Letter to a hospital patient…
To my brother or sister in Christ,
St. Paul wrote with affection to the Christians in Philippi: “It has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake, engaged in the same conflict which you saw and now hear to be mine” (Phil 1:29). This great saint, Paul the Apostle, was not spared conflicts, imprisonments, beatings, or other spiritual and physical challenges, similar to what Jesus Himself underwent to redeem us. Nor did Paul see his suffering as a reason to doubt God’s care or to harbor a grudge toward his Savior. Instead, he practiced and preached the paradox known to all Christians: suffering alongside Jesus brings hope.
From a physical standpoint, your illness is devastating. And from a spiritual standpoint, your affliction represents a real challenge because it brings to the surface those important questions which can seem too big to grapple with during “normal” life. Now, perhaps more than ever, you can begin to identify with St. Paul when he says, “we have this treasure in earthen vessels” (2 Cor 4:7).
But there is salvation to be found in your suffering. Your physical, mental, and emotional ailments need not detract from the quality of your spiritual life. In fact, God has proved to us that He permits evil that He might bring about a greater good: a good which we could never achieve on our own. What is this good? It is the object of Paul’s desire: “That your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment” (Phil 1:9). Suffering, united to Jesus’ own suffering, uniquely opens us up to receive that for which Christ offered His own life: the fullness of life, that is, unending life with God. This type of life is worthy of all desire and sacrifice, for it is in knowing and loving Him alone that the human heart is filled.
None of this is to downplay our hopes for the success of your treatment—-that goes without saying. The physical health of our bodies glorifies God our Creator, and it was through His human body that Jesus came to save us. Yet, I pray even more that through these trials you might come to cherish in your heart Jesus’ greatest gift to us: the fullness of life in God. During this time of treatment, build up for both yourself and others a “reservoir” in which to hold all the treasures of God’s light and love. Your construction of such a place will be of inestimable value to the Church and the world. How many people who enjoy perfect physical health remain spiritually diminished! How marvelous the thought that they might draw healing from the cool waters you store up in the reservoir of Jesus’ love! “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of the body, that is, the church” (Col 1:24). You need only to pray simply and to offer everything you experience to the Savior who invites you to remain at His side:
Jesus, I love you; save souls!
With hope, admiration, and gratitude,
Your brother in Christ
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