(Mary Beth Bonacci is an internationally known speaker and author. You may visit her website at www.reallove.net.)
I've seen her daughter, afraid of losing her mother far too soon. I've seen my mother's fear after witnessing my father's seizure. My siblings and I have suffered, watching the man we love more than any other struggling to speak.
In the end, no one can truly relieve suffering but God. Sometimes he does. Other times he doesn't. I've seen this over and over in the present situations, and in my own times of crisis. Both my dad and my neighbor tell me they have had times where, in the midst of their suffering, they have experienced an incredible, divine peace and consolation. They have felt God's presence in a tangible, palpable way. They have been filled with a trust and a confidence that defies all human understanding.
And then, they have had times when that peace left them when they were just downright scared. When they didn't want to be going through what they were going through. When they just wanted everything back as it was. They wondered where the peace and the consolation went. Had God abandoned them?
What kind of God is this? Doesn't He love them?
In my own experience, I have found that, in many cases, the greatest spiritual consolations come when we are at the absolute end of our ropes, when we have nowhere to turn but God. So often we rage at our fate. We wish things could be different. We think that if we just say talk to the right person or say the right novena, we can make everything turn out the way we want. But then the point comes where we realize that we've exhausted all of our options, and that we have no choice but to trust God.
For me it came nine years ago, when I was diagnosed with malignant melanoma. I recall sitting before the Blessed Sacrament, saying “I guess if you want me, I'm coming.” No control. I could pursue treatment, I could have surgery, but if He wanted me to come, there wasn't a whole lot I could do. And acknowledging that brought about an amazing, incredible sense of peace. It honestly made the whole experience worthwhile. Of course, there were also times I was terrified, times I said, “'If you want me, I'm coming?' What kind of nonsense is that? What was I thinking?” Those were the times I turned to my friends times I needed to hear from other mortal human beings that they cared, they understood and they were there for me.
Maybe that's part of the reason God withdraws to give us the opportunity to be His love to others.
Human suffering, of course, defies pat answers. When a man is faced with the prospect of losing his wife, or a wife her husband, or an adult son his parent, there is not a single thing I can say, much as I may want to, which will make it all better. There is nothing much I can say which will make anything better at all. I really can't do much but offer compassion.
Compassion, I recently discovered, means “to suffer with.” That's all I can do. To take some of the burden onto myself. To agree to enter into the experience of suffering to help the suffering person feel less alone.
In the end, anything I can say about human suffering winds up seeming trite and insignificant. Just know that part of being the “body of Christ” means sharing in each others' sufferings. We're all in this together, and that we can in a sense be Christ for each other by listening, by being there, and by praying.
In fact, you can start by saying a little prayer for Maggie and Leo.