The mystery of suffering is one that stumps us all. It is very easy to know objectively that suffering has great merit in God’s eyes, and that it is an essential part of the process of purifying our souls. However when acute pain strikes our first impulse is to panic. When chronic pain strikes our first response tends to be ‘Why me?’. Often dealing with suffering is harder when we have to watch someone we love go through it.
Back on 20 Jun 2012 I told you about our friend K. On 22 June she came though the lengthy neurological operation to place a further stent in her brain. Coming through it is one thing – and a rather big thing – but signs that the operation has benefited her condition are hard to find. Horrible new pains have begun, and CT scans are unable to reveal the cause of the pains in this case. The doctors don’t know what to do next, and any further medical interventions would definitely call into the category of ‘extraordinary’ and ‘disproportionate’.
This is what the Catechism of the Catholic Church says (2278): ‘ Discontinuing medical procedures that are burdensome, dangerous, extraordinary, or disproportionate to the expected outcome can be legitimate, it is the refusal of ‘over zealous’ treatment. Here one does not wish to cause death ; one’s inability to impede it is merely accepted. The decisions should be made by the patient if he is competent and able or, if not, by those legally entitled to act for the patient, whose reasonable will and legitimate interests must always be respected.’
Most of us, thankfully, are not experiencing acute stabbing pains in the head that come and go, as K is. Knowing that the doctors have said that any further treatment would it itself be invasive and extensive (a shunt, perhaps even removal of part of the frontal part of the skull), and that even these measures may not give her relief, puts K and her family into looking at the ramifications of discontinuing further surgical attempts to help her. It is a very hard road to be on. Choosing to let nature take its course, and not knowing how long, nor how painful and distressing that course will be, is a very hard thing to do. The accounts the doctors have given of people dying this way are heart wrenching.
Others must be facing similar difficult life and death decisions. They need our prayers. Those who face an extraordinarily difficult road to eternity need our prayers. The parents, siblings and loved ones who accompany them on this journey need our prayers, too. One day, we ourselves might be in a similar situation.
At times like these, renewing our trust in the Mercy of Jesus that He won’t permit anything that He won’t give us the grace to handle, is the only way to peace. Before us He has placed a loved one whose sufferings mirror His own sufferings on the Cross. He knows that we need visible reminders of what he has undergone for us, and that we should receive them as an immense gift when they come along. May He give us the grace to stay close like Mary and John did, offering the sufferings of our loved one to the Father to obtain Mercy for many. May He give our suffering loved ones the grace to unite their sufferings with His and to trust that He will call ‘enough’ at the most perfect time. And should He grant a miracle, – like he did for the long-suffering woman with the haemorrhage, or for the daughter of Jairus (Mark 5) – may He grant us the grace to appreciate it fully and to give Him all the thanks, honour and glory that are His due.
These two Prayers of Resignation come from Fr Lawrence G. Lovasick’s magnificent book, ‘Jesus Joy of the Suffering’ c.1964. May they be of help to those suffering and for those looking after them :
‘O my God, I accept from Your hands whatever You wish to send me, health or sickness, joy or sorrow, comfort or suffering. I know that You, my infinitely loving Father, will allow nothing that is not for Your glory and for my good. I offer all things for Your good pleasure. I take all things in obedience to Your divine Will. Do with me what You wish, in this short life, O Father of infinite goodness, but bring me safely by Your mercy and protection to the happiness of Your home in Heaven. Amen.’
‘My God, lover of the sick and the afflicted, since I am cast down on my bed of pain, I cannot pray as much as I desire. Accept each pain, each heartbeat, each tear, each sigh, as an act of love, of submission to Your holy Will, and of sorrow for my sins. My heart shall supply what my lips cannot do. Accept my good will for the deed, and let my sufferings be blessed in Your sight. Mary, Mother of Sorrows, help me to bear sickness and infirmity, and all the pains that accompany them, patiently and humbly and resignedly, after the wonderful model of patience that you, my Mother, have given me, Amen.’
Our Lady of Sorrows, pray for us.