Wednesday, July 13, 2011


I recently woke with the thought that it’s hard to wake up in pain every day.  With consciousness comes the awareness of pain burning, stabbing or aching, escaped for awhile in the respite of sleep, that is, when pain permits sleep.  Yet the difficulty is not so much the physical suffering as that it’s not easy on the heart or the mind to wake up in pain day after day.

I then thought I would write something about pain.  I thought of Nietzsche, who suffered the effects of syphilis not entirely unlike those wrought by our familiar Lyme spirochete, referring to pain as a dog, his faithful companion.  I thought of Saint Paul boasting of his weaknesses in telling of the thorn given him in the flesh to torment him so that he might not become too elated from the visions of heaven to which he had been privy. 

Reading many translations of that passage, which in changing the word “elated” to “proud” or “conceited” slightly augment the meaning that comes across, I will share here a version found online from the Bible in Basic English:

“And because the revelations were so very great, in order that I might not be overmuch lifted up, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, one sent from Satan to give me pain.” (2 Corinthians 12:7)

Paul goes on to say:

“Three times I appealed to the Lord about this, that it would leave me, but he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.’  So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.  Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ: for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:8-10)

Who can argue with that?

Then, I happened to read in Magnificat, prior to Mass that day, a brief biography of a saint, Blessed Joseph Kowalski, priest, religious and martyr (1911-1942):

“In 1941 [Nazis] arrested Father Kowalski and sent him to the Auschwitz death camp.  In secret he celebrated Mass, heard prisoners’ confessions, and led recitations of the rosary.  Once when a prison guard noticed Father Kowalski clutching something, he struck him, knocking rosary beads from the priest’s hand.  The guard ordered him to trample upon the rosary, but he refused.  On July 4, 1942, another guard mockingly invited Father Kowalski to bless some tortured prisoners, telling him, ‘Souls are escaping you, priest… give your sheep your last blessing as viaticum for heaven.’  Father Kowalski thereupon knelt, made the sign of the cross, recited the Our Father, and sang the Salve Regina.  The Nazis drowned him in a sewage tank a few hours later.” (Monthly Vol. 13, No. 5/July 2011)

The One who taught us to love our neighbor as ourselves encourages us in this to consider the sufferings of others, not so as to compare and contrast our pains to make ourselves feel better that we suffer something more or less, but to remind us that we are all part of One Body that suffers.  We are not alone.  And in directing our attention to the broader scope of humanity, expanding our perspective rather than focusing solely upon ourselves, our own pain mysteriously dissipates, somehow diluted in the very act of considering another person’s cross, for we in this are drawn into the great heart of God which knows all and sees all. 

Dwelling in the heart of God, our pain is softened.  For, “[i]n fact, love either removes the harsh character of suffering or makes pleasant our experience of it.” (St. Francis de Sales)

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