomable treasure of grace."  

When I read this I was reminded of something that happened a few years ago ----when I was experiencing a lot of pain due to complications from surgery. One night when the pain was really intense I cried out in desperation “Lord I can’t stand this pain. Please help me. I don’t know what to do.” Then I thought of how Jesus had suffered for me --- my pain was nothing compared with what He suffered. The pain didn’t go away but—for some reason I felt really close to God. I didn’t quite understand. Why would I feel so close to God when I was in such pain and complaining about it? When I read this passage it seemed to make sense. I began to understand that in times of trials and sufferings if we reach out to God He will pour out His graces in abundance. He will grant us all the graces we need. 

St Paul of the Cross in one of his letters wrote: "Sickness is a great grace of God; it teaches us what we are; in it we recognize the patient, humble, and mortified man. When sickness weakens and mortifies the body, the soul is better disposed to raise herself up to God.”