Lent is coming. With Lent comes me thinking about suffering, fasting, and penance. I think about how I can practice suffering in the right to glorify God. But, I also think about how I can join myself to the sufferings of Christ. This is why during Lent, I find the suffering saints bring me closer to Christ and help me understand His sacrifice as I prepare for the Feast of Easter.
The Suffering Saints were Real People
The fact that so many saints suffered so deeply brings me great comfort. Sometimes I get into a rut thinking that all of the saints had it easy. Maybe they didn’t have the distractions we have. It seems they had a stronger Church with more vocations, and they grew up in a way more religious culture.
However, I pull myself out of this”nostalgia” and remember that so many of the saints didn’t have it easy. They didn’t have the scriptures or other incredible Catholic reading close by. Medical advances were slow and so many had terrible diseases and constant pain. Many were dealing with so much family pressure, financial hardships, and Church corruption. They definitely didn’t have it easy.
One of the greatest things about the suffering saints was that so many of them embraced their suffering. They rightly believed that it would bring them closer to Jesus and it would bring about the salvation of souls. I had a priest at a parish a few years ago remind us to ask those who are sick or suffering to pray for us because their prayers are POWERFUL. When we suffer, we make the choice to depend on the Lord and submit our sufferings to Him and His will, or become bitter and resentful. It is so hard to do the former.
Widow, Single Mother, and Suffering Saint
But, look at saints like St. Elizabeth Ann Seton. Mother Seton is one of my all time favorite saints. I look at the suffering she went through and it encourages me to keep running the race. St. Elizabeth lost her husband and was left as a widow and single mother of 5 children, then converted to Catholicism and lost most of her friends. She then founded a school and order of religious sisters in rural Emmitsburg, where times were tough and money was tight. Later, she lost a close relative and 2 of her daughters to tuberculosis, which she also eventually succumbed to. Yet, this amazing woman grew in holiness, offered free, Catholic education to young woman, and grew a religious order that began to span the country. Her perseverance, her fortitude, and her sufferings brought people to Jesus and because of her sanctity and canonization, she has continued to inspire and bring so many to Christ, as well as intercede for us.
The Little Flower & the Girl of Lourdes
Of course so many of us have been inspired by the suffering St. Therese. Of the suffering saints, she is one of the most renowned and incredible. She had a sensitive spirit to begin with, but suffered from poor health and the effects of tuberculosis that eventually took her life at age 24. She also had poor mental health for a lot of her religious life and felt somewhat tormented by other sisters in her Carmelite monastery. Like St. Bernadette, who also suffered from poor health and circumstances, both of these incredible women gave the faithful great examples of devotion to Our Lady, abandoned faith in the truth of the Gospel, and exemplary religious life. Now look at the impact the water and apparitions of Lourdes, Therese’s autobiography, Story of a Soul, and the “little way” of Therese have had on the world and the Church.
The Suffering Men
Lest we think only female saints suffered, we take a look at suffering saints like St. Augustine, who struggled with his own sins, temptations, his past, and mental health issues for most of his life. Or we find comfort in the suffering of St. Patrick, who was sold into slavery, pursued a dangerous ministry in pagan Ireland, and yet managed to help convert the entire island to the faith. We can look to St. Martin de Porres, biracial man of 1500s Peru who was forbidden to join a religious order, but continued to serve and do the lowest and most menial jobs to be a part od the Dominican order.
Suffering & Sanctity
So many of the saints suffered unbelievable persecution, torture, exile, disease, and loneliness. In recent years, many have discussed the depression St. Teresa of Calcutta faced, and others have remarked the persecution St. John of the Cross faced from his own religious order. The Church has raised up these many men and women as examples and intercessors for the faithful, and by reading their stories, taking cues from their humble sufferings, and aligning our sufferings and joys with Christ, we too can share in God’s glory and holiness.
Christ’s Ultimate Suffering
This Lent, as we make our Lenten promises and practice asceticism, we should remember these examples and recall that our faith in Christ is what makes all the suffering worth it. Christ suffered most and more than any – to the point of death. But, His suffering brought about our salvation and redemption. If we look to Christ on the cross, we see the suffering servant who submitted Himself and His sufferings to the will of the Father. This is what we must imitate these next 40 days.
"If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me."