Friday, June 01, 2007

Embracing Grief (was "Surviving Grief")

Feast of Saint Gracia

(Note - I changed the title - see KimB's comment to find out why.)

A dear friend is going through a difficult time. She wrote this to me:

There is one line from a prayer called "indulgenced Prayer for a Christian Family" that I often think of at times like this. It is, "Preserve us and our house from all evils and misfortunes, but grant that we may be ever resigned to Thy divine Will even in the sorrows which it shall please Thee to send us." While we are very saddened by this, we know it's God's will.
I am always amazed at how Catholics handle grief, compared to non-Catholics. It is because we realize God sends us crosses because he loves us. Shocking concept if you are not Catholic (or, sadly, not properly catechized). I know I already posted about this subject, but I think it bears repeating.

John Mallon wrote some interesting thoughts in his article Grief: The Journey Takes Time. He wrote about a Jewish psychiatrist, Auschwitz survivor, and eventually Catholic convert, Victor Frankl, who wrote a book titled Man’s Search for Meaning. In it he wrote that if we could find meaning in our suffering, then we could use that suffering to strengthen ourselves, survive, and become better for it.

Mr. Mallon also wrote:

For the Christian the ultimate meaning of our suffering is found in the Cross of Christ — where the greatest evil that ever happened—the murder of God — Deicide — resulted in the greatest good that ever happened: Redemption. Philosopher Peter Kreeft calls this “God’s jujitsu.” God used the force of the devil’s own evil to defeat him. We can endure evil and suffering. We can, with great suffering, adjust to evil’s results (although perhaps we should never adjust to evil itself).
There are numerous references to the purpose of suffering in scripture. Some that caught my attention are:

Hebrews 12:11 - Now all chastisement for the present indeed seemeth not to bring with it joy, but sorrow: but afterwards it will yield, to them that are exercised by it, the most peaceable fruit of justice.
And -

1 Peter 5:10 - But the God of all grace, who hath called us into his eternal glory in Christ Jesus, after you have suffered a little, will himself perfect you, and confirm you, and establish you.

And probably my favorite (though not listed on the aforementioned site) -

John 16:21 - A woman, when she is in labour, hath sorrow, because her hour is come; but when she hath brought forth the child, she remembereth no more the anguish, for joy that a man is born into the world.

Pope John Paul II wrote about suffering in his Apostolic Letter "Salvifici Doloris"(On the Christian Meaning of Human Suffering); as did Saint Augustine in The sufferings of Christ are not in Christ alone. St. Therese of Lisieux wrote Joy in Suffering.

Having been raised a protestant, I know how they handle grief. For protestants, it is a much sadder event. That is not to say Catholics do not become sad, we do. But there is a difference, Catholics look at suffering as a gift from God – that he gives us these crosses because he loves us. I feel sorry for those who do not know this, because it does bring great comfort. I tried to find sources on the differences between Catholics and non-Catholics when it comes to suffering, but was unable to find them. I am sure they are out there, so if you know of any, please post them in the comment section.

I will close with some quotes from some saints (thank you Rebecca) –

"Suffering is the very best gift He has to give us. He gives it only to His chosen friends."~ St. Therese of Lisieux

"God had one son on earth without sin, but never one without suffering."~Saint Augustine

"We always find that those who walked closest to Christ were those who had to bear the greatest trials."~St. Teresa of Avila


Anonymous said...

As a Protestant of course we are sad when a friend or family member dies. The Bible says God will comfort you in times of sorrow. We cry because we will miss these loved ones but at the same time if they are Christian we are comforted that they have met Christ face to face and they have gone home. As for suffering us Protestants also know that our faith grows even stronger. We are not aliens we are Christian also. We are not that much different than Catholics in our belief in God's Word.

Mom (as if you didn't know)

bethalice said...

But Mom, we are different in many ways. And for you to use the word "aliens" is unfair. We Catholics do NOT assume someone has gone to Heaven (unless a baptised child or someone declared a saint).

Need I remind you I was a protestant far longer than I was a Catholic? I have studied BOTH, so I feel qualified to speak on both. I do observe a difference between Catholics & non-Catholics in regards to suffering and making sacrifices, and have personal experience to back it up. I suppose you will never understand until you become Catholic yourself.

Hmmmm....something just occurred to me. I just reread your statement "We are not that much different than Catholics in our belief in God's Word." Could this be because you are leaning towards the Catholic side? Be careful Mom, you may become a Catholic yet!

For those who are reading this & shaking their heads - this really is my mother. Religion is normally a "hot topic". Yet, she & I can discuss it calmly & respectfully. Oh, just because she is my mom, don't hold back your comments! LOL

M. Alexander said...

I think one difference between the way Catholic and Protestants view suffering is that Catholics know suffering is valuable because it remits the temporal punishment due to sin.

On a purely human level suffering builds character, often inspires art whether literary, music or visual arts.

I think suffering also teaches us to be compassionate.

In fact Catholics will "sign up"for suffering by fasting, performing charitable works- like listening to someone who is boring, loving someone whe is difficult, forgiving someone who has hurt us.

Anonymous said...

UMMMM.....Maybe you are leaning towards the protestant side. You should come to my church and listen to Scott or to my women's Bible study. We call our group "Sister's Bible study and just listen. Not trying to convert you, just trying to make you understand. Although you were raised Protestant we were not following God's Word in our life. I guess we could keep this debate going and going and going....

Anonymous said...

I couldn't resist a comment here! First I'd call it "Embracing Grief" not "surviving" it. Perhaps that's the biggest difference in peoples reaction to grief. Do you embrace grief or do you simply survive it? Most of us survive it when we have to because we have to, not because we want to. Fewer truly embrace it. That is not to say we 'wish' it upon ourselves, but when it happens we have two choices; we can say, "I have to get through this for my children, spouse..." ect; OR we can embrace it and say, "I accept this because I believe the words so often recited of The Lord's Prayer that says, "Thy Will Be Done." Do we truly believe those words? "HIS Will be done" (in ALL things) or do we just recite them daily because they are part of The Perfect Prayer given to us by our Lord and we are supposed to say those words?
"Blessed are they who mourn for they shall be comforted." Pretty simple words to understand.
BTW ~ notice at the beginning I said "...biggest difference in PEOPLES reaction...." I didn't say in "Catholics vs. non-Catholics" reactions....LOTS of Catholics do not embrace grief, or for that matter, sufferings of any kind, even though we know we must.
There are, of course, differences between Catolics and non-Catholics, not just on this issue; but I, for one, having experienced much grief, can tell you I thank God I was Catholic BEFORE the loss of my boys. My non-Catholic background would not have gotten me to "EMBRACE" the crosses in my life. I don't even know if I would have 'survived' them without my Catholic Faith. The image of the Pieta alone ~ oh, what a gift! KimB

bethalice said...

Ahhh, Kim, Thank you SO much for posting! You are correct, the title should be "Embracing Grief" (the original title never felt right). You are the first person who I saw embrace grief. (remember I am a convert) I remembered thinking, "Wow! This way is so much better!" Then you had to embrace grief again.... What an excellent example you are to us all. Thank you so much Kim for sharing your stories - you have helped people more than you will ever know!