Updated: Apr 6
By Fr. Edward Dougherty, M.M.
In his book No Man is an Island, Thomas Merton writes, “It is of the very essence of Christianity to face suffering and death not because they are good, not because they have meaning, but because the resurrection of Jesus has robbed them of their meaning.”
This statement points to the fact that our faith as Catholics provides everything we need to find healing in the face of tragedy and loss. Suffering can be so painful that it can cause us to recoil and close ourselves off emotionally in order to guard against being hurt. But our faith provides all the tools we need to face suffering and find healing so that we can ultimately help others to do the same.
The Christopher News Note Finding Healing After Tragedy or Loss tackles this subject head on. It teaches us first that grieving is a part of the healing process and one that cannot be rushed. St. Gregory once said, “Let the widow mourn deeply. Let her perceive the loss that has been inflicted on her.” He understood the necessity to grieve and was known for demonstrating his own grief publicly, which in turn helped others to do the same.
There is no predictable timing for healing from loss but there are things we can do to help ourselves get through that painful period. In his book Saintly Solutions to Life’s Common Problems, Father Joseph Esper writes, “The saints learned a certain solace through service – in responding to the needs of others, they found it easier to bear their own sorrows.”
The story of Anthony Ray Hinton exemplifies this reality. He was convicted of a crime he didn’t commit and for which he was eventually exonerated. In his Christopher Award-winning memoir “The Sun Does Shine,” he recalls being on Alabama’s death row when he received the news that his mother, who embodied love and kindness, had died of cancer. She always believed in his innocence and without her in the world, Hinton didn’t think he could go on. But then he had an otherworldly experience in which she spoke to him, saying, “This isn’t your time to die, son. You have to prove to them that my baby is no killer. Now you wipe them tears and you get up and you get in service to someone else.” From then on, Hinton became a beacon of light to his fellow inmates, and he continues to inspire others with his story to this day.
Father Esper also counsels us to hand our troubles over to God to find healing. “God is the author of Life,” he writes, adding that God can “help us find purpose and value in life, even in the midst of intense grief.”
We are able to face suffering head on because Christ has conquered all things through His death and resurrection. He has achieved victory over the suffering of this world and victory over death itself. He has robbed suffering and death of their ability to destroy us, and in so doing, He has shown us the way forward.
What Christ’s victory leaves us with is hope, which is like a spark that kindles into the fire of the Holy Spirit. In grief, we struggle to kindle that spark, but Christ will not abandon us. Therefore we must remember to be there for one another. This is the lesson we learn in suffering – when we reach out to one another in our need, we find Christ.
For free copies of the Christopher News Note FINDING HEALING AFTER TRAGEDY OR LOSS, write: The Christophers, 5 Hanover Square, New York, NY 10004; or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org