Lent 24

Day 24: Cardinal Joseph Bernardin

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Cardinal Joseph Bernardin: The value of suffering

It is a normal, instinctive response to run from suffering. We try to avoid it for ourselves, and we make every effort to protect our loved ones from it. Suffering is perceived as a dire threat to our life and happiness.

Our dread of suffering is so strong that we not only seek to shelter ourselves from it, but sometimes we shun others who suffer, even our friends and family, in our effort to escape its pleading voices.

Those who have been divorced sometimes report that their friends and family no longer invite them to parties. At times, those who have been fired or laid off tell us that when they encounter their former colleagues, they are met with embarrassed silence.

Cancer patients and others who suffer with serious illness notice that their former friends have difficulty looking at them, eye to eye. We don’t know what to say. The pitch and volume of suffering reduces us to silence.

Jesus tells us, however, that in that silence life begins! “Whoever would preserve his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it” (Mark 8:35).

For every follower of Christ there comes a choice, when the path veers off toward the cross. The wisdom of the world raises an alarm: Turn back, beware, ahead lies our destruction! But in our hearts a softer, firmer voice invites us, “Come, follow me, and I will show you that path of life.” (From a Sept. 15, 1991 homily quoted in The Journey to Peace, Doubleday)

Reflection questions

1. Are you afraid of suffering—whether your own or someone else’s?

2. How can you find God in the silence and loneliness of pain?

Bernardin (1928–1996) was the archbishop of Chicago from 1982 until his death from cancer. He wrote about his illness in The Gift of Peace (Loyola Press).