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Suffering as a Way to Character, Maturity – A Reflection


(No way! Not him! Not to him! Wow)!

I’m am beginning to understand why we all incline to or recline on horror stories or detective movies.  Ignatius of Loyola was no exception.  I am also sure we equally have a secret space in our rooms and hearts for our own horror, detective, tragic or extraordinary life experiences treasured or dreaded.  The books we read, the stories we narrate, the experiences we have lived through seem to churn up, involuntarily, into some “With God in Russia, India, Sudan, Cambodia, Vietnam, South Africa, Uganda, DRC, Cameroon, S America, Netherlands, Ireland, Austria, Pakistan, UK, Sunderland…

Every now and then we hear a story, a true story; we read a book or judge a situation and groan within us or share our judgement with others in an audience or as comrades like no way, not him, not to him, or wow, what a story, what an experience. Such sentiments resound in Mpho Lakaje’s South African TV Programme “Against All Odds”.

Such could be your story, my story, real stories of miraculous survivals, tragic comedies, narrow escapes or speechless reports – far from stage rhetoric, academic eloquence, sheer luck, amazing talents, geniuses or calculated accomplishments.

Such was my stumbling on the story and life of Walter Ciszek SJ’s “With God in Russia” – an account of a Catholic priest’s 23 years in Soviet Prisons and Labour Camps.  I am juxtaposing it with a “Letter from Hell” cited in “Spe Salvi”.

In reading or listening to Walter Ciszek’s candid account With God in Russia, you keep telling yourself, “no way, he cannot become or be a priest”; he misses the point and the Lord is not calling him, let alone fitting the criteria. Did he tick any box to qualify to be admitted to formation? For, why would a just stubborn, wayward lad want to become a priest out of sheer stubbornness and to disprove everyone else including the status quo! Not him! He shouldn’t go to Russia during the war. Not him. He shouldn’t suffer like any other prisoner; he is a priest.  But he did. And He is now venerable Walter Ciszek. Wow! And on course to sainthood!

I couldn’t resist the urge to hold up these remarkable experiences Walter Ciszek’s With “God in Russia”, Fr Paul Le-Bau’s famous Letter from Hell, with the lives of the Korean, Japanese, English, Ugandan Martyrs and the exhortations of St Peter, Popes Benedict and Francis:

As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. 11Whoever speaks, is to do so as one who is speaking the utterances of God; whoever serves is to do so as one who is serving by the strength which God supplies; so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belongs the glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you; 13but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing, so that also at the revelation of His glory you may rejoice with exultation. 14If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. 15Make sure that none of you suffers as a murderer, or thief, or evildoer, or a troublesome meddler; 16but if anyone suffers as a Christian, he is not to be ashamed, but is to glorify God in this name. 17For it is time for judgment to begin with the household of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God? 18and if it is with difficulty that the righteous is saved, what will become of the godless man and the sinner? 19Therefore, those also who suffer according to the will of God shall entrust their souls to a faithful Creator in doing what is right.  1 Peter 4:10-19

What a Gospel; not of prosperity, healing, deliverance, riches, elegance, splendor, power, leadership or glory; but of suffering, one-day-at-a-time, hope, grace, resilience, humility, humiliation, unpredictability, yes vulnerability.  Indeed we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance, perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. Romans 5:3-5.  Courage to all who are born to suffer, or who must suffer by design or by default.  Like the mystic saints (Teresa, John of the Cross, Therese, Faustina, John Paul II), “let us not waste our sufferings – at home or abroad, in the Church or on the streets, in our communities or in our families, in our countries or with world powers, internally or externally, in illnesses or with weaknesses, voluntary or imposed. It seems true and rather objectionable indeed that the only way to character, maturity or glory is the way of suffering, the way of purification, the way of the cross.

Emmanuel Mbeh mhm, November 2020.

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