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Will Suffering, Struggle, Failure and Pain Make us Bitter or Better?

By Deacon Keith A Fournier
3/6/2016 (1 year ago)
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

I know indeed how to live in humble circumstances; I know also how to live with abundance. In every circumstance and in all things I have learned the secret of being well fed and of going hungry, of living in abundance and of being in need - St Paul

St. Paul was an extraordinary man and an extraordinary Christian. An Apostle, raised up out of the ordinary course, he accomplished great things for the Lord as he eagerly responded to His calling to build the Church and, through her, to help change the world. A man so profoundly close to the Lord he followed that he had mystical experiences arising out of his interior life, his intimate communion with God. He certainly had a strong relationship with the Lord and his prayer life was solid. Yet, this great Apostle suffered greatly. He was misunderstood and betrayed by brethren. He experienced intense emotional, economic and physical hardships. He had many reasons to become bitter. He did not. He became better.

Because of his close communion with Jesus Christ, the Risen One who had called him in the desert, Paul cultivated an interior strength which made it possible for him to walk through the pain, to even embrace the pain, and to experience failure itself as a path to the Cross where he found comfort in the wounded side of Jesus the Savior.

Because of his close communion with Jesus Christ, the Risen One who had called him in the desert, Paul cultivated an interior strength which made it possible for him to walk through the pain, to even embrace the pain, and to experience failure itself as a path to the Cross where he found comfort in the wounded side of Jesus the Savior.

Highlights

By Deacon Keith A Fournier
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)
3/6/2016 (1 year ago)

Published in U.S.

Keywords: suffering, struggle, discipleship, pain, failure, St Paul, Christian life, Deacon Keith Fournier


CHESAPEAKE, VA (Catholic Online) - In am going through struggles on many fronts. I know I am not alone. In fact, everyone I really care about is undergoing similar struggles. They seem to spread across the spectrum of daily living, from family, to workplace, to relationships, to finances, you know, the stuff of real life. 

Sometimes we mistakenly think that such experiences are unique to our circumstances. The truth is, life presents us with challenges and pain. Failure, suffering and hardship are a part of the program.

When I was a young man, I mistakenly thought that such struggles would lessen as I grew older and learned how to live by faith with more maturity. As I read the lives of the great heroes of our faith, I found that I was wrong. 

In fact, the opposite seemed to be the case. The ones who were closer to the Lord seemed to struggle and suffer even more. They even came to share in His sufferings.

What is different in the life of a Christian is not that struggle, failure, pain and difficulties go away, but we change. In fact, they often become the instruments of such change and the very material with which we are made new - when we learn to live by faith.

Christians do not face struggle, or approach suffering in the same way as those who have not yet received the gift of living faith. Living faith gives us new glasses with which to view our entire life differently, because of who Jesus is, and who we are becoming in Him.

However, that requires that we cooperate with the invitations of grace which are present in every moment, even when they seem to be hidden.

St. Paul was an extraordinary man and an extraordinary Christian. An Apostle, raised up "out of the ordinary course", he accomplished great things for the Lord as he eagerly responded to His calling to build the Church and, through her, to help change the world.

A man so profoundly close to the Lord he followed that he had mystical experiences arising out of his interior life, his intimate communion with God. He certainly had a strong relationship with the Lord and his prayer life was solid.

Yet, this great Apostle suffered greatly. He was misunderstood and betrayed by brethren. He experienced intense emotional, economic and physical hardships. He had many reasons to become bitter. He did not. He became better.

That is our own challenge as we embark, every day, on this journey of faith called the Christian life. No-one will avoid difficulty, struggle, pain and seeming failure in life. Anyone who says otherwise is woefully misinformed at best - or embracing errant teaching.
 
St. Paul shared with the Philippians the key to his contentment:

"I know indeed how to live in humble circumstances; I know also how to live with abundance. In every circumstance and in all things I have learned the secret of being well fed and of going hungry, of living in abundance and of being in need" (Philippians 4:12).

In Corinth he was attacked by false teachers, so called super apostles, who questioned his apostolic authority and undermined him among the faithful. He gave another key. In confronting the claims of his opponents notice what he pointed to as a sign of his walk with the Lord:  

"Are they ministers of Christ? I am still more, with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, far worse beatings, and numerous brushes with death. Five times. I received forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, .on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my own race, dangers from Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers at sea, dangers among false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many sleepless nights, through hunger and thirst, through frequent fastings, through cold and exposure. And apart from these things, there is the daily pressure upon me of my anxiety for all the churches. Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is led to sin, and I am not indignant?  If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness. (2 Corinthians 11:22-29)

Because of his close communion with Jesus Christ, the Risen One who had called him in the desert, Paul cultivated an interior strength which made it possible for him to walk through the pain, to even embrace the pain, and to experience failure itself as a path to the Cross where he found comfort in the wounded side of Jesus the Savior.

This is the kind of strength that only comes from living a fully surrendered life, a life of discipleship. The Lord who called him had changed him in that encounter. The change continued as Paul walked by living faith. It is called conversion.

This is reflected, as is often the case in the biblical accounts of vocational callings, with the change of his name from Saul to Paul. But this change, the ongoing conversion which comes by cooperating with grace, continued as Paul learned to empty himself so that he could be filled with God.

In our daily lives we will suffer, be misunderstood, betrayed by friends, even be shipwrecked - at least figuratively. We will experience the instability that accompanies the struggles of daily human life. St. Paul shows us the way to choose the way of discipleship.

When we make the choice to trust the Lord  - and learn how to walk through these times in Him -  we will find the path to contentment.

Bitter or better? The choice is ours. Let us choose the way of following Jesus Christ in the footsteps of St. Paul and learn to boast of our weakness.

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Deacon Keith Fournier is Founder and Chairman of Common Good Foundation and Common Good Alliance. A married Roman Catholic Deacon of the Diocese of Richmond, Virginia, he and his wife Laurine have five grown children and six grandchildren, He serves as the Director of Adult Faith Formation at St. Stephen, Martyr Parish in Chesapeake, VA. He is also a human rights lawyer and public policy advocate.

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Workers and the Unemployed.
That all workers may receive respect and protection of their rights, and that the unemployed may receive the opportunity to contribute to the common good.


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