When my mother received the telegram saying that my father had died in Egypt, our priest came, sat on the sofa and smoked a cigarette with her. When the nuns came the next day, they told her this was her cross to bear and she asked them to leave.
1942 was a long time ago and pastoral training and practice have changed but I have been told about my “cross of pain” more than a few times. I have also been advised to “offer up” my pain.
I know that the intention is to comfort me but sometimes my comforters have made me want to scream more than my permanent pain. I am now on a steady dose of morphine which dulls both the pain and my reactions. I know that pain is a symptom indicating that there is a pathological cause for it, which if discovered may be treated and even cured, but not yet! I have prayed about my pain, but not much. I know many others have prayed about my pain and there are two carefully chosen saints in my personal litany whom I have asked to take responsibility for praying about it.
But there still remains the “problem of pain”. It is not an inherited punishment (sins of the fathers) nor is sent by a loving God to see how much I love Him. Jesus made this very clear when He said that no normal father would give his child a stone to eat instead of bread. Pain is not something that can be shared – a pain shared is a pain doubled. Pain is lonely. Pain is insidious. Pain can make us very selfish, bitter, rotten company and so much more unpleasantness.
Pain cannot be fought but it can be beaten, or at least it can be used to achieve better things. It can certainly be used in diagnosis – a factor which should never be forgotten. When seen in others, pain can lead to respect and understanding. When accepted in oneself, pain can lead to patience, mutual understanding, self-respect and mutual love. St Paul struggled with pain and prayed in vain for the Lord to take it from him but he saw that as a member of the Body of Christ his suffering could be borne. Seen in the light of the cross, our pain can be turned and used for good but we may never see it.
When I wake without pain, I shall know I am with my Lord.
Peter spent 15 years as a Methodist minister before European Education and Training projects in Portugal (where he converted), Hungary, Azerbaijan, Kyrgyzstan and Moldova where he lived and worked for over six years. He was the first permanent deacon ordained in the former Soviet Union in the Diocese of Chisinau, Moldova.