Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ: I am writing this before going to the hospital for an operation for bladder cancer; but you will be reading it after the operation's results are known. About three weeks ago, blood in my urine made necessary a series of tests that showed I have cancer in my bladder, a cancer not yet invasive but wide spread enough to call for surgery.
Serious illness or loss of some sort or great moral failure often brings into question the goodness of God. If God is good, why is there so much war, so much sickness, so much evil? Some people even deny God's existence in the face of great human suffering. For some, it's easier to believe in demonic influence rather than divine goodness.
It's understandable that we ask about God's goodness when he, in his infinite power, does not prevent suffering. But our faith says this question cannot be raised without asking another: How does our human suffering, through God's grace, contribute to the salvation of the world? St. Paul, began his Second Letter to the distressed Church in Corinth: "Blessed be the God and Father of Our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ's sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too. If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer. Our hope for you is unshaken; for we know that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in our comfort" (II Cor. 1: 30-7).
Sharing in the sufferings of Christ is part of our call to be his disciples. I hope that my suffering of these weeks will help to bring peace in the Holy Land and the Middle East and be useful, as well, for the healing of the wounds of the sexual abuse crisis and the strengthening of the Catholic faith. I am not looking forward to life without a bladder, but even that loss can be a grace.
In our minds, suffering sometimes shades into violence, but they are greatly different. Suffering can be salvific; violence cannot. Almost 10 years ago, when I first came to Chicago as Archbishop, society and Church were rocked by the savage beating of a young black man by young white men; as I prepare to enter the hospital today, society and Church are rocked by the savage beating of a young white man by young black men.
Some good initiatives, in both Church and society, were taken in the face of the first beating in order to work for racial justice and combat violence. While the two situations are not entirely parallel, I hope some equally effective initiatives might be taken in the face of the second beating. Eliminating violence entirely is a goal all should reach for; enduring suffering well is a response our faith makes possible.
The motto I took when ordained a bishop in 1990 is: "To Christ be glory in the Church." There are many ways the Church gives glory to Christ: in her worship, in her works, and in the way that Christ uses the Church to give witness to the power of his grace. We can see Christ at work in miracles, when the rules of fallen nature are set aside for a moment and we see the glory of God shining through our human weakness. But if God's goodness is made visible in miracles, God's compassion and forgiveness are made present in suffering. If we always cooperate with God's grace, then the Church gives glory to Christ in all circumstances, good and bad. That is our vocation and our joy.
It's hard to pray when you're sick and in pain, so I will be counting on your prayers for me in the next several weeks. I would hope that some who do not go regularly to Mass will go now to pray for my recovery. I will be praying, as best I can, to two holy bishops who have had great influence on me and whom I trust: Bishop Eugene de Mazenod, the founder of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, who died of cancer in 1861 and who expressed his love for his sons on his deathbed; and the late Pope John Paul II, who showed us so well how to love the world in Christ's name and how suffering contributes to the building up of the Body of Christ. These two saintly bishops will protect me and help me to see the will of God in this trial.
Thank you for your prayers and God bless you.