Blessed Benedetta Porro was born in 1936. When she was very young, she contracted polio which left her crippled. She was very intelligent and at the age of 5 she began to keep a diary. When she was 7 she wrote this, “The universe is enchanting! It is great to be alive.” As a teenager, Benedetta began going deaf, but despite this, she entered medical school where she was the top student. She took her oral exams by reading the lips of her professors. She had a great desire to become a doctor, but she struggled with an illness that kept getting worse. With the loss of her hearing, she also lost her sight, and the use of her legs. After five years of medical training, just one year short of completing her degree, she was forced to end her studies.
She was eventually diagnosed with Von Recklinghausen’s disease. In a short period of time Benedetta could only move her left hand. She was able to communicate when her family would sign the alphabet into her left palm. Benedetta struggled mightily with spiritual darkness and the temptation to despair, but after a trip to Lourdes she reported an interior healing saying, “I am aware more than ever of the richness of my condition and I don’t desire anything but to continue in it.”
As her world shrank she demonstrated an extraordinary courage and holiness and she was visited by many who sought her counsel and prayers. Instead of becoming a medical doctor she became a kind of doctor to the soul to all who visited. In a letter to a young man who suffered from the same disease she wrote: “Because I’m deaf and blind, things have become complicated for me. …Nevertheless, in my Calvary, I do not lack hope. I know that at the end of the road, Jesus is waiting for me. I have discovered that God exists, that He is love, faithfulness, joy, certitude, to the end of the ages. … My days are not easy. They are hard but also sweet because Jesus is with me, with my sufferings, and He gives me His sweetness in my loneliness and light in the darkness. He smiles at me and accepts my collaboration.” Blessed Benedetta Porro died in 1964 at the age of 28.
The point is often made that it’s hard to keep one’s trust in God while suffering. Even Jesus on the Cross pronounced the words, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Was that a lack of trust on his part? No, no lack of trust, because Jesus’ words are in fact the opening words of Psalm 22, which expresses great distress at the beginning but ends on a magnificent note of hope: they shall tell of the Lord to generations yet to come, declare his faithfulness to peoples yet unborn.
Jesus’ faith was tested to the limit, but he did not lose trust. Sometimes a trial of suffering is a call to go to the extremes of trust. And every trial, no matter what its causes and characteristics are, is a trial of faith of hope, and of love.
Every trial is a trial of faith. We ask ourselves “What is God doing in all of this? Does he really love me? Is he present in what I am living through?” No matter the trial (sickness, unemployment, family issues, or something else) trust in God is put to the test. We might doubt God’s love, we might accuse him of abandoning us, and we might rebel against him. However, it is possible, and this is a beautiful and constructive thing; to see this time of trial as a call to have a more determined, mature, and adult faith.
The questions we are faced with are these: What is God doing? Is He faithful? Can He draw good out of what is happening? These are questions of faith. And we are invited to respond by deciding to have faith: I believe! I continue to trust God! Even though I can’t’ see, even though I don’t feel anything, even though appearances are against it, I decide to believe. I will believe that God is faithful, that he will not let me fall, that he can draw something positive out of everything that is happening to me. I believe.
Every trial is a trial of hope. When we are having a difficult time, some of the questions that come up: In this painful experience, what do I rely on? What am I counting on? In what or in whom do I place my hope? The answer we’re invited to give is: I’m counting on the Lord; I’m expecting help from Him. That doesn’t mean I’m not going to apply all the human resources available, but at the deepest level I abandon myself into God’s hands, and it is in him that I hope.
Our only real security and we have no other is that God’s mercy is unlimited. God is infinitely good and faithful. He is our rock. All the rest; salary, health, education, qualifications, friends, our own strength, our virtues can leave us. All these are valuable things, they are good and we should welcome them, but never make them our security. For God alone is absolute security. He’ll never forsake us, it’s not in his nature to forsake. It is in God that I hope.
Every trial is a trial of love. Maybe our relationship with God is in crisis or maybe it’s our relationship with family or neighbor. Sometimes we might lose a taste for prayer. What does that trial mean? It’s a call to continue praying all the same, because we don’t pray just because we enjoy it or experience satisfaction, but first and foremost we pray to praise and thank God. When we find great pleasure in it, that’s fine, but when prayer is difficult, we need to keep going just the same! When we keep praying, even when we don’t want to, that purifies our love for God, which becomes freer, more genuine, and not just a selfish search for ourselves.
Or maybe it’s in our relationship with family or neighbor. You loved your husband when he was young, handsome, well-behaved, pleasant, and answered all your expectations. But now you observe that he is sometimes bad-tempered, that he has a few wrinkles and is getting fat; do you continue to love him? Do you love him for yourself, or do you love him truly, with a love that consists of wanting his good, and not only seeking your own satisfaction? We are constantly faced with this kind of trial in loving another person as he or she is, loving them freely and forgiving them.
Loving those who are close to us is more difficult, but this is what the genuineness of our love for God will be judged on! The surest way of loving God is to love the people around us, loving them in a considerate way, praying for them, and accepting them as they are.
In every trial we ask ourselves: What act of faith am I being invited to make? What attitude of hope am I being called to live by? And what conversion of love am I called to, so that my love is purer and truer.
The leper of today’s gospel suffered but in trust he made a statement of faith, hope and love by kneeling down and saying to Jesus, “If you wish, you can make me clean.” And he was made clean. Benedetta Porro suffered but in trust she made a statement of faith, hope, and love by saying, “I do not lack hope. I know that at the end of the road, Jesus is waiting for me. He is love, faithfulness, and joy to the end of the ages.” And now she is now among the blessed of heaven. On the Cross Jesus suffered but in trust he made a statement of faith, hope, and love, by saying, “Into your hands Lord I commend my Spirit.” And on the third day in great glory, He rose from the dead.
When you suffer ask yourself three questions: what is my act of faith, what is my attitude of hope, and what is my conversion of love?
Let us be great Saints,
Fr. Christopher J. Ankley