03 July 2012

A Few Thoughts on Suffering

What can one do when visiting a patient in so much pain, that there are no words to describe it? How can one empathize with pain so severe, so crippling that it literally brings the patient being visited to tears? What can I possibly offer to a patient that contains substance when a series of doctors, nurses and other medical experts have professed an inability to help this same patient cope with the pain?
Moreover, how does one respond to such a patient, in such a situation, when the patient is 22 years old and bears the burden of a disease due to genetics and thus a laboring under the burden of bad chance?
These are the terrible, awful questions that this encounter with the patient brought about for me. For all of the language and ink spilled about suffering, I can only look at the patient in her pain and suffering and be overcome: I wish to turn away, not looking upon the one who has been pierced (cf. Zech. 12:10).
I find myself comparing this with Francis’ encounters with the Crucified one. The first encounter, a piece of his conversion, was when Francis knelt before a crucifix in a falling-in church, asking the Lord for guidance.

He prayed:

O most high and glorious God,
Enlighten the darkness of my heart,
Give me truth, certain hope, perfect charity,
Sense and knowledge Lord,
That I may carry out your holy and true command.

The second encounter which Francis had with the crucified one was near his end of the life. As he prayed, alone, he had a mystical vision of the Crucified One. By the conclusion of this encounter, Francis bore the marks of the stigmata, the five wounds of Christ. My reflection, however, does not comment about the historicity of such an event. What it does point towards is the power of the crucified, the necessity of the Franciscan, the Christian, the chaplain, to embrace the pain of the patient, thereby incarnating the very suffering of the patient into one’s own (that is, the chaplain’s) experience. This is, I believe, is the way of the Cross. It the manner by which the chaplain identifies deeply with the suffering of another, not so as to minimize suffering, but to suffer with the patient. It is in this experience that mercy is truly expressed – it is in sharing the miserable experiences of the heart of another. This the definition that I can give to mercy, misericordia: literally, miseri + cordia.


Anonymous said...

Wow, that is really, really tough.

Chris J

michael said...

This posting was well worth the wait.