Great suffering, great love

The previously cited New Yorker article by Eliza Griswold quotes Richard Rohr: “My belief is that the two universal paths are great love and great suffering.” Thirty years ago I first saw a 7-minute film about a disfigured boy named Alfredo, the only survivor of his family’s house fire. We used it each year in our confirmation classes.

When I was in seminary, I was the pastor for a friend who lost his wife to an accidental drug overdose and who died a few months later with cancer. I visited him numerous times at St. Vincent’s Hospital, which had a crucifix above the door inside each room, a graphic reminder that suffering is part of our common journey.

I think of these things when I think about COVID; or when I read about a young dentist who died four miles from the Kabul Airport when he and another young man fell from a C-17, likely as the landing gear closed; or when I hear about the young Marine, an expectant dad, who was one of the 13 US service people among the scores of others killed or wounded Thursday in the suicide bomb explosion at the Abbey Gate; or when I hear about the 20 people who died and the 272 homes lost in the Tennessee flood; or when I think about a strong hurricane tracking toward Louisiana.

The crucifix helped Alfredo. It helps me, too. There’s nothing magical about it. A crucifix is simply an icon (window) of healing in which the path of great suffering and the path of great love converge.

From the movie about Alfredo, cited above: “Baptism: Sacrament of Belonging,” Franciscan Communications Center, 1969

3 thoughts on “Great suffering, great love”

  1. I have been rather sheltered from suffering. Your career as a pastor exposed you to quite a bit of it. It is not been my teacher yet.


    1. One of my friends says, “Everybody gets a turn.” My life has seemed relatively easy compared to what I’ve seen others experience. We never know what the next day might bring. We have four children, counting our son-in-law. Two are disabled and another one has significant ongoing medical issues. We feel their vulnerability and we’re thankful we can help. You have experienced loss, which is a form of suffering. You have a compassionate worldview, which connects you with the world’s suffering. When I went through a divorce many years ago, several friends reached out to me to say they, too, had been through it, which was unknown to me. I remember one lunch in particular. There was a new connection. I’ve seen this happen with those who’ve lost spouses to death. I’ve seen it with parents who found healing through Compassionate Friends, an organization of people who’ve lost children. Today, there are countless families of fallen service people who are symbolically (and in some cases, literally) putting their arms around families in Dover, Delaware. We have a new cadre of fellow sufferers who have lost loved ones to COVID. One Facebook friend wrote a compelling entry yesterday about the loss of a good friend. Our suffering connects us. Henri Nouwen said Jesus was the “wounded healer,” and those who connect with him in that way become wounded healers for others. So, we’re all part of that unbroken circle, whether we are conscious of it all the time, or some of the time, or hardly ever.


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